All posts by Howard Tayler

Writing Excuses 10.21: Q&A on World Building

We went to you for questions about world building, and you had some really good ones. The questions are listed below, and our answers are secreted within MP3 file.

  • Has there ever been a piece of world building that you didn’t include, and regretted not including?
  • How do you remain consistent?
  • How do you decide between writing a secondary world fantasy, and creating an historical fantasy?
  • Can you avoid cultural appropriation while still using elements inspired by other cultures?
    • (This one is getting a can of worms: there’s an entire episode on cultural appropriation coming up)
  • What’s the minimum amount of world building required?
Play

Our next master class episodes are on description. Take a scene that includes some things that you’ve world-built, and rewrite that scene using completely different words.

A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert, narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal

Writing Excuses 10.20: How Do I Write a Story, Not an Encyclopedia?

You’ve done piles of world building. How do you convey this world to reader without infodumping? We talk about the different skill levels involved, and then the techniques that you’ll be using as you get better and better at what is probably the most critical skill unique to genre fiction writers.

Play

This week’s exercise: Take a spec gee-whiz, and have something go wrong with it. Write a scene in which the main character must deal with the problem. Communicate each of the following:

  1. How it works
  2. What it looks like
  3. The main character’s relationship to it

The Autumn Republic, by Brian McClellan

Writing Excuses 10.19: Intrigue

What’s the difference between intrigue, suspense, and mystery? We answer this (it comes down to reader knowledge vs character knowledge), and then talk about what makes intrigue useful as a tool for any story, and how to use it without falling back on idiot character plots, or simply withholding information from the reader.

Intrigue is also its own genre, with spy stories and political intrigue stories fitting into this space. We talk a bit about how those stories work, and how they’re built.

Upcoming Homework: We’ll be doing a Project-In-Depth on Mary’s new book, Of Noble Family, in two weeks (episode 10.21, airing on May 24th.) To get the most out of that episode without having anything spoiled, pick up a copy now and start reading!

Play

Write dialog in which each of the speakers has a different subtext and motive. Without explicitly stating those, try and make them clear to the reader.

A Spy in the House: The Agency 1, by Y.S. Lee, narrated by Justine Eyre

Writing Excuses 10.18: Build an Entire World? Are You Crazy?

This is for you folks who started writing the story before you finished building your world. Which is what we wanted you to do all along! Sneaky! We’re talking about letting your story drive your world building efforts, so that you can be more efficient.

We cover some of the tools that we use, as well as when world building fits into, then out of, and then back into our respective processes.

Out of Context Quote: “Sometimes you just need to take the underpants off the puppet.”

Other Worldbuilding Episodes to Reference: Brandon promised a list of links. Here’s a pretty comprehensive one!

We recommend not listening to all of them in one go. You’re supposed to be out of excuses and writing, not podcast diving for another two hours…

Play

Pick your gee-whiz, whatever it may be, and describe it in 150 words from ten different perspectives. Yes, that’s 1500 words.

Stormdancer: The Lotus War, Book One, by Jay Kristoff, narrated by Jennifer Ikeda

Writing Excuses 10.17: Q&A on Beginnings

We’ve talked about beginnings this month. Now we’ll answer some of your questions on the matter. Here are the questions:

  • What are there differences between the beginnings in different forms?
  • How do you begin in media res when you’re not writing action?
  • What’s the biggest mistake that can be made when plotting the beginning?
  • I see a lot of big-name author beginnings that aren’t all that strong. Why should I spend time making my beginning awesome?
  • How do you balance the need to have something happening right away against the need to have the reader know something about the characters?
  • In creating a character, where do you start in the development process, and what do you begin revealing first?

 

Play

Take the world-building you’ve done, write your beginning, and then secretly write down your “gee-whiz.” Now run that beginning past some alpha readers, and have them attempt to identify the “gee-whiz.” Compare their answers with your own.

The Shepherdess of Sienna: A Novel of Renaissance Tuscany, by Linda Lafferty, narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal

Writing Excuses 10.16: What Do I Do With All This Blank Space?

The first page is often the very hardest one to write. In this episode we talk about how to fill the space on the first few pages of your story, because those are the pages where you have to convince the reader to keep going, and the very first page is often the only chance you have to get the reader’s attention at all.

The good news is that the first words the reader reads are not going to be the first words that you write. You can find the story’s voice before you pour that voice into the those first pages.

Play

Write your first thirteen lines, and see how much you can fit into that space—character attitude, point-of-view, mood, genre, conflict, setting, and more.

The Golem and the Jinni, by Helen Wecker, narrated by George Guidall.

Writing Excuses 10.15: Worldbuilding Wilderness with Wes Chu

Wes Chu, author and adventurer, recently climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, and has some things to say about all the wilderness trekking that our characters do in the books we write, and how we often forget to say anything about sleeping on inclines, altitude sickness, or packing toilet paper.

The salient point: we need to remember that our characters are experiencing these wilderness treks, and they have interesting opinions about them.

Play

Wes has a tough writing exercise for us: take something that you’ve already written, swap the personalities of your protagonist and antagonist, and re-write a scene from the story.

The Rebirths of Tao, by Wesley Chu, isn’t available yet on Audible, but the first book in the trilogy, The Lives of Tao is.

Writing Excuses 10.14: How Much of the Beginning Needs to Come First?

April is all about beginnings, at least as far as Season 10’s syllabus is concerned. So let’s start!

The cool stuff you plan to put in your story will need other stuff to set it up, and that setting up means that other stuff needs to come first. But how far down does that rabbit hole go?

In this episode we talk about how you can determine which elements of your story should come first. We also define (finally!) the term “promises” in the way we use it when we say “promises made to the reader,” and then we talk about how to figure out what promises we’re making.

Play

Homework: Start writing your story! Write 500 words, focusing on just one of the promises you’ve identified for your story. Then stop, and start writing another 500 words with a different promise. Aaaand then do it a third time.

The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu, narrated by Luke Daniels