Posts Tagged ‘writing excuses’

Writing Excuses 7.15: Editing Mary’s Outline

One of the trials by fire that the other fellows on Writing Excuses have had to go through is the one wherein they critique an early work. We usually dig into stories, but I brought the outline of the first novel I wrote.

(Note: I am not counting the trunk novel that I started in high school, which starred my D&D character.)

The novel that they looked at is called Journey to the East and is about two American kids who get caught up in a Monkey King adventure. It’s Middle Grade fantasy. Some of you have heard me talk about the novel that got me started writing again. This is it.

I wrote it in 2003 when my brother moved to China with his kids. The kids were 10 and 13, so email exchanges weren’t realistic. Searching for a way stay connected with them, I decided to write a serial.

After about the third installment, I realized that I needed to write an outline so I had a clue about where I was headed. From there, I realized that I was writing a novel. While trying to figure out what to do with it, I started reading more about writing and publishing, which eventually lead to the short story career and then on to the novels I’m writing now.

Journey to the East has a lot of the classic first novel problems, so it’s pretty instructive to listen to Brandon, Dan, and Howard dig into it.

Mary Robinette Kowal graciously loaned us an outline she was working on in 2003. For this podcast, Mary reads from her outline, Brandon interrupts her, and we dissect. This is a brutal process. Know, fair listener, that we love Mary a lot.


I found the conversation about structure incredibly helpful and hope you do too. I’m also offering to let you look at the outline that we’re discussing. The things in square brackets are notes I jotted down while we were in the session.

Chapter SummariesWE

And here’s the first three chapters: Journey to the East Chapters 1-3

You can listen to the full episode and their critique at Writing Excuses 7.15: Editing Mary’s Outline » Writing Excuses. Next week, we tackle the second half of my outline.

And yes, someday I want to clean this up and try submitting it again. I like the story and I like the characters. I just need to fix the structure.

Writing Excuses 7.13: Man Vs. Nature » Writing Excuses

It’s a “Howard is clueless” episode! One of us, we won’t name any names, didn’t take enough English classes to know the basic conflict archetypes — Man vs. Man, Man vs. Self, and Man vs. Nature. In this episode we focus on that third one.

One example of Man vs. Nature is Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey. Another is Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. In both of these cases, while Man vs  Nature is the main plot, Man vs. Man sub-plots keep the story moving.

We talk about the strengths of this type of story, some of the pitfalls to avoid, lots of examples of the archetype, and then we focus on what you can do to tell this sort of story well.

via Writing Excuses 7.13: Man Vs. Nature » Writing Excuses.

Writing Excuses 7.10: Importance of Criticism, with David Brin » Writing Excuses

David Brin joined Mary and Dan at World Fantasy to pound the importance of criticism into our heads. Our episode opens with a discussion of what your first book should be (a murder mystery) and why David recommends this to his students.

And then on to criticism. It’s important for us, as writers, to be criticized because we’re all liars, and criticism is the only way to get decent product quality out of us. Unfortunately, we tend to hate the thing that we need the most. So David, Dan, and Mary discuss how to reconcile these two competing points, and how to seek criticism (and lots of other stuff, including how to learn by re-typing something.)

via Writing Excuses 7.10: Importance of Criticism, with David Brin » Writing Excuses.

Writing Excuses 7.8: The City as a Character » Writing Excuses

Mary and Dan discuss using a city as a character with Sarah Pinborough, for whom London is an important setting and one of her favorite places. We talk about the importance of being accurate, and how a city isn’t just the buildings and the history, it’s also the attitudes of the people who live there. Sarah gives us lots (and lots and lots) of insight into how she wrote London into her books, what she did right, and what (per her admission) she got wrong.

Dan and Mary also give us some peeks into what they’ve done with Clayton (completely fictional) and Nashville (adjusted via authorial arson) in their own books.

via Writing Excuses 7.8: The City as a Character » Writing Excuses.

Writing Excuses 7.6: Behind the Marshmallow » Writing Excuses

Poor Mary. Even after recording an entire season with Brandon, Dan, and Howard, she still scratches her head sometimes and asks herself “why?”

“Why does Dan say ‘these marshmallows are delicious’ in a funny voice? And why do Brandon and Howard think it’s funny?”

“Why” indeed.

In this particularly self-indulgent episode of Writing Excuses we take you behind the marshmallow. We explain the origins of the ‘cast, and offer you rare insight into what makes this show what it is. We talk about how the show evolved, how our equipment came to be “borrowed,” and how Mary came to be involved.

And throughout the discussion we abandon our typically tight style and talk all over the place (and each other.) Will this help you with your writing? Maybe. If the knowledge that we are silly allows you to relax a little bit concerning your own secret goofiness, then maybe this episode has instructional merit.

It may be, however, that it’s just a warning.

via Writing Excuses 7.6: Behind the Marshmallow » Writing Excuses.

Writing Excuses 7.5: Sensory Writing » Writing Excuses

Dan and Mary were joined by Sam Sykes at World Fantasy, and invited him to talk about sensory writing, which he had recently discussed in a workshop.

The heart of the discussion is which senses (typically beyond sight) to include as we write. Sounds, smells, tactile information, and even tastes are necessary to engage the reader. And while it’s possible to include too much of that, Sam counsels writers to err on the side of excess because it’s always easy to edit things back a notch should you find upon re-reading that you’ve gone too far.

Sam, Mary and Dan offer lots of good advice on the matter — when it’s important and why, how to do it well, and how not to overdo it.

via Writing Excuses 7.5: Sensory Writing » Writing Excuses.

Writing Excuses 7.4: Brevity » Writing Excuses

Brevity! Use fewer words!

After the obligatory “we-are-going-to-cut-this-short-after-the-intro” joke, we talk about how we can be appropriately brief, even in the context of writing epic fantasy. Mary offers us some rules of thumb for story brevity in the short fiction she writes, and Howard talks about how he accomplishes the extreme brevity of language required by his comic. Dan points out that the shorter you work, the more important your individual words become.

via Writing Excuses 7.4: Brevity » Writing Excuses.

Writing Excuses 7.3: Fauna and Flora » Writing Excuses

Animals and plants, round two! We begin this episode with examples where we think people did their flora and fauna wrong, or poorly, or at least in ways we can poke easy holes in. Our examples include:

  • Pitch Black
  • Twilight
  • Avatar

And then we get tired of negative examples, and talk about The Mote in God’s Eye.

We then attempt to brainstorm some flora and fauna on our world of mutagenic meteor dust. Pizza-trees, armored buffalo, fire-dandelions, and more… and that’s before we even get started populating the coast, and Brandon calls can-of-worms on the project and hands the brainstorming to you, the listener.

via Writing Excuses 7.3: Fauna and Flora » Writing Excuses.

Writing Excuses 7.2: World Building Flora and Fauna » Writing Excuses

Let’s build the plants and animals for your science fiction or fantasy book!

We begin with a discussion about naming, and about deciding how much evolutionary biology to put into creating cool beasties. We also talk about planning a food chain, building around water, and considering other resources (especially wood, for growing fantasy civilizations.)

Other considerations include migration patterns, life-cycles, and the possibility of turning the whole thing on its head.

We offer examples from Dune, Legacy of Heorot, Inherit the Stars, Ender’s Game, and other places. And if you’re looking for resources, check out Guns, Germs, and Steel.

via Writing Excuses 7.2: World Building Flora and Fauna » Writing Excuses.

Writing Excuses 7.1 When Good Characters Go Bad » Writing Excuses

Welcome to the new season of Writing  Excuses!

Let’s start with a trip to the dark side! How do you take a good character and make them evil? And why would you want to do this? Brandon, Dan, Mary, and Howard answer that second question first, and then walk you through the process of doing this. We cover establishing the character, venturing onto a slippery slope, and connecting these and other elements to important pieces of the story.

We talk about the types of “evil” a character can fall into, using character examples like Oedipus, Othello, Boromir, and Doctor Horrible, and how you might incorporate tragic flaws into their downward-trending paths. Finally, we offer examples where we’ve seen it done poorly. Hello, Anakin!

via Writing Excuses 7.1 When Good Characters Go Bad » Writing Excuses.

Writing Excuses 6.30: Help! I Can’t End My Book! » Writing Excuses

Merry Christmas! Here’s the last episode of Writing Excuses Season 6! We decided to end the season with a discussion of endings. Specifically, we answer cries for help that we’ve gotten. The cries answered include:

  • I’m 90% done and I’ve painted myself into a corner! How do I end this book without resorting to deus ex machina?
  • The best part of this book was 75% of the way through! I need the highlight to be at the END!
  • My outline isn’t working here at the end! How do I know when to abandon it?
  • Help! I want both a satisfying ending and room for a sequel! (hint: we use an object lesson here…)

via Writing Excuses 6.30: Help! I Can’t End My Book! » Writing Excuses.

Writing Excuses 6.28: Interstitial Art » Writing Excuses

Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman from the Interstitial Arts Foundation join Mary and Dan at World Fantasy to discuss things that fall into the gaps between the genres.

How do publishers, agents, and booksellers deal with titles that are speculative, but that cannot be easily categorized as science fiction, fantasy, horror, paranormal romance, steampunk, or one of the other readily shelvable genres? And how should authors approach writing such titles?

via Writing Excuses 6.28: Interstitial Art » Writing Excuses.

Writing Excuses 6.26: Mystery Plotting » Writing Excuses

Let’s talk mystery! Specifically, how do you plot a good mystery? We’re not focusing on the mystery genre but many of these principles will apply there. For fantasy and science-fiction work this usually means creating plots or sub-plots in which the main experience for the reader is one of discovery or revelation, rather than anticipation.

Tools we discuss include the presentation of clues, unreliable character (and narrator) viewpoints, and how to offer the reader multiple plausible explanations prior to the big reveal. Howard talks about the plotting of the next Schlock Mercenary book, Random Access Memorabilia, and Dan tells us a little about his next book, Partials. Both titles have a mystery and a reveal, while neither is a whodunit.

via Writing Excuses 6.26: Mystery Plotting » Writing Excuses.

Writing Excuses 6.24: From the Ridiculous to the Sublime » Writing Excuses

Andrew P. Mayer joins Howard, Mary, and Dan at Dragon*Con 2011. Andrew’s has one book out, The Falling Machine, and the second book in this “Society of Steam” series, Hearts of Smoke, comes out on November 22nd. Andrew describes them as “steampunk superhero” novels, which nicely takes us into our topic, which centers around taking a ridiculous, over-the-top concept and using it to create brilliant and realistic literature.

We discuss a number of concepts which seem, at least on the surface, to be completely ridiculous, and which have been turned into wonderful stories, books, and series of books. We also talk about how to pull this off, and what writing skills we need to bring to bear.

via Writing Excuses 6.24: From the Ridiculous to the Sublime » Writing Excuses.