Category Archives: Archive Seasons 7-10

Writing Excuses 7.8: The City as a Character

Mary and Dan discuss using a city as a character with Sarah Pinborough, for whom London is an important setting and one of her favorite places. We talk about the importance of being accurate, and how a city isn’t just the buildings and the history, it’s also the attitudes of the people who live there. Sarah gives us lots (and lots and lots) of insight into how she wrote London into her books, what she did right, and what (per her admission) she got wrong.

Dan and Mary also give us some peeks into what they’ve done with Clayton (completely fictional) and Nashville (adjusted via authorial arson) in their own books.

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Take a city to which you have been, and set a chase scene there.

The Terror, by Dan Simmons, narrated by Simon Vance

Writing Excuses 7.7: Historical Fantasy

We begin with a definition of Historical Fantasy that allows us narrow the topic and differentiate it from Alternate History. When we say historical fantasy we mean “adding magic to a historical period we want to write in.” We offer some examples of this, talk about why it’s popular right now, and then talk about how you as a writer can do this well.

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Identify a historical period that you like, and write a story in that setting. Don’t bother researching anything until you’re done.

His Majesty’s Dragon: Temeraire, Book 1, by Naomi Novik, narrated by Simon Vance

Writing Excuses 7.6: Behind the Marshmallow

Poor Mary. Even after recording an entire season with Brandon, Dan, and Howard, she still scratches her head sometimes and asks herself “why?”

“Why does Dan say ‘these marshmallows are delicious’ in a funny voice? And why do Brandon and Howard think it’s funny?”

“Why” indeed.

In this particularly self-indulgent episode of Writing Excuses we take you behind the marshmallow. We explain the origins of the ‘cast, and offer you rare insight into what makes this show what it is. We talk about how the show evolved, how our equipment came to be “borrowed,” and how Mary came to be involved.

And throughout the discussion we abandon our typically tight style and talk all over the place (and each other.) Will this help you with your writing? Maybe. If the knowledge that we are silly allows you to relax a little bit concerning your own secret goofiness, then maybe this episode has instructional merit.

It may be, however, that it’s just a warning.

Liner Notes of Dubious Pedigree: As promised, here are the class projects from Producer Jordo which served as proof (to Jordo, anyway) that we could actually do this: Cecil Episode 4, and Cecil Episode 5. Also, here’s a link the mixer we currently use: Zoom R16 (this is the one we own, not the one we totally need to return to its rightful owner.)

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Give us a story with an old, colonial British type eating marshmallows. For extra points, set it in the Schlockiverse. (Note: no actual points will be awarded.)

Our stuff! Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson, Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal, (and lots of things narrated by Mary), and Dan Wells’ John Cleaver trilogy.

Writing Excuses 7.5: Sensory Writing

Dan and Mary were joined by Sam Sykes at World Fantasy, and invited him to talk about sensory writing, which he had recently discussed in a workshop.

The heart of the discussion is which senses (typically beyond sight) to include as we write. Sounds, smells, tactile information, and even tastes are necessary to engage the reader. And while it’s possible to include too much of that, Sam counsels writers to err on the side of excess because it’s always easy to edit things back a notch should you find upon re-reading that you’ve gone too far.

Sam, Mary and Dan offer lots of good advice on the matter — when it’s important and why, how to do it well, and how not to overdo it.

Term of the Week: “Literary diabetes.”

Disclaimer of the Week: No grandparents were harmed in the recording of this podcast, nor were any chihuahuas.

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Write the point-of-view of a character whose vision is obscured, and describe how they use their other senses to attempt to determine where they are.

Terrorists in Love: The Real Stories of Islamic Radicals, by Ken Ballen, narrated by Peter Ganim

Writing Excuses 7.4: Brevity

Brevity! Use fewer words!

After the obligatory “we-are-going-to-cut-this-short-after-the-intro” joke, we talk about how we can be appropriately brief, even in the context of writing epic fantasy. Mary offers us some rules of thumb for story brevity in the short fiction she writes, and Howard talks about how he accomplishes the extreme brevity of language required by his comic. Dan points out that the shorter you work, the more important your individual words become.

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Give us a group of people on a long trip in space, with a problem, which they solve. Do it in 150 words.

Farenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury, narrated by the author

Writing Excuses 7.3: Fauna and Flora

Animals and plants, round two! We begin this episode with examples where we think people did their flora and fauna wrong, or poorly, or at least in ways we can poke easy holes in. Our examples include:

  • Pitch Black
  • Twilight
  • Avatar
  • And then we get tired of negative examples, and talk about The Mote in God’s Eye.
We then attempt to brainstorm some flora and fauna on our world of mutagenic meteor dust. Pizza-trees, armored buffalo, fire-dandelions, and more… and that’s before we even get started populating the coast, and Brandon calls can-of-worms on the project and hands the brainstorming to you, the listener.
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Populate Excustoria’s coast with some magically, meteorically mutated life.

Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card, narrated by Stefan Rudniki. It’s a fantastic example of well-constructed flora and fauna, and it’s also a good example of how to make a sequel almost completely unlike the book that came before it.

Writing Excuses 7.2: World Building Flora and Fauna

Let’s build the plants and animals for your science fiction or fantasy book!

We begin with a discussion about naming, and about deciding how much evolutionary biology to put into creating cool beasties. We also talk about planning a food chain, building around water, and considering other resources (especially wood, for growing fantasy civilizations.)

Other considerations include migration patterns, life-cycles, and the possibility of turning the whole thing on its head.

We offer examples from Dune, Legacy of Heorot, Inherit the Stars, Ender’s Game, and other places. And if you’re looking for resources, check out Guns, Germs, and Steel.

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Take a horrible, hard-to-domesticate animal, and then create a culture in which somebody has figured out how to domesticate these beasties.

A Fire Upon the Deep, by Vernor Vinge, narrated by Peter Larkin

Writing Excuses 7.1 When Good Characters Go Bad

Welcome to Writing Excuses Season 7!

Let’s start with a trip to the dark side! How do you take a good character and make them evil? And why would you want to do this? Brandon, Dan, Mary, and Howard answer that second question first, and then walk you through the process of doing this. We cover establishing the character, venturing onto a slippery slope, and connecting these and other elements to important pieces of the story.

We talk about the types of “evil” a character can fall into, using character examples like Oedipus, Othello, Boromir, and Doctor Horrible, and how you might incorporate tragic flaws into their downward-trending paths. Finally, we offer examples where we’ve seen it done poorly. Hello, Anakin!

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Come up with a list of three things that are important to your main character. Push one of those things out of alignment so that it will draw your character to the antagonist’s side.

Hard Magic, by Larry Correia, narrated by Bronson Pinchot