Category Archives: Q&A

Writing Excuses 10.45: Q&A at the GenCon Writing Symposium, with Kameron Hurley, James L. Sutter, and Michael Underwood

Dan and Howard are joined by Kameron Hurley, James L. Sutter, and Michael Underwood for an anything-goes Q&A at the GenCon Indy Writing Symposium. We had reached the end of our two-hour block, but the audience hungered for the chance to ask their questions of these guests, so the Symposium gave us an extra half hour in the room. The audience had already been in this room for 120 minutes, but they wanted more more more, so we ran a bit long.

  • Can you advise us about Writing the Other especially regarding avoiding cultural appropriation? (yes, this question deserves an entire symposium all by itself. We answered as best we could.)
  • If you were trying to break in right now, what would you do, and how would you do it?
  • How do you best handle slithering out of making a commitment to help someone with their writing, and how do you deliver bad news to those writers if you end up committing to help anyway.
  • How soon do you telegraph a plot twist?
  • How do you, as a non-writer, be a good resource to the writers in your life?
  • Do you know your title at the beginning of the writing process, or does it come to you later?
  • How do you know when you need another revision pass, vs. when you need to simply rewrite the whole thing again?

*NOTE: Back in July we attempted to record an episode on cultural appropriation with several guests hailing from marginalized and commonly misappropriated cultures, races, and backgrounds. The discussion was wonderful, but the recording itself was unusable due to an equipment failure. We wanted to share it with you, but even our brilliant mastering engineer Alex couldn’t make it listenable. We promise to address this topic in the future, and we’ve purchased all new recording gear to ensure that we capture the discussion correctly.

This episode was recorded and mastered by Alex Jackson

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Take a piece of real world astronomical phenomenon, something recently discovered if possible, and make it part of your story.

The Mirror Empire: Worldbreaker Saga, by Kameron Hurley, narrated by Liza Ross

Writing Excuses 10.43: Q&A on Endings, with Delia Sherman

Delia Sherman joined us aboard the Independence of the Seas for our question-and-answer installment on endings. The questions came from the attendees at the Writing Excuses Workshop, which was, lest anyone forget, on a cruise ship in the Caribbean.  The questions:

  • Why do more short stories than novels end on tragic notes?
  • How do you keep an ending from being predictable or boring?
  • How do you write a stand-alone ending with sequel potential?
  • What are the best ways to avoid infodump endings?
  • Are there differences between writing the first novel in a series and other novels in the series?
  • How do you know which questions to leave unanswered?
  • What sort of attention do you give to your last lines?

This episode was engineered aboard The Independence of the Seas by Bert Grimm, and mastered in a soundproofed bullet-train by Alex Jackson.

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You finished your book? TAKE A BREAK! This week’s homework is for you to relax a bit, and do whatever it is you do with a spot of time off. Revision begins soon, and you may need a palate-cleanser.

The Freedom Maze, by Delia Sherman, narrated by Robin Miles

Writing Excuses 10.39: Q&A on Plot Twists with Kevin J. Anderson

Kevin J. Anderson joined us at Sasquan/WorldCon 73 to take questions about plot twists. Here are the questions that came in from our live audience:

  • Genre Twists: good, bad, or ugly?
  • Can you compare and contrast a good plot twist with a bad one?
  • What is the biggest mistake professional authors make with regarding plot twists?

 

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Try to remove your plot twist as a reveal, and see if the story still works.

Clockwork Angels, by Kevin J. Anderson, narrated by Neil Peart

Writing Excuses 10.34: Q&A on Pacing

We wrap up this month’s discussion of pacing with a Q&A. Here are the questions we pulled out of the virtual hat (read: Twitter) for answering during the episode:

  • What are some early indications of a pacing problem?
  • How do you chart pacing so that it remains even?
  • Can you control pacing using scene/sequel format?
  • How do you handle character progression during travel without making it choppy?
  • It feels like new authors are required to deliver breakneck pacing. Is this true?
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Plot twists are coming next month. This exercise is called “hard left.” Take a scene that is moving forward at a breakneck pace. Throw a twist at them, and don’t break scene. Force the pacing to continue in the new direction.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, by Barbara Demick, narrated by Karen White

Writing Excuses 10.30: Q&A on Middles, with Marie Brennan

Marie Brennan joins us again, this time to help us field your questions about middles. Here are the questions we collected from the various social media feeds:

  • How do you maintain interest without having something explode every other chapter?
  • In short fiction, how do you prevent try-fail cycles from bloating the story?
  • How do you prevent the introduction of POVs during the middle of the story from being jarring?
  • How do you keep subplots from turning into side quests?
  • In longer stories, how important are “breather” chapters that ease the tension?
  • Do you have methods for weaving plot and subplot threads together? Do you outline this, or keep it in your head?

Fifty-Cent Word: Proprioception, which serves as an excellent metaphor for what expertise with a set of tools feels like. Thank you, Marie, for simplifying the whole “the tool should be an extension of your hand” thing.

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Murder the Middle Darling: Remove an element (subplot, side character, location) from the middle of your story, and see how that changes the pacing of your story.

The Summer Prince, by Alaya Dawn Johnson, narrated by Rebecca Mozo and Lincoln Hoppe

Writing Excuses 10.26: Q&A on Scenes and Description

We close June’s Master Class episodes in the usual manner, with a Q&A from our listeners and followers on Twitter.

  • How do you “Show, don’t tell” a character’s thoughts?
  • How do you describe a character’s appearance when they’re in their own POV?
  • What’s the difference between scene and setting?
  • How does your writing environment affect the scene you’re writing?
  • Can an evocative fantasy setting be described effectively in a short story?

 

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Next month’s episodes focus on middles. Go to a friend and describe to that friend why the middle of your book is going to be awesome. Not the beginning, not the ending… the middle.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, by Patrick Süskind, narrated by Sean Barrett

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?
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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 10.17: 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?

 

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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