16.22: Scenes and Set Pieces

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette Kowal, Cassandra Khaw, Dan Wells, James L. Sutter, and Howard Tayler

Let’s have a discussion about scenes and set pieces, and let’s lead with this: prose writers often create longer pieces using scenes as building blocks, and in this thing writing for game design is very, very similar.

Scenes and set pieces are some of the most critical components in game design, and each of them must deliver several different things to the players in order to work well.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson

Play

Design an encounter for a game you’ve enjoyed, hitting each of the following factors: setting, challenge, adversaries, rewards, and story development.

WXR 2021: The Writing Excuses Cruise Masterclass

NOTE: Some of these details have CHANGED as of June 9th, thanks to a very cool upgrade Royal Caribbean made to our sailing. The new information is marked in bold italics, and full details are available at the registration link.

Join fellow writers for an in-depth masterclass at sea on board the Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas from September 19th – 27th, 2021.

Click here to register!

Not able to make it to the WXR 2021 cruise experience? We’ll be gathering virtually this fall as well in partnership with the Surrey International Writers Conference – click here for more info!

What’s a Masterclass at sea?

For the past few years, Writing Excuses has held a workshop and retreat each year on a cruise ship – a magical mix of writing classes, workshops, and time for your own writing, all wrapped in a Caribbean vacation.

This year’s Writing Excuses Workshop and Retreat will include all of that in a smaller package than our typical cruises – it’s the beginning of a new event structure that we’ll be rolling out in full in 2022: multiple smaller events, each with a deep focus on a particular aspect of the writing craft. This new format has been in the works for a while, and this year, as the US begins its recovery from the pandemic, seems like the perfect opportunity to start. For those who prefer our large-group experiences, don’t worry–we will be having a large cruise in fall 2022. Stay tuned for more!

What can I expect?

Views like this, for a start!

Our cruise will stop at the following ports with opportunities for excursions: Cozumel and Costa Maya in Mexico, Roatan in Honduras, and Belize City in Belize. While on the ship, there will be an in-depth masterclass on plot and structure taught by Writing Excuses’ own Dan Wells. He’ll teach a class on each non-port day, with each class building on the previous ones in a curriculum far more detailed and advanced than we’ve ever been able to offer before. Mary Robinette Kowal and DongWon Song will also be on board, hosting breakout sessions, office hours, and other group social events.

How will COVID-19 affect the cruise experience?

Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines are constantly updating their procedures and protocols as they get back on the water, but a few things are certain – we are asking that all students and their guests be fully vaccinated. The current guidance from the CDC for cruise ships is that vaccinated passengers can go without masks in their cabins and in outdoor areas (including outdoor dining) throughout the ship – we expect that vaccinated passengers will be able to do additional activities onboard the ship without a mask by the time of sailing in line with the recently updated CDC guidance. As full protocols become available, we will send them to all registered guests.

Royal Caribbean has been doing a lot of work to help everyone be as safe as possible – you can read more about the safety and health protocols at the Healthy Sail Center here.

How does pricing work?

Prices include the workshops, your cabin and meals, taxes, gratuities – pretty much everything! The tickets listed are for Double Occupancy, which means you’ll have a roommate. If you’ve chosen your own roommate, awesome! There will be a place to indicate this when you register. If you don’t have a roommate, no worries; we’ll coordinate to place you with another writer from our group. You can also pick a private, single-occupancy cabin during the registration process, but note that these cost extra. The only additional cost is if you would like to pay for a transfer to and from the airport to the cruise ship or you would like to come in a night early to a local hotel (which includes a free breakfast and transfer).

Spouses and significant others or family members who would like to come along but are not writers are welcome at a discounted family rate, but they must also be fully vaccinated.

I have a registration question.

The best way to contact us for WXR21 questions is to send an email to writingexcusesevents@gmail.com.

Tell me more about what to expect?

The tagline on the podcast is “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.” The workshop has always allowed us to take more than fifteen minutes and really dig into topics, and now we’re taking it even further. The WXR21 Cruise Masterclass will go into all aspects of plot and structure, from seven-point structure to Hollywood formula, including two sessions where the group will create and then workshop outlines for their current or future projects.

More than that, though, you’ll have the opportunity to hang out with the instructors and each other folks who’ve joined us in the past will tell you that the single biggest benefit to WXR is the lasting connections we make with each other.

But since you asked, there IS more:

Breakout sessions: Participants will also be able to sign up for a limited number of additional breakout sessions or one-on-one sessions with individual instructors. There is no additional charge for these, but because of the size of the event we may not be able to accommodate everyone with their first choice.

These breakout sessions include:

  • 6-member critique groups: Members will submit novel or short-story excerpts up to 3000 words for critique by the group as well as one of the instructors. (Please note that this means you are committing to critique the stories of the other group members.)
  • Unlocking sessions: These small group sessions are places to brainstorm with a group about your writing project or process. Unlocking sessions in the past have included discussion on everything from how to make time to write to the intricacies of a specific magic system.

“Office Hours”: Each morning, instructors are available for individual drop-in sessions to cover those questions that come up mid-cruise. This is excellent for some one-on-one time with the instructors!

Social Time: From dinners together to informal hangouts to game nights to karaoke, there’s plenty of time to build your community on the ship.

That’s a lot of people-ing. I don’t do well in groups. Will I survive this?

It may come as a surprise, but on a cruise of writers, most of our group are also introverts. Some of us are better at presenting as extroverts than others, but we know where you’re coming from and we feel your pain. The masterclass is a smaller group, which may make things easier, but we’ve also structured the cruise to create downtime and make it easy to meet people in smaller, more manageable groups. There are lots of quiet areas all over the ship for those in need of some time and space when it all gets too much. This is why it’s called the Writing Excuses Writing Workshop and Retreat. We also have a Discord where we can get to know each other before the cruise – it really helps to have some familiar faces when we all show up.

Will I really have time to write with all this going on?

We provide time, absolutely, but it’s up to you how you use it. In years past, we’ve had some attendees write more than 40,000 words while with us. We celebrate together for words written, and provide optional prompts each day to encourage and inspire. There are also board game nights, dancing, karaoke, and impromptu combat demos to tempt us all. Some of our writers gather in places on the ship or seek out an out-of-the-way nook to write by themselves. Whatever you choose to do with your free time, your time is yours.

What level of writing expertise should I have prior to attending?

“Level of expertise” is far less important than your desire to learn and improve. The schedule and classes are structured to be accessible and useful for writers with a passion for learning. We’ve found that presenting focused content that’s challenging and rewarding is more useful for writers than 101 material, regardless of where they are on their career track. But we also have “office hours,” which are drop-in one-on-one sessions available almost every morning of the cruise for those questions that pop up during the course of the week.

I’m in. Where do I register again?

Right here!

If you still have questions, you can email us at writingexcusesevents@gmail.com.

Come join us on board!

16.21: Player Characters

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette Kowal, James L. Sutter, Dan Wells, Cassandra Khaw, and Howard Tayler

So, you’re the hero of your own story, and the hero gets choices, and in many ways directs the story. In our discussion of interactive fiction and writing for games, the subject of “player characters” is essential. From the array of options given at character creation/selection, to the paths available for character development and the final chapters of that characters story, “player character” touches everything.

Credits: this episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson

Play

Go through the character creation process in an RPG. Pay attention to which parts were fun, and what attracted you to the different classes, creature types, etc. Identify what makes each major character build unique and appealing.

16.20: Branching Narratives

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette Kowal, James L. Sutter, Dan Wells, Cassandra Khaw, and Howard Tayler

How do you give players meaningful choices while still keeping the story within a reasonable set of boundaries? In this episode James and Cassandra lead us in a discussion of branching narratives, and the ways in which we as writers can create them.

Credits: this episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson

Liner Notes: Dan mentioned this collection of “Choose your own adventure” plot maps.
Howard illustrated the concept of “narrative bumper pool” in Tracy Hickman’s X-TREME DUNGEON MASTERY

A branching path which begins at point A, and ends at either point X, Y, or Z.
Narrative Bumper Pool from X-TREME DUNGEON MASTERY, used with permission
Play

Write a short “choose-your-own-adventure” story.

The Planet Mercenary RPG, created by Alan Bahr, Howard Tayler, and Sandra Tayler.

16.19: Intro to Roleplaying Games

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette Kowal, James L. Sutter, Dan Wells, Cassandra Khaw, and Howard Tayler

For the next eight episodes we’ll be talking about roleplaying games, and how that medium relates to writers, writing, career opportunities, and more. We’re led by James L. Sutter and Cassandra Khaw on this particular quest.

In this episode we lay some groundwork, define a few terms, and hopefully get you excited about looking at games in new and useful ways.

Credits: this episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson

Play

Spend some time playing a roleplaying game, either video game or tabletop. Take note of what’s fun and what’s not.

16.18: Poetry and the Fantastic

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette, Dan, Amal, and Howard

For the last seven episodes we’ve explored language, meaning, and their overlap with that thing we mean when we use language to say “poetry.”

In this episode we step back to some origins, including, at a meta-level, the origins of this podcast as a writer-focused exploration of genre fiction—the speculative, the horrific, the science-y, and the fantastic.

Because there is an overlap between language and meaning, and there are myriad overlaps among the genres we love, and as we step back we see poetry striding these spaces, its path in part defining and in part defying the various borders.

Poetry, scouting the fraught borders between the kingdoms of Meaning and Language.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson. 

Play

Find a favorite line from a novel or short story, one that moves you deeply; use it as the epigraph for a poem.

Monster Portraits, by Sofia Samatar and Del Samatar