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 our own work, and from things we’ve watched or read which have done this in ways that resonated well for us.
Credits: This episode was recorded by Rob Kimbro, and mastered by Alex Jackson
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 18:15 — 12.6MB)
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
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?
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 18:19 — 12.6MB)
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
Wes Chu, author and adventurer, recently climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, and has some things to say about all the wilderness trekking that our characters do in the books we write, and how we often forget to say anything about sleeping on inclines, altitude sickness, or packing toilet paper.
The salient point: we need to remember that our characters are experiencing these wilderness treks, and they have interesting opinions about them.
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 16:02 — 11.0MB)
Wes has a tough writing exercise for us: take something that you’ve already written, swap the personalities of your protagonist and antagonist, and re-write a scene from the story.
The Rebirths of Tao, by Wesley Chu, isn’t available yet on Audible, but the first book in the trilogy, The Lives of Tao is.
It’s our Q&A format, in which each answer is like its own, tiny little podcast, only without its own unique URL, intro, writing prompt, or any of the other trappings that would actually make it different from a Q&A session.
Right. So, it’s basically just a Q&A.
Listen to the podcast for the answers… Here are the questions:
- Are there biases against non-English writers submitting manuscripts in English?
- What is the most difficult thing Howard experienced when first creating Schlock Mercenary?
- Are you ever too old to try to get published?
- What are some pointers for keeping a milieu story focused on the setting?
- No, you can’t have a sample of our DNA. None of you.
- If you were to rewrite your early work, what would you change?
- How do you improve your proofreading and copy editing?
- How much time do you spend writing each day? Does it matter WHAT you write during that time?
- Do you add foreshadowing in the editing stage, or are you just that good?
- How do you improve your craft as a writer?
- I don’t have time to ask a question, I’m washing my dog.
- Do you have any writing exercises that you do regularly?
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 17:08 — 11.8MB)
Introduce a random element–dice, coin-tosses, the i ching–and write a story in which you (the writer) commit to letting the random element make the decisions.
Eric James Stone and the Wilhelm Scream join us for a talk about “handwavium,” that stuff that you use instead of through-and-through hard science. It’s that part where you wave your hand and say “don’t pay too much attention to this bit.”
When does it fail, though? When is it good enough? Like so many other things, this hinges upon whether or not the reader is knocked out of the story by implausibility. We talk about post-trans-uranics, reversing the polarity, inertial dampeners, and internal consistency. We also talk about how we, as writers, make our decisions regarding handwavium.
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 15:53 — 10.9MB)
Write some technobabble that explains how turtles have hyperspace.
The Incrementalists, by Stephen Brust and Skyler White, narrated by Ray Porter and Mary Robinette Kowal
How do you help your readers relate to the non-human characters in your fiction?
The first question to answer is why you’re putting non-human characters in the piece to begin with. What are your goals for that race, culture, or whatever? Once you know that, you can begin addressing the challenge of helping the reader relate.
We talk about our strategies, and we cover examples from Iain Banks’ Look to Windward, Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep, and of course from our own work, including Kiss Me Twice, I Am Not a Serial Killer, and The Body Politic.
Immediately Discarded Negative Example, Because the Rathole is Just Too Deep: The 1977 Star Wars Christmas Special
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 18:33 — 12.7MB)
Depict a conversation between members of a non-human species who do something besides talk.
This week’s episode covers the perjoratively-named sub-genre, space opera. These are adventure stories in which the setting is futuristic, but in which the science is secondary. The lines are blurry, as they are with any definition of genre, but we’re pretty sure that Howard writes space opera.
A possible definition? Space Opera is when the author uses science to justify the cool stuff he or she has come up with.
We talk about the decisions that go into writing a space opera, how Howard has gone about it, and what you might focus on in order to write a compelling, adventurous romp.
Pithy Howardism: “If I pee far, it’s because I stand on the shoulders of giants.”
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 20:41 — 14.2MB)
Posit a faster-than-light drive that nobody else has thought of. Or at least that you haven’t heard of.
The number one request we got when we asked you what you’d like us to talk about? Short story writing. Mary is our resident expert, and if she weren’t already a member of the cast, she’d our go-to expert for an interview. Convenient!
We begin by addressing the popular notion that writing short stories is a good way to practice for writing novels, and selling short stories is a way to break in and sell novels. We then return to the M.I.C.E. quotient (first addressed by us in 6.10) and discuss how the quotient (or model, or formula) helps you understand what to cut from the telling of a story to make it a short story.
Mary then walks us through her process for turning an idea into a story concept, and then distilling that concept into a short story. She also invites us to explore her 950-word short, “Evil Robot Monkey,” free of charge!
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 17:34 — 12.1MB)
Being “bi-textual” is a controversial lifestyle choice…