Sunday, January 30, 2011

Episode 16: BIC HOK (Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard

Hey look, I found transcripts for the episodes of the Writing Excuses Podcast. So instead of typing out my own summary of the episodes, I can just link to the transcript: Episode 16 Transcript. They do a much better job of summarizing everything than I do.

And that lets me get to the writing prompt that much faster. The prompt for this episode is:

Write a story about something unusual stopping a novelist from finishing his or her book

Bill sat staring at the computer screen. Only one more chapter and he would finally be done with the book. Months of writing would finally be complete.

As he began to write suddenly there was a noise at the office door. Knock, knock, knock.

"Hey!" he yelled, "it's daddy's office time. You know the rules."

Knock, knock, knock.

"If I have to come out there it's not going to be very pretty!"

Knock, knock, knock.

Bill pushed himself back from the desk in a huff and stalked over to the door. "I told you, when I'm writing you don't...." He trailed off, staring at the person in the hallway. Or what used to be a person. The blood covered creature standing there used to be his daughter; but her vacant, lifeless eyes held no recognition or love as she pounced on him and bit deeply into his neck. Screaming in horror and pain he blacked out as he fell to the floor.

Later the creature that used to be Bill rose slowly and awkwardly from the floor. In slow, jerking motions it shambled back to the office chair, falling down into it. It raised its hands to the keyboard, and sat staring at the computer screen once more.

More Lessons

Okay, Predators was pretty good. Adrian Brody surprisingly sold me on the tough guy merc character.

Now for more lessons learned from Writing Excuses.

Episode 7: Villians
  • What makes a good villain?
  • Understandable, has something in common with the readers
  • Sometimes has flaws, but not always
  • Exploits the hero's flaws
  • Everyman villain vs. superman villian
  • Superman villain is a force of nature, everyman villain is interesting
  • Struggle against an all powerful evil is part of us all, but its not necessarily interesting
  • Are you looking for an interesting conflict or an interesting villian?
  • All powerful villains don't have the connection or the possibility of redemption
  • How do you make a flawed, likable villian?
  • Make it a hero with opposing goals
  • Make it a person in the hero's party who doesn't succeed because of some flaw ex "Boromir"
  • Heroes overcome their flaws, villains are overcome BY their flaws
  • What is an antihero?
  • A villain in a heroic role
  • Someone who goes to the extreme of being a flawed hero
  • We enjoy antiheroes because the villains are still worse
  • Villains think they are the heroes of their own stories
  • Good villains are logical
  • Consult the Evil Overlord List
Episodes 8: Science Fiction
  • Why write Science Fiction?
  • Sci Fi is about experiencing and writing new things
  • It's about seeing the possible futures
  • It's written either optimistically or as a cautionary tale
  • It's the genre of "What if?"
  • It's didactic (meaning its meant to be instructive)
  • It's reflective
  • It's idea driven
  • What do you need to write good Sci-Fi?
  • You need to understand current science, so you can actually be looking beyond it
  • You need to understand what has come before, read in the field
  • You need something new, unless you are writing YA then your readers are most likely new and you can get away with a little retreading
Episode 9 was about science fiction sub genres. Interesting but nothing worth noting down; if you read sci-fi you know all about it already

Episode 10: Pacing
  • What makes good pacing? How do you keep things rolling?
  • Snappy dialog
  • Cram in the tension
  • Lots of conflict
  • In late, out early. Jump straight to the conflict
  • Pre-write and edit
  • Figure out what a scene's purpose it
  • Some scenes can be about character or explanation or decompressing; but they still should have some form of tension
  • Plot Frameworks:
  • Time bomb, set some ever nearing time limit
  • Travelouge, go to a series of places. Know where you are heading, track progress on a map
  • Countdown, a series of tasks to accomplish. Just don't repeat tasks or undo them
  • Readers want to see progress
  • When you get to a point and you say "What else do I need to say here?" STOP
  • Keep it fast and tense, but let readers breathe every once in a while
  • Cram in the conflict and tensions, have multiple goals and objective in a scene
  • Pacing is about preperation
Episode 11: Business of Writing
  • Changes to make when becoming a professional
  • Rethink your schedule, and set an actual work schedule
  • To be self employed you must be self motivated
  • Make time to write
  • Wear the employer and employee hats
  • Pro is as Pro does
  • Teach your family the rules of "your office"
  • Consider quality of life and budget issues
  • How do you balance the artist and business man?
  • Switch between the two
  • Add in as much business as you can without losing the artist
  • How do you make yourself work when you don't want to?
  • Queue up tasks
  • Force yourself to write, even if you just throw it away
  • Do other work things to get in the work mood
  • BICHOK: Butt in chair, hands on keyboard
  • Business person needs to be aware of the business, trends, competition, editors, etc
Episode 12: Submitting to Editors
  • Stupid mistakes of submitting
  • Not knowing what the particular editor wants
  • Not reading the submission guide
  • Not submitting to the right market
  • How do you act like a professional?
  • Don't say "My kid loved it" or "My class loved it"
  • Wear a suit, or at least dress nicely
  • Be careful about simultaneous submissions
  • Simultaneous queries are okay, simultaneous chapters are okay, but after that be careful
  • Do your research
  • Keep track of where you have sent things
  • Don't use stupid tricks like fancy font, fancy paper, gimmicks, etc etc
  • Let the WRITING speak for itself
  • No one has ever bought a book based on fancy gimmicks, but tons have been rejected because of it
  • Make a good cover letter but realize its about the writing itself
  • DON'T use rhetorical questions in cover letters!
Episode 13: Submitting to Editors Part 2
  • Don't make it difficult for an editor to read your submission
  • Don't dress up like a viking and drop off your submission by hand
  • Don't call an editor without a previous relationship, use a POLITE e-mail
  • Don't gripe about rejection, send a polite thank you note
  • Editors are special, they do a lot of work without the fame, money, etc etc
  • How do you approach an editor?
  • Strike up a normal conversation about other topics, they'll ask if you're a writer at some point most likely
  • Ask what THEY are working on
Episode 14: Magic Systems and Rules
  • Sanderson's First Law of Magic: The ability of your hero to use magic to solve problems is directly proportional to your readers ability to understand the magic system
  • One of the major criticisms of fantasy genre is the idea that with magic I can just do anything I want
  • Solutions surfacing at the last moment is cheating
  • You want your reader to be excited about your magic system, to believe in it
  • Magic has to have rules
  • What do you gain when the reader can't understand the rules?
  • A sense of wonder and mystery
  • Tapping into the feeling of being a small fish in a big pond
  • It is okay if you don't use the unknown magic to solve problems
  • We're are talking about how the magic works, not the rationale for it (thats world building)
  • What do you get when your readers understand the rules?
  • You can actually USE the magic
  • You can be clever with it
  • It captures the readers imagination
  • It leads to tools for foreshadowing
  • You can have an apprentice character
  • There is a different sense of wonder, the wonder of cool things that you can imagine using
  • You get the possibility of really interesting takes on magic
Episode 15: Costs and Ramifications of Magic
  • Good interesting magic can't be free
  • Use of magic should have an equal and opposite reaction
  • Even if it isn't explicitly explained there must be a cost
  • Cost creates conflict and meaningful decisions
  • When you build in limitations it allows the world to make sense
  • Think about the effects on the world, the Light spell could put all the candle makers out of business
  • Taylor's First Law "If the energy you are getting from your magic is cheaper than letting a donkey do it, your medieval economy just fell apart"
  • How do you make the magic system feel "real"? How do you make it not like a video game?
  • Break the system. Exploit the hell out of it and then go back and see why it broke and how to rebuild it
  • Don't make it too quantifiable
  • Defeating a monster can make you a monster
  • Fiction can deal with the effects on the character
  • It lets us get inside the character and see what they are feeling and what the magic is doing to them
  • How do you come up with interesting costs?
  • Know what has been done before and don't use it
  • Tie costs to ramifications
  • Make the costs personal to the character
  • Sanderson's Second Law: Magic doesn't happen in a vacuum. It takes place in a world and you have to consider all its effects on the world for it to feel real.
And the next episode has a writing prompt. So I'll do a summary of it and the prompt in a separate post later.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Writing Excuses: Lessons Learned

As I just said in the previous post, it has taken 16 episodes to get to the point where they started adding in writing prompts on the Writing Excuses podcast. The first 15 episodes have some very good and useful information in them. So to make good use of my listening efforts I'm going to expound upon the lessons learned from them. Not every episode was completely didactic (see I learned a new word!), and not every episode gave as much information as the other ones, but they were all interesting at the least.

Episode 1: Brainstorming
  • Gather ideas until they start combining and coming together
  • Write down ideas immediately, carry a notebook with you.
  • Get to a point where your brain is alert, but not too active. Like during various menial tasks.
  • Organize your ideas in outlines once they start connecting.
  • Watch out for world builder's disease, continuing to build more and more and more even beyond the point that you need to go, just because world building is cool and fun.
  • Book Guide: (Subheadings: Characters, Settings, Plot)
  • Check out the Microsoft Word Outlining Tool and/or WikiDPad
Episode 2: Blending the Familiar and the Original

  • Put together an ordinary idea and an extraordinary idea
  • Ordinary ideas just have to be familiar, not boring or mundane
  • Consider the "Strange Attractor" concept. Take a familiar idea and do something strange TO or WITH it
  • Make sure your "original" idea really is original
Episode 3: Killing Your Darlings
  • Be willing to axe things
  • Don't use that idea you've been "working on for years". You're mostly too close to it to cut what is necessary to make it work, IF it can work at all
  • Get outside opinions and LISTEN to them
  • Practice cutting things to make yourself better at it
  • You'll probably cut your entire first novel, this is okay
  • If you are really attached to something, try writing both with and without it; maybe the comparison will help put things in perspective
  • Keep a folder or file full of your axed stuff, and at least tell yourself you'll come back to it later. It'll make it easier to cut it if its saved somewhere
Episode 4: Beginnings
  • Hooks!! Use them! But don't get caught up on them
  • Don't sell something with your opening that your book won't deliver, don't be all funny if you're not writing a comedy for example
  • Don't worry about writing in order. The beginning can just as easily be the last thing you write as the first, if thats how it works out then thats how it works out
  • Remember the screenwriter's adage "In late, out early". This means bracket the action as closely as possible; don't have too much build up or wind down on either side of it. Get in and get out
  • Use character, dialog, and/or action in your opening, not wordy world building stuff or overly detailed establishing
  • Be ready to heavily edit or even just drop your first chapter, you'll probably find the actual starting place after you've been writing for a while
Episode 5: Heroes and Protagonists
  • A hero is one who drives the story and is probably heroic in nature
  • A protagonist is one who has a character arc. He goes on a journey and changes
  • A main character is one through whom we see the story, the point-of-view character
  • All three of these can be the same person or three completely different people
  • Everyday heroes saving the day can be much more interesting than a superman type character saving the day
  • Seeing heroes overcome flaws makes them seem more heroic
  • Give everyday heroes an everyday background, and then make that background help them drive the story and overcome the conflicts Ex. The main character in "Hotel Rwanda"
  • Samwise Gamgee is a great example of an everyday hero. His power is no more impressive than just being a great friend
  • Make your hero competent at something, but not competent at the thing they need to be competent at in order to solve the problems, win the conflicts. But then make a way for them to still make it work
  • Give your hero flaws
  • Don't make things easy for your hero
  • Make them competent AND flawed
Episode 6: Flaws vs. Handicaps
  • Flaws are internal, handicaps are external
  • A flaw is the hero's fault, a handicap is not
  • Flaws are something you overcome, handicaps are things you don't necessarily have to
  • Flaws lead to character arcs, handicaps lead to conflicts
  • Flaws make heroes more interesting and identifiable
  • Flaws allow growth
  • If you overcome a flaw and grow, carefully consider how long you keep adding new flaws
  • Don't undo growth
  • How do you match flaws with characters?
  • Look at the conflicts you want your hero to deal with
  • Find a point of conflict and then justify a character's reaction to it with a flaw
  • Flaws should work into the story, be part of the conflict
  • How do you give someone a flaw but still make them likable?
  • By virtue of making them the main character
  • By finding elements people CAN respond to
  • By making the character competent
That is all the episodes I've written down notes on so far. Going to go watch Predators. Will write down some more later and hopefully get to the writing prompt soon.

I promise I didn't forget!

So I've been listening to the Writing Excuses podcast. It is filled with great stuff and good advice. But they don't add the weekly writing prompt until episode 16, which I just finished. So thats why I haven't done one yet. But I have been taking notes on the advice in the various episodes. Therefore in order to make use of the first 15 episodes and to share the bounty of wisdom I am going to start off with a summary of what they have talked about in those first few episodes before the writing prompts start. That will be the next post here. Which will probably happen later tonight.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Writing Excuses

OMG a blog entry!! Haha. It's been like 3-4 months since my last one.

So there is a pretty dang good author named Brandon Sanderson. He's got some great books, and an interesting sounding podcast called Writing Excuses. It's a short format, only 15 minutes long, they say "...because you're in a hurry, and we're not that smart." It is all about writing and the craft of making books and stories.

The reason I started a blog was to try and get myself in the habit of regularly writing. So here is my plan. Since these are only 15 minutes long there's no reason why I can't easily expect myself to listen one a day, or at worse one every other day at first if I forget. And most of them come with a writing prompt. Some of the earlier ones might not have a prompt, but I believe those prompts start showing up with each episode pretty quickly.

Therefore my plan is to listen to one of these a day, and do the connected writing prompt on this blog as I do. Hopefully I get into the good habit of regularly writing something and maybe I'll get around to outputting something of my own making eventually. At the least hopefully my storytelling skills will improve and make my GMing better. Going to try and do the first one tomorrow night after work.