Tag Archives: Hang a Lantern on it

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 the trope if it’s going to cause problems.


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

Writing Excuses 9.9: What to do When Truth is Stranger than Fiction

Nancy Fulda is back this week to talk with us about the truth, and what do to when it’s stranger than fiction. Sometimes real people’s names are just too cool, and if you were to put them in a book nobody would believe it. Sometimes actual, historical events are so ridiculous there’s no way you can get away with putting them in a story that you expect people to take seriously. And sometimes real science is just not going to be believed by your readers.

So how do you get away with using these things, with writing your stories in true places? Sometimes all it takes is the hanging of the right lantern, but in many cases you must go to great lengths to re-educate the reader without breaking the fourth wall or otherwise knocking them out of the story.


Run your character through a double-funnel extruder and see what’s at the end.

Chimes at Midnight: An October Daye Novel, by Seanan McGuire, narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal

Writing Excuses 4.18: How to Steal for Fun and Profit

We here at Writing Excuses have talked about the Anxiety of Influence before, we’ve discussed genre-blending, and we’ve talked about where ideas come from. Now we’re going to blend all of those in one ‘cast as we talk about stealing stuff without plagiarizing.

You can call it “borrowing” if you want to, but as Howard Tayler once said, “good artists borrow, great artists steal.” (Note: It’s possible that Pablo Picasso also said this.) We offer examples from books, film, music, and the visual arts — done right, done wrong, and done award-winningly well. If you’re coming up short on ideas, this is the ‘cast for you. It’s probably a good ‘cast even if you’re NOT coming up short on ideas.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman, narrated by Neil Himself, which is a great example of stealing (from Kipling in this case) and getting away with it (and getting a Hugo Award in this case.)

Writing Prompt: Hit the button labeled “click here to be randomly teraported into the archives” at Schlock Mercenary (it’s under the calendar navigation to the right of the comic), read three or four strips, and steal from them to create something new.

Funny Song That Would Have Been Funnier If We’d Mentioned Baloo The Zombear: “Brain Necessities.”

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Writing Excuses Season 3 Episode 28: World-Building Gender Roles

Is there a disconnect? Brandon specifically introduces the episode as “World-building political correctness,” but the title here says “World-Building Gender Roles.” And then Brandon goes on to blame Howard for picking the title. There is, in fact, a disconnect. Oh the mirth! Howard was imagining a slightly wider scope for the ‘cast, but Brandon focused the crew on just one aspect.

And that’s probably best. After all, this is only fifteen minutes long (okay, 17 minutes and 10 seconds) and as has been said before, we’re not that smart.

How does a 21st-century author go about world-building fantasy universe gender roles while writing for a 21st-century audience? How does the problem change if the setting is the far-flung future? And of more immediate interest, is it possible for three men to discuss this without a) putting their feet in their mouths while b) simultaneously stepping on landmines?

Have a listen. We’re going to wait waaay over here and hope the internet can’t find us.


Writing Excuses Season 3 Episode 18: How To Not Repeat Yourself

John Brown rejoins us for this discussion of  repetition. How do we, as writers, avoid repeating ourselves? We’re not just talking about the literal re-use of words and phrases here. We’re interested in avoiding the re-use of themes, character arcs, and plotlines.  Forget the problems Howard might have coming up with a new joke… he (and all of us) need to reach further than that to keep things fresh.

This week’s Writing Excuses is Brought to you by Servant of a Dark God by John Brown.

Writing Prompt:  The princess is trying to eat a pie, but someone is trying to stop her. Oh, and the fate of the world depends on the outcome.