All posts by Writing Excuses

Writing Excuses 10.5: What Do You Mean My Main Character is Boring?

Characters are the focus of the Writing Excuses Master Class during February, and we lead off with an exploration of a common problem: the main character is often the least interesting person in the story. And of course, in the process of exploring the problem, we look at the sorts of things you can do in order to solve them. It something each of the hosts has struggled with, and we talk about the solutions we’ve arrived at (insomuch as we’ve managed to solve the problem.)

Sidebar: In Season 9 we talked about character attributes using a slider metaphor. If you want to catch up on that, here are links to Episode 9.1 (the three-prong model), Episode 9.25(sympathy), Episode 9.26 (competence), and Episode 9.32 (proactivity.)

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Take three different characters and walk them through a scene. Convey their emotional states, their jobs, and their hobbies without directly stating any of those. The scene in question: walking through a marketplace, and they need to do a dead-drop.

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, narrated by Simon Slater

Writing Excuses 10.4: Q&A on Ideas

At the Out of Excuses Workshop and Retreat we premiered the Season 10 concept, and we invited our attendees to give us the questions we need this month. (They’ll also be the ones providing our questions for February, but we’ll cast our net wide for questions in March.)

  • Ideas are hard! Is it ever acceptable for inexperienced writers to write derivative works?
  • How do you keep from being discouraged when something similar to your idea comes out?
  • How do you know when your idea is a novel, vs. when it’s a short story?
  • Should you only write for themed anthologies if you already have an idea ready in that theme?
  • How can you practice description when your idea is set someplace completely unfamiliar to you?
  • When should you abandon an idea you love?

Liner Notes: We talked about novel-length vs short-story-length ideas in Season 6, Episode 10 when we covered the M.I.C.E. quotient, and again in Season 8, Episode 20, when Mary talked about short story structure. Also, the anthology into which Howard was drafted on the basis of a spur-of-the-moment idea is Shared Nightmaresand his story is called “U.I.”

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Take one of the ideas you’re excited about, and then audition five different characters for the lead role in that story. Make sure they’re all different from each other.

City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett, narrated by Alma Cuervo

2015 Hugo Award Eligibility – SHADOWS BENEATH

The Hugo Awards voters have honored us by nominating the Writing Excuses podcast in the Best Related Work category several times in the past, and two years ago Writing Excuses won! This is something we’re still giddy about.

If you’re eligible to nominate things for the Hugo ballot, and if you think Writing Excuses belongs on that ballot, we’d like for you to consider nominating our anthology, SHADOWS BENEATH, in the Best Related Work category, rather than nominating the podcast itself. Of course, it’s possible that the (free!) podcast is all you’re familiar with, so if you’re eligible to nominate for the Hugos, use the contact form at brandonsanderson.com* for a complimentary electronic copy of SHADOWS BENEATH: THE WRITING EXCUSES ANTHOLOGY.

And don’t delay! The nomination period is open for another month, but if you were not at LonCon, and have not yet registered for WorldCon 2015, you only have until January 31st to buy your voting or attending membership. Visit sasquan.org for the details.

Whether or not you want to nominate Writing Excuses, you should consider acquiring that membership so that your favorite books, stories, publications, editors, artists, and writers have a chance to appear on this year’s Hugo Awards ballot.

(*WEBMASTER’S NOTE: during the podcast, Brandon said to use an email address to acquire the complimentary copy of the book. That email address isn’t working, so we’re falling back to the contact form. Sorry for the inconvenience!)

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What five genre fiction novels would you most like to see on the Hugo Award ballot this year? What about novelettes? Short stories? Now imagine that each of these works is actually a superhero. What kinds of crime would your Hugo Super Team fight?

Writing Excuses 10.3: Lovecraftian Horror

Cherie Priest joins us for our “wildcard” episode on Lovecraftian horror this month. We’re still doing the master class format, and part of that format is that once per month we’ll have a guest, or otherwise step away from the month’s topic a bit.

This episode talks about what Lovecraftian horror is, its influence on genre fiction, and the tools it offers for modern writers.

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Take a character, and from that character’s point of view, describe their reaction to something horrific and awful, but do so without describing the thing itself.

Maplecroft, by Cherie Priest, narrated by Johanna Parker and Roger Wayne.

Writing Excuses 10.2: I Have an Idea; What Do I Do Now?

Writing Excuses Season 10, the podcasted master-class, continues with this exploration of that critical second step: what do do once you’ve got an idea that has story-legs.

(Note: When we say “two weeks ago” over and over, that’s just bad math. You haven’t missed an episode.)

We talk about our various approaches to this, many of which center around finding the person or people who are most affected by the thing our idea conjures into their world, but that’s really only the very beginning of it.

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Using last week’s five story ideas (or five new ones):

  • Take two of them and combine them into one story.
  • Take one and change the genre underneath it.
  • Take one and change the ages and genders of everybody you had in mind for it
  • Take the last one and have a character make the opposite choice.

Shipstar, by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven, narrated by Zach Villa

Writing Excuses 10.1: Seriously, Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Season 10 begins!

We wanted to do something different this year. Something special. As we brainstormed we kept returning to something a listener said years ago: “Writing Excuses is like a master class in writing genre fiction.”

That’s a generous remark, as anyone who’s taken an actual master class can attest, but it inspired us to ask ourselves what Writing Excuses would look sound like if it were formatted like an actual master class.

The answer? It would sound like Season 10 is going to sound. This year we’re going to go to school! Each month will focus on a specific bit of the writing process, and each podcast will drill down on one of those bits. We’ll still have some “wildcard” episodes with guests, but for at least three weeks out of each month we’re going to stay on topic. If you’re new to the podcast, this is where to start! If you’re an old hand, don’t worry — this isn’t a return to the 101-level stuff.

In January we’ll cover the very beginning — coming up with cool ideas, and wrapping them up into something that we can turn into a story. And for this first episode we’ll answer the dreaded “where do you get your ideas” question quite seriously. We’re not going to tell you about the Idea Factory in Schenectady (Harlan Ellison’s stock answer,) nor are we going to eye-roll. Nope. We’re going to tell you how we get our brains to think stuff up, and then we’re going to give you homework in the writing prompt.

We’ve talked about ideas before, of course, so here are some links:

 

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Write down five different story ideas in 150 words or less. Generate these ideas from these five sources:

  1. From an interview or conversation you’ve had
  2. From research you’ve done (reading science news, military history, etc)
  3. From observation (go for a walk!)
  4. From a piece of media (watch a movie)
  5. From a piece of music (with or without lyrics)

This exercise might not generate the very best ideas you’ve ever had, but it will definitely flex your idea muscles in new ways.

Lock In, by John Scalzi, narrated by Amber Benson OR Wil Wheaton (there are two versions of this audiobook.)

Writing Excuses 9.54: Capstone to Season 9

As 2014 draws to a close we say goodbye to Season 9, and talk a bit about what we’ve each learned this year.

  • Howard explained the surprising changes that came with a change in his work space
  • Mary told us how she reached a new understanding of pacing
  • Brandon talked about how recent time pressures have informed his writing process
  • Dan learned why he is writing

Hopefully our discussions of how we’ve changed as writers this year will offer you some insight into how your own writing has developed, and how you might take steps to develop it in the future.

We also talk about how Season 10 is coming, and is going to be a bit different than seasons past.

Thing We Failed To Do: get a picture of the possum. It turns out that those things are sneaky, and none of us a very good photographers.

Can of Already Open Worms: Writing for fun. “Didn’t you guys just talk about that?” Yes, we did, in an episode that was recorded 3 months later, but which aired just last week.

 

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What did you learn or accomplish this last year, and what are you hoping to learn in the coming year? Write this down, and then at the end of NEXT year, review what you wrote, and compare the reality of 2015 with your hopes for it here at the end of 2014.

Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat, by Bee Wilson, narrated by Alison Larkin

Writing Excuses 9.53: Writing For Fun

You know what’s fun? WRITING! Writing is fun. And that, more than anything else, is why we do it.

Or at least it’s why we decided to do it. Making sure that it is still fun is kind of tricky. Also tricky? Writing for nothing more than the fun of it. And this episode is about that.

Missing from this episode: Mary. For contractual reasons we found ourselves in need of 54 episodes during Season 9, and that meant an emergency recording session while Mary was on the road. It also meant you got 54 weekly episodes this year!

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Legion: Skin Deep, by Brandon Sanderson, narrated by Oliver Wyman