Season 14 Archives

14.01: Worldbuilding Begins! Up Front, or On the Fly?

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary Robinette, Dan, and Howard Season 14 is all about worldbuilding¹, and we’re kicking it off with a discussion of when you do that bit of work. Do you handle worldbuilding before you write the story, as you write the story, or after you’ve finished the story? We’ll talk about how we … Continue reading 14.01: Worldbuilding Begins! Up Front, or On the Fly?

Dan collected these three worldbuilding elements from Brandon, Mary, and Howard. Your job? Work them into a scene.

  1. Red food is taboo
  2. hairstyles are important
  3. Different species/races of sophont who cannot interbreed or share food.

The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi, narrated by Wil Wheaton

14.02: Geography and Biomes

Your Hosts: Brandon, Dan, Howard, and Mahtab Mahtab Narsimhan joins us this year for a dozen episodes on worldbuilding, and this week we’re talking about geography and biomes. These pieces of our settings can be central to the stories we tell, but they can also be backdrops, and the story purposes they serve may determine … Continue reading 14.02: Geography and Biomes

Describe a landscape using four senses that are not sight

14.03: World of Hats

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary Robinette, Margaret, and Howard Margaret Dunlap joins us during season 14 to talk about worldbuilding. In this, her first episode with us, we talk about worlds in which a monolithic culture (like, say, ‘everyone wears hats’) is represented. We cover how to use the trope to your advantage, and how to avoid … Continue reading 14.03: World of Hats

Write some monoculture-defying fanfic, in which you add outliers to your favorite world of hats. Like, say, a Klingon belly-dancer, or the microclimate on Hoth where you can grow peaches.

An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir

14.03: Writing the Other—Bisexual Characters

Your Hosts: Dan, Tempest, Dongwon, and TJ This is the first of our Writing The Other episodes, in which we set out to help writers portray people who are unlike them. In this episode we’re joined by T.J. Berry. She walks us through the language and terminology of bisexuality.  

Find and watch the 100th episode of Brooklyn 99, which portrays the coming-out of a bisexual character

Space Unicorn Blues, by T.J. Berry

14.5: Viewpoint as Worldbuilding

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary Robinette, Dan, and Howard When you’re defining your world for the reader, some voice in the text must speak those definitions. This episode is about how we use character voices—their dialog and their narrative view points—to worldbuild. What do they see? How do they perceive it? What are their favorite jokes? … Continue reading 14.5: Viewpoint as Worldbuilding

From within, from without: Take a character who is alien to the culture/setting you’re writing, and describe things from their point of view. Now describe those same things from the point of view of a character native to the culture/setting.

Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi

14.7: How Weird is Too Weird?

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary Robinette, Margaret, and Howard How weird, how far outside the realm of what the reader feels to be familiar, is too weird? Where is the line beyond which the fantasy is too fantastic, the unreal too unrealistic, or the aliens too alien? In this episode we discuss finding that line, and with the … Continue reading 14.7: How Weird is Too Weird?

Take your current work-in-progress, and determine what your “one buy” is. Narrow it down.

14.9: Showing Off

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary Robinette, Dan, and Howard Let’s infodump without infodumping. Let’s deliver lots of exposition without sounding expository. Let’s talk with the maid and the butler without having maid-and-butler dialog. Credits: This episode was recorded by Benjamin Hewett, and mastered by Alex Jackson  

Write some ephemera for your world

Shadiversity (Vidcast), by Shad M. Brooks

14.10: Magic Systems

Your Hosts: Brandon, Dan, Howard, and Mahtab Let’s design magic systems! We talk about how we do it, and how the principles of magic system design apply to the science fiction systems we create, and vice-versa. NOTE: In this episode we’re talking about “hard” magic systems, where there are well-defined rule sets (even if the … Continue reading 14.10: Magic Systems

Take a “soft” magic system, and turn it into a “hard” system. Give Gandalf rules

The Third Eye, by Mahtab Narsimhan

14.11: Magic Without Rules

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary Robinette, Margaret, and Howard When we say “without rules” we’re talking about stories whose magic is not held under logical scrutiny for the reader. There are lots of reasons why you might do this, and in this episode we’ll talk about not just about the why, but also the how. Credits: This … Continue reading 14.11: Magic Without Rules

Take a story with rule-based magic. Now have the rules all go wrong, the characters realize they don’t really understand the rules at all.

Bookburners, by Max Gladstone, Mur Lafferty, Margaret Dunlap, Andrea Phillips, Brian Slattery, and Amal el Mohtar

14.12: Writing The Other — Latinx Representation

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, Tempest Bradford, Dongwon Song, and Julia Rios Julia Rios joins us to talk about writing characters who come from one of the many Latin-American cultures or subcultures. “Latinx” is a catch-all term for people with Latin-American heritage, including mixed-race people. In this episode we talk about mash-up cuisine, intersectionality, and how … Continue reading 14.12: Writing The Other — Latinx Representation

Research and then write a meal scene in the POV of a person from a specific culture.

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe, by  Carlos Hernandez

WX 14.13: Obstacles vs. Complications

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary Robinette, Margaret, and Howard What’s the difference between an obstacle and a complication? Margaret Dunlap takes the lead on this episode for us, giving us the tools we need to create ‘impediments to main character progress’ which will drive our stories across page turns (and commercial breaks) in compelling, twisty ways. … Continue reading WX 14.13: Obstacles vs. Complications

Take an obstacle in your story, and turn it into a complication.

Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse

14.14: When To Tell

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary Robinette, Dan, and Howard “Show, don’t tell,” they tell us. Except sometimes showing is not always the best thing to do. Or even the right thing to do. Sometimes we should be telling. In this episode we’ll tell you about telling. (We’d show you about telling, but we still don’t have … Continue reading 14.14: When To Tell

Pick an important scene from your work. Cut it. Now have a character transition us across where that scene used to be.

The Hobbit: The Two Hour Fan Editby Fiona van Dahl (and MGM/New Line Cinema/Wingnut Films)

14.15: Technology

Your Hosts: Brandon, Dan, Howard, and Mahtab We’ve spent a lot of time talking about magic systems in our worldbuilding. It’s time to talk about  science and technology in that same way. This has been a staple (perhaps the defining staple) of science fiction since before “science fiction” was a word. At risk of opening the … Continue reading 14.15: Technology

Go read Wired (or some other science and technology periodical, whether online or in print)

Feed, by M.T. Anderson

14.16: Your Setting is a Telegraph

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary Robinette, Margaret, and Howard Your setting can quickly tell the reader what kind of a story they’re reading, and in this episode we’ll talk about how we make that happen. Think of it as the “establishing shot” principle from film making, expanded to cover whatever worldbuilding details we choose to reveal … Continue reading 14.16: Your Setting is a Telegraph

Write an opening. You can start from scratch, or re-open something you’re already working on. Write a half page, and with three concrete details establish the tone. Now rewrite, keeping the dialog the same, and use different details to telegraph a different tone.

Terminal Alliance, by Jim Hines

14.17: It’s Like “Car Talk” meets “Welcome To Nightvale”

Your Hosts: Howard, Mary Robinette, Dan, and Dongwon This episode is about comp titles (comparative titles), which are those things you use to describe your project in terms of other works. We discuss the ones we’ve used (both successfully and unsuccessfully), and the criteria we use to come up with good ones. Credits: This episode was … Continue reading 14.17: It’s Like “Car Talk” meets “Welcome To Nightvale”

Come up with six comp titles—three for existing projects, and three for projects you may want to write. May, in fact, need to write…

A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine

Writing Excuses Conference and Retreat 2019 – Mystery Guest Announcement!

Hello Writing Excuses Folks! The Writing Excuses Conference and Retreat 2019 is September 13 – September 22, which is FOUR MONTHS AWAY! We’d love for you to join us, and to sweeten the pot, AN ANNOUNCEMENT. WXR MYSTERY INSTRUCTOR We’re delighted to announce that Cory Doctorow is our Mystery Instructor this year! Cory Doctorow (craphound.com) … Continue reading Writing Excuses Conference and Retreat 2019 – Mystery Guest Announcement!

14.18: Setting as Theme

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary Robinette, Dan, and Howard Theme is one of those high-falutin’ concepts we’re often reluctant to approach in a nuts-and-bolts sort of way. In this episode we’ll talk about how our themes can be communicated through elements of our settings, deepening reader engagement with the things we write. We offer examples from … Continue reading 14.18: Setting as Theme

Pick a sensory thematic element, and make it recurring. Determine a reason for it to appear in each scene.

Babylon 5, by J. Michael Stracynski

14.19: Religion and Ritual

Your Hosts: Brandon, Dan, Howard, and Mahtab We often worldbuild religions and rituals for the stories we create. In this episode we discuss the decisions surrounding this, and our approaches for doing it well. Credits: This episode was recorded by Dan Thompson, and mastered by Alex Jackson

Attend a meeting of religious or worship service which is not yours.

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

14.20: Allegory in Fiction

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary Robinette, Margaret, and Howard What is an allegory, anyway? This episode probably won’t settle that question, but we did manage a discussion on how to use our stories to teach things, or be stand-ins for things, and to do it in the ways that allegories and/or parables might. We talk about … Continue reading 14.20: Allegory in Fiction

Take a famous fable and retell it as an allegory.