Writing Excuses

Writing Excuses Podcast

Fifteen minutes long, because you're in a hurry, and we're not that smart.

14.6: Fantasy and Science Fiction Races
Your Hosts: Brandon, Dan, Howard, and Mahtab Let’s talk about race, sort-of. Let’s talk about creating races—species of people, really—which is a critically important activity in much of our worldbuilding. In this episode we discuss a few of the pitfalls, some of our own techniques, and a few of our favorite alien¹ races. ¹Can of … Continue reading 14.6: Fantasy and Science Fiction Races →...

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 →...

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....


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 →...

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 →...

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? →...


13.52: Working Dad is a Spaceman
Your Hosts: Howard, Mary, and Dan, with NASA astronaut Thomas Marshburn. Last week’s episode may have sounded like the last one for 2018, but that’s an artifact of December having five Sundays rather than four. Fifth Sundays are our “wildcards,” and something wild seems like a nice way to round out the year. Tom Marshburn, … Continue reading 13.52: Working Dad is a Spaceman →...

13.51: Wrap-up on the Year of Character
Your Hosts: Brandon, Valynne, Dan, and Howard We decided to wrap up this year on character by letting Brandon ask us some deep questions. “We decided” might be the wrong phrase, because nobody except Brandon knew what the questions were, so it might be more accurate to say “we rolled with it.” It rolled quite nicely. … Continue reading 13.51: Wrap-up on the Year of Character →...

13.50: What Writers Get Wrong, with Zoraida Córdova
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary Robinette, Dan, and Howard, with special guest Zoraida Córdova Zoraida Córdova, an award-winning author of urban fantasy, was born in Ecuador and grew up in Queens. She joins us to talk about what writers get wrong (and what they can get right and do well) when portraying latinas in the United … Continue reading 13.50: What Writers Get Wrong, with Zoraida Córdova →...


13.49: How to Finish
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary Robinette, Amal, and Maurice Last week we talked about character death. This week we talk about other, less fatal ways in which a character story can be finished, and how we, as writers, can tell when we’re done with a character arc. Credits: This episode was recorded by Andrew Twiss, and mastered … Continue reading 13.49: How to Finish →...

13.48: Character Death and Plot Armor
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary Robinette, Dan, and Howard The characters we create are not all destined for long lives. Sure, some are, but a great many of them are on paths that will end in an abrupt fatality of one kind or another, and in this episode we’ll talk about how we choose which characters to … Continue reading 13.48: Character Death and Plot Armor →...

13.47: Q&A on Fixing Characters
Your Hosts: Brandon, Valynne, Dan, and Howard You had questions about fixing character problems. We had had answers! Here are the questions: How do you fix character voices when you find out that two of them are too similar? How can you tell if a character is, in fact, the problem? How do you maintain … Continue reading 13.47: Q&A on Fixing Characters →...


13.46: The Unsexy Side of Space, with Bart Smith and Ben Hewett
Your Hosts: Howard, Mary Robinette, and Dan, with special guests Bart Smith and Ben Hewett When we talk about space travel we’re usually talking about rocket scientists and astronauts. In this episode we spoke with our guests Bart Smith and Ben Hewett, about the “unsexy” (read: possibly boring but don’t be deceived) side of the … Continue reading 13.46: The Unsexy Side of Space, with Bart Smith and Ben Hewett →...

NaNoWriMo 2018 Bonus Episode, with Mercedes Lackey
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary Robinette, Dan, and Howard, with special guest Mercedes Lackey NaNoWriMo 2018 is half-way over today. Are you stuck? Do you need to get unstuck? Mercedes Lackey joined us at GenCon Indy back in 2017 to talk about writer’s block, and how it’s very likely a symptom of something else. In this … Continue reading NaNoWriMo 2018 Bonus Episode, with Mercedes Lackey →...

13.45: Next Level Narration
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary Robinette, Amal, and Maurice Narration is that stuff which tells your story, but isn’t dialog. It’s the voice of your narrator, and it might be multiple voices depending on how you’re handling point of view. In this episode we’ll talk about the things you can do to challenge yourself and level … Continue reading 13.45: Next Level Narration →...


NaNoWriMo 2018 Mini-Episode 2
Your Mini-Episode Hosts: Amal El-Mohtar and Maurice Broaddus, with Special Asides from Mary Robinette Kowal We’re a week in to NaNoWriMo. If you’re scared of it, Amal is here to tell you that it’s okay to feel that way, Maurice is here with the encouraging words “consequence-free.”...

13.44: Alien Characters
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary Robinette, Dan, and Howard As writers of speculative fiction we are frequently tasked with writing a species or race of alien people. In this episode we talk about some of the tricks we use to create non-human characters in ways that make them both comprehensible and compelling, and the pitfalls we … Continue reading 13.44: Alien Characters →...

NaNoWriMo 2018 Mini-Episode 1
Your Mini-Episode Hosts: Brandon, Mary Robinette, Dan, and Howard Back in 2017 we recorded a bonus episode for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and then forgot to air it. Here, then, in the spirit of never throwing anything away, is a spot of motivation which is both timely AND one year late....


13.43: Characters Who Are Smarter Than You Are
Your Hosts: Howard, Mary Robinette, Dan, and Amal Many of us write characters who know more than we know, and/or who think faster than we do. Writing those characters is tricky. In this episode we talk about our own tricks, and the tricks we’ve seen others use. Credits: This episode was recorded by Bert Grimm, … Continue reading 13.43: Characters Who Are Smarter Than You Are →...

13.42: Writing Excuses Talks to an Astronaut, with Special Guest Kjell Lindgren
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard, with special space-guest Kjell Lindgren Kjell Lindgren, flight surgeon, Expedition 44/45, joined us for an episode that perhaps should have been called “we ask the space-man all of the things.” We asked him stuff that we wanted to know more about, and came away richer for the experience. If … Continue reading 13.42: Writing Excuses Talks to an Astronaut, with Special Guest Kjell Lindgren →...

13.41: Fixing Character Problems, Part II
Your Hosts: Brandon, Amal, Mary, and Maurice This is the second of our pair of episodes in which we talk about how we, your hosts, fix the problems we’ve identified with the characters in our work. Credits: This episode was recorded by Andrew Twiss, and mastered by Alex Jackson....


13.40: Fixing Character Problems, Part I
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard This is the first of two episodes in which we’ll talk about how we, your hosts, fix the problems we’ve identified with the characters in our work. Credits: this episode was recorded by Dan Thompson and mastered by Alex Jackson...

13.39: What Writers Get Wrong, With Wendy Tolliver
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard, with special guest Wendy Tolliver Wendy skis, and snowboards, and  writes YA novels. She is also the parent of three, one of whom suffers from mental illness. She joined us to talk about how writers can do a better job of depicting it, and how to avoid the … Continue reading 13.39: What Writers Get Wrong, With Wendy Tolliver →...

13.38: How to Find and Use Alpha Readers
Your Hosts: Brandon, Valynne, Dan, and Howard We begin by making a useful distinction between alpha and beta reader: the alpha reader is an industry professional, while the beta reader is a stand-in for the eventual audience of readers. We then set about discussing how to find alpha readers, and how to employ them in … Continue reading 13.38: How to Find and Use Alpha Readers →...


13.37: What Writers Get Wrong, with J.Y. Yang
Your Hosts: Dan, Mary, Aliette, and Howard with special guest J.Y. Yang J.Y. Yang is a Hugo-nominated short story writer from Singapore who identifies as non-binary. They joined us to talk about this non-binary identification, and how writers can do a better job of depicting it (beyond simply using non-gendered pronouns.) Credits: This episode was … Continue reading 13.37: What Writers Get Wrong, with J.Y. Yang →...

13.36: Confronting the Default
Your Hosts: Brandon, Amal, Mary, and Maurice If you live in the northern hemisphere, inland, perhaps above the 40th parallel, you are probably quite sure that there are four distinct seasons. There are, however, many, many people for whom “seasons” are things that happen to other people. This is the conflict between your default and … Continue reading 13.36: Confronting the Default →...

13.35: Cliché vs. Archetype
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard Tropes, archetypes, and even cliches are tools in our toolboxes. There’s no avoiding them, but there are definitely ways to use them incorrectly. In this episode we’ll talk about how we shake off our fear of using tropes through understanding how they work. Credits: This episode was recorded by Dan … Continue reading 13.35: Cliché vs. Archetype →...


13.34: Q&A on Character Arcs
Your Hosts: Brandon, Valynne, Dan, and Howard You had questions. We came up with answers. The questions are below: How do you fulfill promises about character arcs without being cliché? How do you subvert character tropes without betraying the reader? Do you need to complete each character arc in a single story featuring multiple characters? … Continue reading 13.34: Q&A on Character Arcs →...

13.b1: Bonus Episode — Elephants and Death, with Lawrence Schoen
Your Hosts: Howard and Dan, with special guest Lawrence Schoen Lawrence Schoen, clinical psychologist, cognitive hypnotist, small press publisher, Klingon language expert, and novelist, joined us at GenCon Indy for a bonus episode about elephants and death. Howard and Lawrence both write uplifted elephants into their stories, and their stories also feature death as a … Continue reading 13.b1: Bonus Episode — Elephants and Death, with Lawrence Schoen →...

13.33: Reading Outside the Box
Your Hosts: Dan, Mary, Aliette, and Howard, with Kristie Claxton Kristie Claxton joined us at WXR 2017 to talk about reading outside of the spaces where we’re comfortable and familiar. Specifically, we focused on how to learn about people who are not you by reading stories by and about them. Credits: This episode was recorded … Continue reading 13.33: Reading Outside the Box →...


13.32: How To Handle Weighty Topics
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Amal, and Maurice How can we, as writers, best handle weighty matters? This is our year on character, so we’ll approach this with a focus on character creation, depiction, and dialog? This topic is, in and of itself, weighty. Credits: This episode was recorded by Andrew Twiss, and mastered by Alex … Continue reading 13.32: How To Handle Weighty Topics →...

13.31: Learning to Listen as a Writer
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard “Write what you know” gets misapplied a lot. In this episode we’ll talk about how to know things by listening well. In particular, we’re looking at writing interesting characters by listening to real people. We also talk about the more formal act of interviewing people¹, and how to … Continue reading 13.31: Learning to Listen as a Writer →...

13.30: Project in Depth, THE CALCULATING STARS, with Kjell Lindgren
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, and Dan, with Kjell Lindgren Spoiler Alert! If you haven’t yet read The Calculating Stars: A Lady Astronaut Novel, by Mary Robinette Kowal, you may wish to rectify that prior to listening. In this episode we go into great depth on Mary’s novel with the expert technical help of NASA astronaut … Continue reading 13.30: Project in Depth, THE CALCULATING STARS, with Kjell Lindgren →...


13.29: Iconic Heroes
Your Hosts: Brandon, Valynne, Dan, and Howard The term “iconic hero” allows us to differentiate between different kinds of heroes who appear in series. Nancy Drew and Conan the Barbarian are iconic, but Leia Organa and Aragorn are epic. In this episode we discuss how (and why) to go about writing a hero with no … Continue reading 13.29: Iconic Heroes →...

13.28: What Writers Get Wrong, with Wildstyle
At GenCon Indy 2017 we were joined by Wildstyle (@MrWildstyle on Twitter), who wears many hats, and many of the hats he wears are donned in service of producing hip-hop. One of the most interesting revelations (especially for Howard, whose background in audio engineering predates MP3 technology by half a decade) was just how many … Continue reading 13.28: What Writers Get Wrong, with Wildstyle →...

13.27: Characters as Foils
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Amal, and Maurice A foil is a character who serves as a contrast to another character. The foil might be a sidekick, an antagonist, a romantic interest, or really any other character who gets enough focus for the contrast to be useful. In this episode we talk about foils, offering examples, … Continue reading 13.27: Characters as Foils →...


13.26: Character Relationships
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard Our characters become far more interesting when they begin interacting with each other. These interactions—these relationships—are often how our stories get told. In this episode we explore ways in which we can fine tune relationships in service of our stories. The tools include the Kowal Relationship Axes (Mind, … Continue reading 13.26: Character Relationships →...

13.25: Our Journey With Character
Your Hosts: Brandon, Valynne, Dan, and Howard Brandon wanted to ask us how our perspectives on character have changed since the very beginning of our writing. It’s a difficult question to answer, and a very soulful sort of thing to answer in front of other people. So Brandon went first while the rest of us racked … Continue reading 13.25: Our Journey With Character →...

13.24: What Writers Get Wrong, with Piper, Aliette, and Wesley, with special guest Ken Liu
Your Hosts: Piper Drake, Aliette de Bodard, and Wesley Chu, with special guest Ken Liu Our hosts for this episode are experts in a great many different things. One thing that they have in common is that they’re all members of the Asian Disapora, and in this episode we’ll learn what kinds of things writers get … Continue reading 13.24: What Writers Get Wrong, with Piper, Aliette, and Wesley, with special guest Ken Liu →...


13.23: Internal Conflicts
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Amal, and Maurice Internal conflicts, simply put, are problems your characters have with themselves. In this episode we address the ways in which writers can build stories and subplots around internal conflicts, and how we can tell when it’s not working. Notes: the MICE quotient is Milieu, Idea, Character, and Event. Mary’s … Continue reading 13.23: Internal Conflicts →...

13.22: Character Arcs
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard When Mary says we could do fifteen different episodes on character arcs, she’s being conservative. Notwithstanding, we set out to talk meaningfully about character arcs in one episode rather than in fifteen (or fifty.) We look at the shapes of these arcs, how they progress in our narratives, … Continue reading 13.22: Character Arcs →...

13.21: Q&A on Character Depth and Motivation
Your Hosts: Brandon, Valynne, Dan, and Howard Our listeners submitted some great questions! How do you fairly and even-handedly write a deeply compelling character you deeply dislike? What’s the best way to discuss a character’s underlying motivations without expressly stating them in narrative or dialog? How well should characters understand their own motivations? How do … Continue reading 13.21: Q&A on Character Depth and Motivation →...


13.20: Fear and Writing, with Emma Newman
Your Hosts: Dan, Mary, Aliette, and Howard, with special guest Emma Newman Emma Newman, author, audio book narrator, and podcaster, joined us on the Baltic sea for WXR 2017, where, six days after a brilliant presentation on overcoming fear, she recorded a session with us on the same topic. The class was just that good. … Continue reading 13.20: Fear and Writing, with Emma Newman →...

13.19: Backstories
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Amal, and Maurice Character backstories: these are the tales that describe how the characters in your story became who they are by the time they arrive in the book. How much backstory needs to be written before you start in on the manuscript? How much needs to be in the manuscript … Continue reading 13.19: Backstories →...

13.18: Naturally Revealing Character Motivation
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard What motivates us? What really motivates us? Why? (Note: our motivations are probably not in service of some overarching plot.) How can we use this information to believably motivate characters? Credits: This episode was recorded by Dan Thompson, and mastered by Alex Jackson...


13.17: What Writers Get Wrong, with Jamahl Crouch
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard, with Jamahl Crouch Jamahl Crouch (Illusmm1 on Instagram) joined us at the GenCon Indy Writers Symposium to talk about what writers get wrong about street art. Jamahl is many things, and one of those is “street artist.” We discuss the differences between graffiti and street art, where things like commissioned … Continue reading 13.17: What Writers Get Wrong, with Jamahl Crouch →...

13.16: Avoiding Flat Characters
Your Hosts: Brandon, Valynne, Dan, and Howard For our purposes, the term “flat character” refers to a character who lacks the depth required to maintain reader interest. In this episode we discuss how to avoid putting flat characters front-and-center in our writing, and how we go about fixing manuscripts that have flat character problems....

13.15: What Writers Get Wrong, with Mike Stop Continues
Recorded live at WXR 2017. Your Hosts: Dan, Mary, Aliette, and Howard, with special guest Mike Stop Continues Mike has multiple areas of expertise, but for this episode he’s talking to us specifically about the things that writers get wrong about being a gay man. Credits: This episode was recorded live by Bert Grimm, and … Continue reading 13.15: What Writers Get Wrong, with Mike Stop Continues →...


13.14: Character Nuance
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Amal, and Maurice Let’s talk about characters who have conflict built right into them; characters whose attributes and attitudes might seem to contradict one another; characters who like, y’know… actual people. (And let’s talk about how to write them.)...

13.13: Character Voice
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard Character voice, the flow, order, and feel of words that is unique to a particular character, is extremely useful in defining characters for the reader. In this episode we discuss our tools for shaping character voices, and the ways in which we make sure each one unique. Liner Notes: … Continue reading 13.13: Character Voice →...

13.12: Q&A on Heroes, Villains, and Main Characters
Your Cast: Brandon, Valynne, Dan, Howard You had questions about heroes, villains, and main characters. We have answers! Here are the questions: How do you make planned power increases not seem like an ass-pull¹? What do you do when your villain is more interesting/engaging than your hero? How do you know when a character is … Continue reading 13.12: Q&A on Heroes, Villains, and Main Characters →...


13.11: Writing Secondary Characters, with Charlaine Harris
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard, with special guest Charlaine Harris Charlaine Harris joined us in front of a live audience at the GenCon Writers Symposium to talk with us about secondary characters—why they’re so important, why they can be difficult to write well, and how she brings her secondary characters to life without … Continue reading 13.11: Writing Secondary Characters, with Charlaine Harris →...

13.10: Handling a Large Cast
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Amal, and Maurice What are our favorite techniques for managing large casts of characters, and how do our processes differ from when we’re writing small casts? What does “large” and “small” mean for us? Liner Notes: No, Howard was not in the room. Yes, despite his absence, he was wearing both trousers and … Continue reading 13.10: Handling a Large Cast →...

13.9: Quick Characterization
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard How do you go about defining a character for your readers when you don’t have many words to devote to the project? What are the tricks for quickly establishing someone’s individuality within your story? Credits: This episode was recorded by Dan Thompson, and mastered by Alex Jackson....


13.8: Making Characters Distinctive
Your Hosts: Brandon, Valynne, Dan, and Howard What do we do to make our characters distinctive? Often we categorize the distinctions as flaws or quirks, and in this discussion we use those as our starting points. Credits: This episode was recorded by Dan Thompson, and mastered by Alex Jackson....

13.7: What Writers Get Wrong, with Lou Perry
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard Lou Perry joined us in front of a live audience at GenCon Indy to talk about law and courtrooms, and what writers get wrong when setting their stories amid legal procedures....

13.6: External Conflicts for Characters
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Amal, and Maurice An external conflict is a story driver that originates outside the protagonist. In this episode a large part of what we’ll focus on is person-vs-environment as opposed to person-vs-person. PvE rather than PvP, if you will. Credits: This episode was recorded by Andrew Twiss, and mastered by Alex Jackson, both of whom understand … Continue reading 13.6: External Conflicts for Characters →...


13.5: Villain, Antagonist, Obstacle
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard What’s the difference between villains and antagonists? How is an obstacle character different from those other two? How are they alike? And most importantly, how can we use this information to write effective opposition to our heroes, protagonists, and main characters? Credits: This episode was recorded by Dan … Continue reading 13.5: Villain, Antagonist, Obstacle →...

13.4: Protagonists Who Aren’t Sympathetic
Your Hosts: Brandon, Valynne, Dan, and Howard This week we’re joined by Valynne Maetani, who’ll be one of our hosts all year. We’re discussing protagonists who, per writer intent, do not engender audience sympathy. Credits: This episode was recorded by Dan Thompson, and mastered by Alex Jackson....

13.3: What Writers Get Wrong, with Aliette de Bodard
Your Hosts: Dan, Mary, Aliette, and Howard This year’s third-week episodes will all follow a common theme: “what writers get wrong.” Each of these episodes will feature an expert guest who will help us understand what writers get wrong about something in which they have expertise. Aliette de Bodard will be co-hosting several of these week-three episodes, … Continue reading 13.3: What Writers Get Wrong, with Aliette de Bodard →...


13.2: Writing Active Characters
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Amal, and Maurice This week we welcome Amal El-Mohtar and Maurice Broaddus to the Writing Excuses cast for a discussion of active characters. We cover characters who move stories forward, who make decisions that influence plot-critical events, and whose actions draw the reader into the book. Liner Notes: you’ll be hearing … Continue reading 13.2: Writing Active Characters →...

13.1: Hero, Protagonist, Main Character
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard 2018 is our Year of Character, and we kick it off with a quick exploration of the differences between heroes, protagonists, and main characters. Beginning with addressing the question “wait, aren’t they all the same person?” Because that’s the elephant in the room. Or maybe it’s three elephants. Or … Continue reading 13.1: Hero, Protagonist, Main Character →...

12.53: Writing Excuses True Confessions
It’s the end of 2017, so let’s talk about the things that we’ve tried to make work, and failed at. Not things that we tried before arriving at career-level measures of success—things that we’ve folded, spindled, and/or mutilated since then. There were a lot of them! This episode runs close to thirty minutes long…...


12.52: Cross-Genres as Gateways
Your Hosts: Brandon, Piper, Howard, and Dan What are the books which have drawn us from the bookshelf genres where you’re the most comfortable into bookshelves you haven’t read from? What can we learn about our own writing by reading these gateway books? How can we set about writing them ourselves? Credits: this episode was recorded in … Continue reading 12.52: Cross-Genres as Gateways →...

12.51: Constructed Languages, with Dirk Elzinga
Your Hosts: Howard, Mary, Dan, with guest host Beth Meacham Dirk Elzinga, an associate professor of linguistics, joined us live at LTUE to talk about constructed languages, and how we, as writers, might go about constructing them for our work. Liner Notes: The big stack of notes from Dirk required its own page. Below are links to specific tools … Continue reading 12.51: Constructed Languages, with Dirk Elzinga →...

12.50: Form and Function
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Mary Anne, and Wesley How does the shape of your physical medium change the art you’re making? What are the tools that affect our storytelling, and what are those effects? Credits: This episode was recorded in Chicago by Andrew Twiss, and mastered by Alex Jackson...


12.49: Non-linear Narratives
We begin the final month of our year on structure with a discussion of non-linear structures. These include flashbacks, POVs that are out of chronological order,  and a host of other storytelling techniques. Credits: this episode was recorded in Cosmere House Studios by Dan Dan the Audioman Thompson, and mastered by Alex Jackson...

12.48: Q&A on Novels and Series, with Brian McClellan
Brian McClellan joined us to field questions about writing novels and series. Here are the questions: How do you write an ending that is open for sequels, but isn’t a cliffhanger? Is it a good idea to take a large novel, and release it instead as serial novellas? Can you debut with a series, or … Continue reading 12.48: Q&A on Novels and Series, with Brian McClellan →...


12.46: Reinventing Yourself
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Mary Anne, and Wesley We discuss the idea of “reinventing yourself,” which can mean anything from “trying something new” to “completely re-branding yourself as a writer,” and how it’s a difficult thing to do without figuring out what it actually is that you’re currently doing. We talk about how we’ve done it, … Continue reading 12.46: Reinventing Yourself →...

12.45: Structuring a Series
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard Before you can decide on a structure for your series, you may find it helpful to decide what kind of series you’re actually building. We talk about a few of the available options, and how each of them affects the structure. Credits: this episode was recorded in Cosmere House Studios by Dan … Continue reading 12.45: Structuring a Series →...

12.44: NaNoWriMo 2017 Primer
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard We’re going to share some of our experiences with NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in an effort to encourage you to participate in ways that will advance you toward your goals. Note: After a week, this is the only photo we’ve found of Wounded Howard. Dan took it, and Howard was clearly putting on … Continue reading 12.44: NaNoWriMo 2017 Primer →...


12.43: Serialized Storytelling
Your Hosts: Brandon, Piper, Dan, and Howard We’re talking about the extreme long-form serial story here, and how to keep things interesting without forcing the main characters into an absurdly high number of character-developing moments. Brandon leads by aiming the question at Howard, since Schlock Mercenary has been running now for seventeen years (it was only 16 … Continue reading 12.43: Serialized Storytelling →...

12.42: Adapting Your Stories for Game Play, with Alan Bahr
Your Hosts: Mary, Dan, and Howard, with guest host Beth Meacham Alan Bahr of Ragnarok Publications, joined us at  LTUE 2017 to talk about adapting a licensed property for a game, and preserving the feel of the work while doing so. Credits: this episode was recorded live at LTUE 2017 by Dan Dan the Audioman Thompson, and mastered by Alex JacksonRecorded...

12.41: Raising the Stakes
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Mary Anne, and Wesley When we talk about “raising the stakes,” we mean making the outcomes of the events in a story increasingly important to the reader. In this episode we talk about the tools we use to raise the stakes in ways that are more sophisticated than just queuing up larger and … Continue reading 12.41: Raising the Stakes →...


12.40: Structuring a Novel
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard What makes something a novel, rather than just a serialized collection of stuff that happens? How do we use structure to turn collections of stuff into something more cohesive? What tools do we use to outline, map, and/or plan our novel writing? Reference Note: “Scene and sequel” comes … Continue reading 12.40: Structuring a Novel →...

12.39: Q&A on Short(er) Fiction
Your Hosts: Brandon, Piper, Dan, and Howard Our listeners sent us  some questions about writing shorter fiction. Here are the questions: How do you market short stories today? Has ebook self-publishing made novellas more viable? How do you structure a short story? How short is too short? Is publishing sections of a novel a viable way … Continue reading 12.39: Q&A on Short(er) Fiction →...

12.38: What Do Editors Really Want, with Toni Weisskopf and Cat Rambo
Your Hosts: Dan and Howard Toni Weisskopf and Cat Rambo joined Dan and Howard to discuss what it is that editors “really want.” Question To Help You Decide Whether Or Not To Send Your Editor Bad News: “Will this news get better if I wait?” Credits: this episode was recorded at GenCon Indy 2016, and mastered by … Continue reading 12.38: What Do Editors Really Want, with Toni Weisskopf and Cat Rambo →...


12.37: Subplots
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Mary Anne, and Wesley What makes a plot a subplot? Must subplots and main plots be linked by something more binding than the actual binding of the book? In this episode we answer these questions, and ask and answer plenty more. Credits: This episode was recorded in Chicago by Andrew Twiss, and … Continue reading 12.37: Subplots →...

12.36: Structuring a Mid-Length Piece
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard Larger than a short story, smaller than a novel… there’s quite a bit of space between those two thresholds, and in this episode we discuss the ways in which we go about filling that space with a well-structured story. Credits: this episode was recorded in Cosmere House Studios … Continue reading 12.36: Structuring a Mid-Length Piece →...

12.35: Short Fiction Markets, with Spencer Ellsworth and guest host Beth Meacham
Your Hosts: Mary, Dan, and Howard, with guest host Beth Meacham Spencer Ellsworth and Beth Meacham joined us before a live audience at LTUE 2017 for a discussion of short fiction markets, which ones we love, and why. Credits: this episode was recorded live at LTUE 2017 Dan Dan the Audioman Thompson, and mastered by Alex … Continue reading 12.35: Short Fiction Markets, with Spencer Ellsworth and guest host Beth Meacham →...


12.34: Fulfilling the Reader’s Fantasy, with Brian McClellan
Your Hosts: Brandon, Piper, Dan, and Howard Brian McClellan joins us for a discussion on fulfilling the promises we make to our readers—specifically the genre-specific promises made by the simple fact of where the book is shelved. Credits: this episode was recorded in Cosmere House Studios by Dan Dan the Audioman Thompson, and mastered by Alex … Continue reading 12.34: Fulfilling the Reader’s Fantasy, with Brian McClellan →...

12.33: How to be Brief, Yet Powerful
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Mary Anne, and Wesley We’ve talked about some of the structural guidelines for short stories. In this episode we’ll discuss how to write in the short form while still putting down enough words to convey the story powerfully. Credits: This episode was recorded in Chicago by Andrew Twiss, and mastered by … Continue reading 12.33: How to be Brief, Yet Powerful →...

12.32: Structuring a Short Piece
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard We begin our exploration of short story structure with a re-cap of the MACE quotient (Milieu, Ask/Answer, Character, Event). Then we apply that tool to how we structure the pieces we write—specifically the short ones. Liner Notes: Here’s “Evil Robot Monkey” by Mary Robinette Kowal And here’s a handy MICE quotient chart! Credits: … Continue reading 12.32: Structuring a Short Piece →...


12.31: What Makes a Good Monster, with Courtney Alameda
Your Hosts: Howard, Mary, and Dan, with guest host Susan Chang Courtney Alameda joined us at LTUE 2017 to talk monsters, and what makes the best ones so good. We discuss some of our favorites, and how the criteria we apply to them can be applied in the creation of monsters of our own. Credits: this … Continue reading 12.31: What Makes a Good Monster, with Courtney Alameda →...

12.30: Tools for Writers
Your Hosts: Brandon, Piper, Dan, and Howard We are often asked what software we use to get our work done. In this episode we answer that question in a bit of detail. Liner Notes: Here’s a linked list of the tools referenced during this episode. Aeon Timeline Asana Time Management Dropbox Excel OpenOffice Scrivener Wikidpad Word … Continue reading 12.30: Tools for Writers →...

12.29: “Oh Crap, the Cops are Here!” with Joe McKinney
Your Hosts: Howard and Dan, with Steve Diamond, and special guest Joe McKinney We invited Steve Diamond, who has been a guest before, and who has some law enforcement background, to help us grill Joe McKinney, who has tons of that background, and who also happens to be a best-selling author. This Week’s Liner Notes are … Continue reading 12.29: “Oh Crap, the Cops are Here!” with Joe McKinney →...


12.27: Choosing a Length
We discuss the ways in which we decide upon the length of the stories we write, and at which point(s) in the creative process we make that decision....

12.26: Q&A on Outlining and Discovery Writing
Your Hosts: Brandon, Piper, Dan, and Howard Our listeners had questions about outlining and discovery writing. Here are a few of the very best: Do you outline scenes? How? How do you know when to STOP outlining something? How much do you have to know about your character and/or world before you start writing? What … Continue reading 12.26: Q&A on Outlining and Discovery Writing →...


12.25: Hiring an Editor, with Callie Stoker
Your Hosts: Howard and Dan, with special guest Callie Stoker Callie Stoker joined Howard and Dan at the World Horror convention to answer our questions about hiring an editor, which is part of the process by which self-published authors build the team of people who will make the manuscript far better than they can make it by … Continue reading 12.25: Hiring an Editor, with Callie Stoker →...

12.24: Creating Great Outlines
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Mary Anne, and Wesley How might you go about creating great outlines? There are many processes, and we cover several of them.   Credits: This episode was recorded by Andrew Twiss, and mastered by Alex Jackson...

12.23: Proposals, Pitches, and Queries
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard Let’s talk about selling your stuff. In this episode we discuss query letters, pitches, and proposals—the tools that you use to present your material to people who can pay you for it, and who will partner with you in the task of selling it to the general public. … Continue reading 12.23: Proposals, Pitches, and Queries →...


12.22: Hybrid Outlining and Discovery Writing
Your Hosts: Brandon, Piper, Dan, and Howard What can discovery writers learn from outlining? What can outliners learn from discovery writing? Is there a balance between the two that can serve as a happy, productive place for writers? (summary of answers: lots, lots, and yes-but-not-all-writers.)...

12.21: Narrative Bumper Pool, with Bill Fawcett and Carrie Patel
Your Hosts: Howard and Dan, with special guests Bill Fawcett and Carrie Patel Bill and Carrie both have extensive experience writing for games, and they joined us at GenCon Indy to talk about writing for an interactive story, like a tabletop RPG, or a video game. Narrative Bumper Pool: This term comes to us from Tracy Hickman’s … Continue reading 12.21: Narrative Bumper Pool, with Bill Fawcett and Carrie Patel →...

12.20: Retrofitting Structure into a First Draft
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Mary Anne, and Wesley We’re speaking again, at least in part, to discovery writers. In this case, we’re talking about how to take a non-outlined work and apply a structure to it in revisions. Credits: This episode was recorded by Andrew Twiss, and mastered by Alex Jackson....


12.19: Structure on the Fly
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard This episode is for you discovery writers, especially those of you for whom our current season of structure seems to be locking you down, or pointing up methods which you just don’t like to use. We talk about how these methods, these structural principles, these mechanical advantages in … Continue reading 12.19: Structure on the Fly →...

12.18: Gendered Dialect, with J.R. Johansson
Your Hosts: Howard, Mary, and Dan, with guest-host Susan Chang, and special guest J.R. Johannsen J.R. Johannson joined Howard, Mary, Dan, and guest-host Susan Chang at LTUE 2017 for a discussion of gendered dialect. We lead with a quick introduction to the Genderlect theory, by Deborah Tannen, which uses a very broad brush to describe key differences between the … Continue reading 12.18: Gendered Dialect, with J.R. Johansson →...

12.17: Q&A on Style, Diction, and Paragraphing
Your Hosts: Brandon, Piper, Dan, and Howard We fielded some questions on style, diction, and paragraphing: Is it okay to have pretty prose in a straightforward adventure story? How do author voice and character voice differ? How do you prevent paragraphs from rambling? I feel like my writing is derivative of the writers whose work … Continue reading 12.17: Q&A on Style, Diction, and Paragraphing →...


12.16: Writing Crime Fiction with Brian Keene
Brian Keene joined Dan and Howard at the World Horror Convention to talk about writing crime fiction, including how he goes about getting readers to feel the things he wants them to feel to drive the story forward. Liner Notes: The Horror Show with Brian Keene...

12.15: Pacing With Chapters
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Mary Anne, and Wesley What makes a chapter? WHY is a chapter? How do we chapter, and do we always chapter the same way? Should our chapters be this many parts of speech? This episode will answer these questions and more, except for that last question, to which the answer is … Continue reading 12.15: Pacing With Chapters →...

12.14: Controlling Pacing with Structure
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard Let’s talk about the structural tools we use to control pacing. These include sentence length and punctuation.   Also, white-space.   Liner note: Here is the Feb 12, 2017 Schlock Mercenary strip mentioned around the 18-minute mark. Credits: this episode was recorded in Cosmere House Studios by Dan Dan the … Continue reading 12.14: Controlling Pacing with Structure →...


12.13: Beautiful Prose, Purple Prose
The rising, golden sun crested the snowcapped eastern mountains, its first morning rays pouring like molten lemon through the window to glisten and gleam from the chrome grille of the studio microphone....

12.12: Words as Words, with Linda Addison
Your Hosts: Howard and Dan, with Special Guest Linda Addison Linda Addison joined us at the World Horror Convention in 2016 for a discussion of the shapes and sounds of words as seen from the perspective of the poet, and how this approach can inform our prose....

12.11: Diction
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Mary Anne, and Wesley Let’s talk about word choice. And when we say “let’s” we mean “we’re going to talk to you about it. You don’t actually get to talk back.” So maybe “let’s” wasn’t the best of the possible openers. Our discussion covers what we want to say, how specific … Continue reading 12.11: Diction →...


12.9: Q&A on Viewpoint
Brandon, Piper, Dan, and Howard answer listener questions on viewpoint....

12.8 Short Stories as Exploration, with Tananarive Due
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard Tananrive Due, whose short-fiction expertise is exemplified in her collection, Ghost Summer, joined us on the Oasis of the Seas to talk about how to use short stories to explore aspects of the craft. We discuss the importance of allowing ourselves to fail, and how we can learn … Continue reading 12.8 Short Stories as Exploration, with Tananarive Due →...


12.7: Description Through the Third Person Lens
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Mary Anne, and Wesley The third-person POV lens can be used for simultaneously describing the world to the reader and describing the character. In this episode we’ll talk about where we deploy these tools, where the pitfalls are, and how to do it well. Credits: This episode was recorded by Andrew Twiss, … Continue reading 12.7: Description Through the Third Person Lens →...

12.6: Variations on Third Person
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard This episode focuses on the third person POV, and some variations on them, like omniscient and limited, and some sub-variants like cinematic and head-hopping. Credits: This episode was recorded aboard Oasis of the Seas by Bert Grimm, and mastered by Alex Jackson....

12.5: Literary Fiction
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Mary Anne, and Wesley This week we talk about the genre of Literary Fiction. Our first hurdle is the word “literary” whose use in this context can imply that all other genres are somehow not literature. In that vein, then, we’re talking about mainstream, or “non-genre” fiction which is crafted with … Continue reading 12.5: Literary Fiction →...


12.4: Hybrid Viewpoints
Your Hosts: Brandon, Piper, Dan, and Howard, with Sandra Tayler Piper J. Drake joins the cast for our week-four episodes, of which this is the first. This week we’ll be drilling down into hybrid viewpoints—blending 1st and 3rd person, framing stories, stories-within-stories, and unreliable narration—and how to best serve our work with these techniques....

12.3: Project in Depth, “Risk Assessment,” by Sandra Tayler
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard, with Sandra Tayler This Project in Depth episode contains spoilers for “Risk Assessment,” which is included in Force Multiplication: Schlock Mercenary Book 12. The story was written by Sandra Tayler, and illustrated by Natalie Barahona. Howard handled the writing and illustrating for the framing story, but this episode isn’t about that … Continue reading 12.3: Project in Depth, “Risk Assessment,” by Sandra Tayler →...

12.2: How to Nail Character Voice in First Person
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Mary Anne, and Wesley This week we talk about character voice, and how to get it right in First Person. This POV is a strong tool for developing memorable characters. We cover sentence structure, linguistic tweaks, accents, and much more, as well as some exercises you can try out to develop … Continue reading 12.2: How to Nail Character Voice in First Person →...


12.1: Variations on First Person
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard We’re beginning a new season, and during 2017 we will be focusing our topics on structure. We are also going to shake things by expanding our cast a bit. You’ll be hearing some new voices soon! They belong to: Wesley Chu Piper J. Drake Mary Anne Mohanraj We’ll post … Continue reading 12.1: Variations on First Person →...

11.52: Elemental Ensemble Q&A, With Claudia Gray
Claudia Gray joined us aboard Oasis of the Seas to answer our attendees questions about the Elemental Ensemble. Here are the questions: Can you fit an ensemble into a short story? What the minimum size for an ensemble? Is there a perfect length? Can you put a traitor into an ensemble story? How do I give … Continue reading 11.52: Elemental Ensemble Q&A, With Claudia Gray →...

11.51: Ensemble as a Sub-Genre, with Lynne M. Thomas
Lynne M. Thomas joins us to continue our discussion of the Elemental Ensemble, which is one of our favorite elemental tools. It’s not just for heists. It adds interest, emotion, and lots of plot possibilities to everything from sense of wonder to the hard-hitting issue. Credits: This episode was recorded aboard Oasis of the Seas … Continue reading 11.51: Ensemble as a Sub-Genre, with Lynne M. Thomas →...


11.50: Hand-Selling Your Book to Potential Readers, with Michael R. Underwood
Michael R. Underwood has talked to us about hand-selling books before, but that was about pitching to agents and editors. This time around he’s talking about placing your product in the hand of your customer, the reader. With Michael’s help, we cover some specific sales techniques, guidelines for convention displays, and strategies for bookstore appearances, with an … Continue reading 11.50: Hand-Selling Your Book to Potential Readers, with Michael R. Underwood →...

11.49: Elemental Ensemble, with Michael Damien Thomas
Michael Damien Thomas, co-publisher and co-editor-in-chief of Uncanny Magazine, joined us for a discussion of the elemental genre that contains most of the stories we refer to as “heists.” It’s all about a well-rounded cast in which the group relationship is what’s pulling us forward. Credits: This episode was recorded aboard Oasis of the Seas … Continue reading 11.49: Elemental Ensemble, with Michael Damien Thomas →...

11.Bonus-04: Fantasy Food, with Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch
Elizabeth Bear  and Scott Lynch joined Howard and Dan at GenCon Indy to talk about fantasy food, and how we engage our readers’ appetites with our fiction. We talk economics, logistics, sensory engagement, and we goof off quite a bit in the process. We might have been hungry at the time. There is good fun … Continue reading 11.Bonus-04: Fantasy Food, with Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch →...


11.48: Elemental Issue Q&A, with DongWon Song
DongWon Song, literary agent with HMLA, joins us for a Q&A on the elemental genre of “Issue.” Here are the questions, which were submitted by the attendees at WXR ’16: Can only certain people tackle certain issues in certain stories? Science Fiction often explores issues by changing the context. Why does this work? How would … Continue reading 11.48: Elemental Issue Q&A, with DongWon Song →...

11.47: Issue as a Subgenre, with Steven Barnes
Steven Barnes joins us to tackle Elemental Issue, round two, in which we look at how to address it as a sub-element. He describes the thesis/antithesis approach, and we move then to logical frameworks, and how to avoid making our stories dogmatic.   Credits: This episode was recorded aboard Oasis of the Seas by Bert … Continue reading 11.47: Issue as a Subgenre, with Steven Barnes →...

11.46: Colonialism, with Steven Barnes, Tempest Bradford, DongWon Song, and Shveta Thakrar
Our listeners have been asking for an in-depth, “crunchy” episode on colonialism, and related issues like cultural appropriation, for a couple of years now. Our voices, however, are not the ones our listeners should be hearing on the subject. Finding the right voices has not been easy, but it has been worth it. This episode runs … Continue reading 11.46: Colonialism, with Steven Barnes, Tempest Bradford, DongWon Song, and Shveta Thakrar →...


11.45: Elemental Issue, with Desiree Burch
For November, our elemental genre is “Issue,” and we were joined by actor, writer, and comedian Desiree Burch. The Elemental Issue is similar to the Elemental Idea, but the type of idea being explored is a point of social conflict, like racism, teen pregnancy, or corporate greed. Authors writing Elemental Issue stories raise questions for the readers. … Continue reading 11.45: Elemental Issue, with Desiree Burch →...

11.Bonus-03: Some Books Have Maps in the Front, with Maurice Broaddus, Mur Lafferty, and James Sutter
Three days late for the beginning of NaNoWriMo 2016, here’s a bonus episode about maps. Because nothing says “keep writing” like “hey, let’s draw a map now!” Dan and Howard were joined by Maurice Broaddus, Mur Lafferty, and James L. Sutter, who wanted to talk about maps. As Napoleon Bonaparte is rumored to have said prior … Continue reading 11.Bonus-03: Some Books Have Maps in the Front, with Maurice Broaddus, Mur Lafferty, and James Sutter →...


11.44: Project in Depth, GHOST TALKERS, by Mary Robinette Kowal
Spoiler Alert!  If you haven’t yet read Ghost Talkers, by Mary Robinette Kowal, this episode will spoil great swathes of book for you. Also, you probably won’t get as much out of it. This week’s episode is a Project in Depth discussion focusing on Ghost Talkers, by Mary Robinette Kowal. We begin with the difference … Continue reading 11.44: Project in Depth, GHOST TALKERS, by Mary Robinette Kowal →...

11.43: Elemental Drama Q&A, with Tananarive Due
Our third Elemental Drama episode is a Q&A, featuring Tananarive Due. The questions are from the attendees at the Writing Excuses Workshop and Retreat: Rather than having a protagonist change themselves, can elemental drama have the protagonist change others? What happens when a character refuses to learn, refuses to overcome their flaw(s)? What are the … Continue reading 11.43: Elemental Drama Q&A, with Tananarive Due →...

11.42: Elemental Drama as a Sub-Genre
Focusing on elemental drama can be tricky. Remember, elemental drama is basically “character change.” A great many stories use character change in some way—it’s almost ubiquitous. In this episode we’ll pick at the ubiquity, and look at the many different ways in which character change can be featured, and what sort of tools we have at our disposal to make this happen … Continue reading 11.42: Elemental Drama as a Sub-Genre →...


11.Bonus-01: Characterization and Differentiation, with Robin Hobb
Robin Hobb joined us at GenCon Indy for a discussion of characterization and differentiation. And by “discussion,” what we really mean is “we ask Robin all the questions.” We learn about Robin’s process for creating characters, wrapping stories around them, and making these characters distinctly different from each other. Credits: This episode was recorded by … Continue reading 11.Bonus-01: Characterization and Differentiation, with Robin Hobb →...

11.41: The Editor’s Wish List, with Navah Wolfe
Navah Wolfe, an editor at Saga Press, joined us to talk about the manuscripts she would really like to see. Ordinarily we don’t encourage people to write to the market, but Navah asked specifically for the opportunity to tell our listeners what she’s looking for. As it happens, tracking Navah’s wish list as you write is … Continue reading 11.41: The Editor’s Wish List, with Navah Wolfe →...

11.40: Elemental Drama
The word “drama” gets thrown around a lot. What do we mean when we use “drama” as an elemental genre? For us, Elemental Drama focuses on one character’s transformation, and how that transformation affects everyone around them. This is a narrow definition of the word, but it’s a very useful way to look at books where the … Continue reading 11.40: Elemental Drama →...