Season 17 Archives

17.1: Genre and Media are Promises

Your Hosts: Howard Tayler, Kaela Rivera, Sandra Tayler, and Megan Lloyd The genre of your story is making promises to the reader, and the medium upon which your story is told makes promises too. In this episode we talk about the expectations set by various mediums and genres, and how we can leverage those to ensure that we deliver … Continue reading 17.1: Genre and Media are Promises

What do you plan to have your work-in-progress deliver? Does the genre or medium you’re working in support the promise of that deliverable?

Mine by Delilah Dawson

17.2: It Was a Promise of Three Parts

Your Hosts: Howard Tayler, Kaela Rivera, Sandra Tayler, and Megan Lloyd The title of this episode comes to us from the first paragraph of The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss—a novel which delights us with turns of phrase and evocative prose from beginning to end. We’re continuing our exploration of “promises as a structure” by looking at … Continue reading 17.2: It Was a Promise of Three Parts

Write six different 1st lines, each of which makes a promise you don’t think you can keep. Ask yourself WHY you can’t keep it.

17.3: Chekov’s Surprising Yet Inevitable Inverted Gun

Your Hosts: Howard Tayler, Kaela Rivera, Sandra Tayler, and Megan Lloyd This week we’re talking about giving inevitability to our intended surprise, and we open with a discussion of Chekov’s Gun, which, as a writing rule, is mostly used in inversion. Next week we’ll focus on making inevitable things surprising. Liner Notes: Art and Editing of Suicide Squad (YouTube)  … Continue reading 17.3: Chekov’s Surprising Yet Inevitable Inverted Gun

In your current WIP, pin down a person, a place, or a thing you threw in for flavor at the beginning of your story but didn’t plan to use again. Write a scene for them to come back in the final act of your story in an unexpected way.

17.4: The Gun on the Mantel is Actually a Fish

Your Hosts: Howard Tayler, Kaela Rivera, Sandra Tayler, and Megan Lloyd In the previous episode we discussed how to ensure that your surprise feels inevitable. In this episode we’re covering how to make inevitability feel surprising. The title is a nod to the concept of the “red herring,” which is arguably the most useful tool for setting up a … Continue reading 17.4: The Gun on the Mantel is Actually a Fish

Do the reverse of last week’s homework: find a thing that is important later and find a scene early where you can “put it on the mantle.”

And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie

17.5: The Promise of the Brand

Your Hosts: Howard Tayler, Kaela Rivera, Sandra Tayler, and Megan Lloyd Your brand—your name, the cover art for your book, and even the typeface for the title—set expectations for the book’s contents. That advice about not judging a book by its cover? It’s lovely in theory, but in practice, that’s just not how it works. In this episode we’ll … Continue reading 17.5: The Promise of the Brand

Describe the perfect cover for your work-in-progress. What is the right typeface for your brand?

Illuminae, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

17.6: Hitting Reset Without Getting Hit Back

Your Hosts: Howard Tayler, Kaela Rivera, Sandra Tayler, and Megan Lloyd Oh no! You’re in the middle of a thing (a novel, a series, a career) and you suddenly realize that the expectations you set early on are not the expectations you’ll be meeting. What do you do now? , We’re talking about how go about resetting audience expectations, … Continue reading 17.6: Hitting Reset Without Getting Hit Back

“Eight Expectations” would have been a great title for this eight-episode dive into expectations-as-a-structure, but it would have required a different outline. Your homework? Write up the course outline that Howard couldn’t.

Circle: Two Worlds Connected (Korean TV series)
We’re not sure where you can watch it in your locale, so we gave you the Wikipedia link.

17.7: Dissecting Influence

Your Hosts: Howard Tayler, Kaela Rivera, Sandra Tayler, and Megan Lloyd What are your influences? What pieces of art, music, literature, or other media have inspired you? In this episode we’ll talk about making that inspiration deliberate, and consciously learning from our influences. Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson

Take a slice of something that inspires you (book, movie, art) and break down a list of the specific elements you find appealing.

Hobbes Sakuga : This YouTube channel is a curated collection of the very best cuts of hand drawn animation compiled into category-specific videos.

17.8: The Alchemy of Creativity

Your Hosts: Howard Tayler, Kaela Rivera, Sandra Tayler, and Megan Lloyd How do you translate things from the spark of inspiration into a work that someone else can consume? Like, instead of turning a movie into a book, you’re trying to create a book out of the movie in your head. And what if your “spark” isn’t a movie … Continue reading 17.8: The Alchemy of Creativity

Choose a scene from a film and write up a “novelization”.

Every Frame a Painting (YouTube Channel)

17.9: Let’s Talk About Structure

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, Peng Shepherd, and Howard Tayler We’re beginning another eight-episode deep-dive series, and this time it’s a fresh approach to story structure, led by our guest host Peng Shepherd. Join us as we zoom right through the overarching frameworks defined via things like the Hero’s Journey, Freytag’s Triangle, Save … Continue reading 17.9: Let’s Talk About Structure

Pick a favorite book with an interesting structure. Can you identify how the author’s chosen structure enhances the tension, plot, and/or character development of the story?

17.10: Structuring with Multiple POVs

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, Peng Shepherd, and Howard Tayler In our second micro-structure episode, Peng Shepherd leads us into an exploration of the ways in which the use of multiple point-of-view characters can create a framework within the larger framework of the story. Liner Notes: In one example we contrasted the single POV … Continue reading 17.10: Structuring with Multiple POVs

Write a scene in your current WIP from another character’s POV and see what changes,  like how the tone of the scene shifts, or what new emotions or information are revealed.

Meet Me In Another Life, by Catriona Silvey

17.11: Structuring with Multiple Timelines

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, Peng Shepherd, and Howard Tayler Guest host Peng Shepherd continues to lead our exploration of sub- and micro-structures by taking us into the scaffolding of in media res, flashbacks, and other tools for structuring a story by telling it out of chronological order. We also cover how to … Continue reading 17.11: Structuring with Multiple Timelines

Consider what adding a second timeline to your current WIP would enhance about the story. Which characters’ motivations might be better illuminated, or which plot points or mysteries might be able to be given additional depth?

The Cartographers, by Peng Shepherd

17.12: Structuring a Story Within a Story

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, Peng Shepherd, and Howard Tayler One common structure—both macro and micro—is the “story within a story,” or “framing story” structure, and yet somehow we’ve never really explored it on Writing Excuses. Guest host Peng Shepherd is here to help us set things right. Liner Notes: Here are some … Continue reading 17.12: Structuring a Story Within a Story

Take or create an artifact within your current WIP, whether it’s a letter, a diary entry, an in-world almanac or spellbook, etc., and flesh it out for a chapter. See what it adds to your worldbuilding or plot.

Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke

17.13: Structuring Around a Thing

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, Peng Shepherd, and Howard Tayler Our exploration of sub- and micro-structures continues with guest host Peng Shepherd. This week we’re talking about how a story can be structured around a “thing.” The simplest explanatory example would be structuring around a map, which is where we start the episode… … Continue reading 17.13: Structuring Around a Thing

Is there a “thing” in your project that could function as a natural structure?

The Flanders Panel, by Arturo Pérez-Reverte, translated by Margaret Jull Costa

17.14: Structuring for Disordered or Order-less Reading Order

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, Peng Shepherd, and Howard Tayler Guest host Peng Shepherd leads our discussion of “order-less reading order” (after we get past the business of “having too much fun with the episode title”). But what do we even mean by “order-less” or “disordered?” At one level, we mean you can … Continue reading 17.14: Structuring for Disordered or Order-less Reading Order

Look at your current work-in-progress. Are there pieces of backstory that you could unpack into a prequel? Can you shuffle your story events for orderless/disordered reading?

Crossings, by Alex Landragin

17.15: Storytelling in the Footnotes

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, Peng Shepherd, and Howard Tayler You probably already know what footnotes are¹, but have you ever seen a story told through the footnotes²?  It’s similar to the story-within-a-story structure, but there’s more to it than that. In this episode our guest host Peng Shepherd explores footnote storytelling³ with … Continue reading 17.15: Storytelling in the Footnotes

Read the short story “STET” by Sarah Gailey, then take a short story you like (or one which you wrote yourself) and try to add footnotes to it in a similar way; either to expand upon the story, or to deliver a twist or contradiction to the story told in the body of the text.

Molly on the Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal, illustrated by Diana Maya

17.16: Miscellaneous Structures

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, Peng Shepherd, and Howard Tayler Thus far we’ve attempted to organize our discussion of sub-, micro-, and other alternative structures  with specific categories, but this domain is a lot larger than that. This final episode with our guest host Peng Shepherd has been titled “Miscellaneous Structures” because, y’know, … Continue reading 17.16: Miscellaneous Structures

Take the project you’re working on (or just an outline of it) and try to reframe it using one of the micro- or sub-structures we’ve discussed during the last eight episodes. Consider how it changes your work. What aspects of the story does it heighten, and what does it diminish?

Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries (defaced edition), by Howard Tayler

17.17: Writing in the Public Domain

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, Brandon Sanderson, and Gama Martinez Did you know that there are some famous intellectual properties which have entered the public domain, and which you can therefore use to create your own stories? It’s true! Gama Martinez (whose God of Neverland novel features Peter Pan) joined Dan and Brandon at LTUE to talk about … Continue reading 17.17: Writing in the Public Domain

Find something entering the public domain, and write a story about it.

God of Neverland by Gama Martinez, narrated by Simon Vance

17.18: How to be Funny, with Jody Lynn Nye

Your Hosts: Dan Wells and Brandon Sanderson, with special guest Jody Lynn Nye So, you’ve decided you want something to be funny. How do you go about making that happen? Jody Lynn Nye joined Dan and Brandon at LTUE, and pitched this topic to them. And yes, it’s much more than just “delivery, delivery, delivery.” Liner … Continue reading 17.18: How to be Funny, with Jody Lynn Nye

Take a scene that you’ve written, and re-write it to be funny.

View from the Imperium, by Jody Lynn Nye

17.19: Working in a Collaborative Environment

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, Brandon Sanderson, and Megan Lloyd Megan Lloyd returns to the podcast to talk us through the process of creating something in a collaborative environment, whether it’s a pair of authors working together, or a dozen people working to write, storyboard, and animate a television series. Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, … Continue reading 17.19: Working in a Collaborative Environment

Find a buddy. Pull up a story idea of yours, and talk it over with your buddy to find out where you should go next.

Arcane, on Netflix

17.20: Basics of Ensemble Characterization

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, Zoraida Cordova, Kaela Rivera, and Howard Tayler What’s the difference between an ensemble story, and a story the has a lot of characters in it? Zoraida Cordova joins us for this episode, kicking off an eight-episode mini-master-class about ensembles. In this episode we discuss what makes ensembles work, and how we … Continue reading 17.20: Basics of Ensemble Characterization

Look at your pro-protagonist. Free-write a scene in which they’re applying for the job of being the protagonist in your story.

17.21: Casting Your Story With Character Voice

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, Zoraida Cordova, Kaela Rivera, and Howard Tayler Every member of your ensemble has a reason to be there, but they also have their own voice. Zoraida Cordova joins us for a discussion of how we make our ensemble characters distinct from one another. Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by … Continue reading 17.21: Casting Your Story With Character Voice

First: have each of your ensemble characters describe themselves. Second: have each of your ensemble characters describe each of the others.

Shafter’s Shifters & the Chassis of Chance (advance reader copy), by Howard Tayler, via the $5 tier of the Schlock Mercenary Patreon

17.22: Establishing the Ensemble

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, Zoraida Cordova, Kaela Rivera, and Howard Tayler Every character in your ensemble needs to matter to the team, or they probably don’t belong in the ensemble. Zoraida Cordova leads us into this discussion of how we build our ensembles, how we introduce the characters, and how we ensure that all of them are important … Continue reading 17.22: Establishing the Ensemble

Pick an ensemble work that you like. Identify each member of the ensemble and why they are important, and what they bring to the story.

Ghost Station, by Dan Wells

17.23: Are We Stronger Together?

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, Zoraida Cordova, Kaela Rivera, and Howard Tayler Sometimes we have to look at our ensemble of characters and ask ourselves what kind of story we’re trying to tell? If the story works with a single protagonist and one POV, maybe this isn’t an ensemble story after all. If, however, the plot requires a team … Continue reading 17.23: Are We Stronger Together?

Create a “connection” map for your characters that establishes what all the characters’ relationships are. Include at least one challenge in their relationship, and one way the relationship enhances each character.

17.24: Ensembles and Genre

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, Zoraida Cordova, Kaela Rivera, and Howard Tayler This week we’re talking about how our genre choice influences the structure of our ensemble. How is a heist ensemble different from a superhero team? What happens when the superheroes need to do a heist? Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex … Continue reading 17.24: Ensembles and Genre

Imagine your work-in-progress as a different genre. How would your cast or ensemble need to change?

Slow Horses (Apple TV)

17.25: Archetypes, Ensembles, and Expectations

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, Zoraida Cordova, Kaela Rivera, and Howard Tayler We’ve talked about making every member of the ensemble meaningful. In this episode we’re discussing who, in archetype terms, everybody is. How can archetypes help us get started, how can they help us set reader expectations, and what are the archetype-related pitfalls we need to avoid? And … Continue reading 17.25: Archetypes, Ensembles, and Expectations

Identify the archetypes of each character in your work-in-progress. Change that archetype or give them a sub-archetype, to try to branch out and create rounder, unexpected characters.

Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo

17.26: Hanging Separately

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, Zoraida Cordova, Kaela Rivera, and Howard Tayler Our episode title comes to us across two and a half centuries: “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” —Benjamin Franklin We’ve already established that you’re planning to write an ensemble. This isn’t an episode about the pros and cons … Continue reading 17.26: Hanging Separately

Pick an ensemble story that failed for you. Find its failure mode, and write down the ways in which you’d fix it.

The Expanse (TV series, Amazon Prime)

17.27: Ensembles Behind the Scenes

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, Zoraida Cordova, Kaela Rivera, and Howard Tayler In this, our final “ensemble masterclass” episode, we discuss the nuts-and-bolts, the tips and tricks, the tools of the trade. In short, we talk very specifically about how we do it. Color-coded sticky notes, index cards, spreadsheets, and more… Liner Notes: Howard’s guest story for Dave Kellet’s … Continue reading 17.27: Ensembles Behind the Scenes

Color-code your outline, and see if it’s helpful.

Into the Dark, by Claudia Gray

17.28: Keys to Writing Dialog

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, Maurice Broaddus, and Howard Tayler Writer, teacher, and community organizer Maurice Broaddus joins us for an eight-episode mini-master-class on writing dialogue. In this episode he walks us through his three keys: pay attention to how people speak, write in a way that evokes how they speak, and write … Continue reading 17.28: Keys to Writing Dialog

Record (with permission!) a conversation of at least 15 minutes. Transcribe it.

Sweep of Stars, by Maurice Broaddus

17.29: The Job of Dialogue

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, Maurice Broaddus, and Howard Tayler We’re back with Maurice Broaddus for the second in our eight-episode mini-master-class on writing dialogue. This time around we’re addressing the question of dialogue’s “job.” What’s it for? Why is this particular bit of dialogue in this scene, this chapter, this book? Credits: This … Continue reading 17.29: The Job of Dialogue

Identify your authorial intent. Remove all lines of dialog that don’t support that intent.

The Murder of Mr. Wickham, by Claudia Gray

17.30: Know Your Characters

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, Maurice Broaddus, and Howard Tayler How well do you know your characters? Sure, you might know their age, nationality, and perhaps wardrobe, but how well do you know their internal characteristics? Do you know them well enough that you can write dialog that sounds like them? In this episode we … Continue reading 17.30: Know Your Characters

Write monologues in which your characters tell you about themselves.

17.31: Everyone Has an Agenda

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, Maurice Broaddus, and Howard Tayler We’ve mentioned “area of intention” earlier in this dialog master class, but now the concept gets the spotlight. If all of your characters have their own agendas, their own areas of intention, then the dialog between them should reflect that. Credits: This episode was recorded by … Continue reading 17.31: Everyone Has an Agenda

Identify the characters’ areas of intent. Remove all lines of dialog that don’t support that intent.

17.32: Everything is About Conflict

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, Maurice Broaddus, and Howard Tayler Everything is about conflict? Really? Well, yes. Maybe not in the action-movie sense, but conflict is everywhere, even among people whose goals, objectives, and methodologies are in alignment. This, of course, means that it exists among your cast of characters, and it will inform the … Continue reading 17.32: Everything is About Conflict

Write a scene in which two characters try to decide whether or not to commit a crime. One has done crimes before. One has not. Halfway through, reverse their positions on the matter.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (currently requires a subscription to Paramount+.)