1. Should you mix genres or not?
2. How do you avoid world builder's disease?
3. Tips for nanowrimo?
4. Before getting published, how do you get followers to your website or blog?
5. How do you create subplots?
6. What did you learn last year?
7. How do you stay motivated?
The somewhat longer key points (with some answers!)
1. Is it better to include elements of romance, horror, mystery, fantasy, sci-f in a book to flesh it out or is it better to leave your story to be as it was? Give your story what it needs. Are you adding empty calories or rounding out the main dish? Just chasing fashion or really excited? "Passion makes up for a world of ills."
2. Any tips for developing an idea without getting caught in world builder's disease? Daily writing goals. If you absolutely must do groundwork, set a deadline to start writing. Or start writing, then worldbuild around it.
3. Tips on nanowrimo? Go back to the nanowrimo posts. Go ahead and start writing. Start your outline and research early!
4. Before you were published, what did you do to get noticed and get followers to your website or your blog? Don't affirm the consequent. Focus on writing fiction that people are reading first.
5. How do you create subplots without overshadowing the main plot? Make sure the main plot is really good. Consider making the subplot the main plot. Make sure that characters in subplots pay attention to the main plot.
6. What are the most important things writing wise you learned last year? Taught myself how to write short fiction. Mystery plot structures. Knocking myself out of all my comfort zones is not a good way to learn writing. How to match characters like puzzle pieces, aka foils.
7. How do you stay motivated, especially during editing, when it seems like everything is crap? Remember why you loved the story, what the geewhiz factor was, what made you say "I want to write this." Remember your deadline and paycheck. Remember the cubicle or food service job you don't want. Remember all the people who would love to be doing what you are doing, and do it for them. Remember that you are writing because you love to read, and you are writing for other people like you.
"A. It is way harder than you think it is going to be.
B. It is way more awesome than you think it is going to be."
[Brandon] This is Writing Excuses, Season Seven, Episode 11, More Microcasting.
[Dan] Woo hoo!
[Howard] 15 minutes long.
[Mary] Because you're in a hurry.
[Dan] And we're not that smart.
[Brandon] I'm Brandon.
[Dan] 15 times in a row.
[Brandon] I'm Brandon.
[Dan] I'm Dan.
[Mary] I'm Mary.
[Howard] And I'm not talking over anybody else's lines.
[Dan] Yes, I am.
[Brandon] Question. Is it better to include elements of romance, horror, mystery, fantasy, sci-fi in a book to flesh it out or is it better to leave your story to be as it was?
[Dan] I would say you give your story what it needs to feel full. If you're writing a very short story and you want it to be very focused, you probably want to restrict yourself to one thing. If you're writing a larger story or you just want to fill it out, absolutely, add all of those things in.
[Howard] Are you adding a side dish to the main dish because the main dish isn't enough food and you just want empty calories, or are you trying to put something beautiful on the plate that's well-rounded?
[Brandon] That was a great metaphor.
[Mary] Then, the other thing is, are you doing it because it's fashionable or because you are really super excited by it? If you are really super excited about it, even if it's not fashionable, go for it.
[Brandon] Anything you're excited about... Yes. I agree. In writing, passion makes up for a world of ills.
[Brandon] Any tips for developing an idea without getting caught in world builder's disease?
[Dan] Set daily writing goals for yourself. Spend some time working, and then start writing. Then the next day, develop something else further, and then start writing some more.
[Howard] Now, if you need to lay groundwork before... If you feel like you need to lay groundwork before you can even start, then set up time after which you absolutely must do what Dan said and you start having word count goals. Give yourself a week to just do world building, and write in your little private wiki.
[Dan] Or even a month, if that's what it takes.
[Howard] Or a month if that's what it takes. But try and pound out as much research as you can in that time, with the understanding that when the time is up, it's time to start putting words on the page.
[Mary] Or you can do what I do sometimes and just start writing without world building, and world build around the discoveries that I make.
[Brandon] All right. Next question...
[Howard] All good answers.
[Brandon] Is tips on nanowrimo. We actually have posted... This is coming at us in November... We posted a bunch of nanowrimo things on the website back in November, so you can go look at those.
[Howard] But if you're thinking about nanowrimo, here in early March of 2012...
[Brandon] Which it totally is, right now, and it's not November.
[Dan] Good for you!
[Howard] Go ahead and start writing.
[Mary] Actually, let me say, as someone who does nano every year. I start planning months before nano comes around. I go ahead and start working on my outline, and start doing my research, so that when the month hits, I'm not stopped by, "Oh, what kind of carriages did they ride?"
[Brandon] All right. This is actually a pretty interesting one. Before you were published, what did you do to get noticed and get followers to your website or your blog?
[Dan] I did a podcast with these two really famous writers, and I got pretty well known through that. It was pretty awesome.
[Brandon] And then you came and joined us...
[Dan] Then I came and did this. Started slumming around in Writing Excuses...
[Brandon] I did not do any blogging or anything like that until I published. I didn't... There are some leveraged that really well. I published and then...
[Dan] You did! Because Brandon and I ran...
[Brandon] Oh, I... But...
[Howard] Timewaster's guide?
[Dan] A game review website on which there were tons and tons of articles that both he and I wrote for years and years before we were published. Most of them about games, but a lot of them about fiction.
[Brandon] Though those weren't... I suppose we did do that. My goal was not to drive people to my website, which didn't exist then.
[Dan] Yes. We didn't do it promotionally.
[Brandon] We did it for fun.
[Howard] Don't affirm the consequent. The goal is not followers to your website or followers to your blog or any of that, the goal is writing fiction that people are reading. I think that that's what you need to be focusing on. Don't start promoting yourself until after you've written some novels.
[Brandon] Caveat, though. Caveat. If you like to blog, if you are an engaging, intelligent, fun blogger, and that is... You enjoy that, you're good at it, go for it. If that is a passion of yours. Do not do it just to get followers. Until you're writing, I would agree with Howard 100%. Though John Scalzi, our good friend, was a very passionate, skilled, capable blogger. Who then leveraged a lot of that fan base to his fiction when he started publishing fiction.
[Mary] I actually think... I mean, I started writing on my website as a puppeteer before I had any fiction sold. I think that that is one of the reasons that I'm visible. But I will say that, to back you up, writing about things that you are passionate and interested about will do more for you than anything else. Because when people are going to the blog, when they are going to your website, they are going to find out more about you as a person. This is not laying your personal life out on the table. This is letting them see a facet about yourself that you are really passionate about.
[Howard] Let me throw another caveat in here. If you are planning on going the self pub, e-pub route, and you're trying to build your own brand, then... Yes. Obviously, you need to write novels to send people to, but you need to do something to drive traffic. That is a project that cost me about six years of giving it away for free. That... Schlock Mercenary, my career as a cartoonist, is a result of six years of daily updates of the story, and the blog underneath the story. Always there, always on time, and of a decent quality, the words schlock and mercenary notwithstanding. That's how long it took me. I get a little frustrated when people come to me and say, "Yeah, how do you get this done?" I realize they expect a three-month solution. I just don't know of one.
[Dan] I have one more thing to add to this.
[Brandon] Go for it.
[Dan] This comes from Sarah Pinborough, who was on this cast very recently. We were talking about social media and its use as a promotional tool. She said what I thought was great. She said, "The single best use of social media as a promotional tool, whether that's Facebook, twitter, blog, is to say something so interesting that other people will link to it or retweet it." You don't want to be saying, "Hey, go visit my website." Or "Hey, go read my book." You just want to be so clever and/or entertaining that people can't help but wonder what else you've written.
[Brandon] That's not how I use it. I use it as a newsfeed about me, because doing that takes so much effort. But if it's something you want to do, go for it.
[Brandon] Next question. How you create subplots without overshadowing the main plot?
[Dan] Make sure your main plot's really good.
[Brandon] If your subplots start overshadowing it, maybe they need to be the main plot.
[Howard] Yeah, I was going to say... If your outline for the main plot is what ended up being a framework for some really interesting subplots, then, hey, congratulations, you've found a new tool for generating wonderful plots. On your rewrite, you're going to have an awesome book. Congratulations.
[Mary] On a more practical level, besides just completely throw away your book and rewrite it, one thing that you can do is make sure that whenever you are dealing with the subplot, that the characters in that scene are aware of the main plot and think and reference it. And that the subplot intersects with the main plot in some way.
[Brandon] All right. This is a tough one, guys. I don't know if we'll be able to cover it. But this person asked what are the main... The most important things writing wise we learned last year. We did a podcast on this a couple years ago, and it was a really good one. I think that's probably what he's referencing. But... Did you guys... Do we want to can-of-worms that and see if we can come up with a whole podcast on that, or does anyone have one that they want to throw out?
[Dan] I can throw one out.
[Brandon] Go for it.
[Dan] Last year is the year that I decided to teach myself how to write short fiction. I'm still not awesome at it, but I did get one published. So that's awesome. I just decided I needed to develop that skill and worked on it very purposefully.
[Brandon] All right. Let's do our book of the week.
[Mary] Yeah. Can I toss one in?
[Brandon] Oh, yeah, go for it, Mary.
[Mary] Actually, the podcast we did on mystery plot structures, which for me was earlier today, but for you guys was months ago... Or weeks ago!
[Dan] No, no.
[Mary] I know, it's all shhh! Was incredibly helpful.
[Brandon] Wow. Someone said something useful. It was probably...
[Mary] It was you.
[Brandon] Okay. Wow. I feel so special.
[Howard] I was hoping it was me. So, me. My big thing... I think we're talking about 2011? We are still talking about 2011?
[Dan, Mary] Yeah.
[Howard] Biggest thing I learned in 11. It was sad, but the thing that I learned was at Mary's writers retreat. That was that knocking myself all the way out of all of my comfort zones was not how to get work done. It was a worthy experiment, and I'm glad I did it, and I learned lots and lots of fascinating things. But if I'm going to write for hours and hours at a time, I need to be able to do it in my current environment. I need... The writers retreat is not a good environment for me to try and learn new things about writing. Yet.
[Brandon] I guess I'll have to add one, since everyone did. Earlier today... Oh, I mean lots of months ago, we did a podcast on foils. One of the reasons I wrote that on the list, I kind of pick a lot of the topics, was because during the previous year, I had been thinking about it a lot, and practicing it a lot, and I had learned a lot about matching characters together so that they work like puzzle pieces together. So go listen to that foils podcast. I explain a lot of what I kind of figured out there. So, there you go.
[Brandon] All right. Book of the week. Mary, you've got one for us.
[Mary] Yes, but I've already forgotten what I was going to... Oh! Persuasion by Jane Austen.
[Mary] There are a number of different audio recordings of this on audible. I am a big fan of Jane Austen, but her other books, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, tend to get the notice.
[Brandon] Yeah. All the attention.
[Mary] Persuasion is a beautiful, beautiful intimate story about someone... A young woman who had met the love of her life and declined his offer of marriage because her parents told her to. The book starts seven years after this. They meet again. It's just... It's heartbreaking and beautiful. It's just a beautiful love story.
[Brandon] I often kind of think of it as the forgotten Jane Austen book. Because it feels like a much more mature book. Much... Actually better than some of these, and I love Jane Austen.
[Dan] Well, it is, I believe, the last one that she published.
[Brandon] Yeah. It's... It really is a beautiful book. It's got more depth of real characterization. A lot more depth, I feel, to the romance, even than the others. Where she was doing a good job in the other books. This one's wonderful.
[Dan] Of completely trivial interest, in college, I did a report, a big research paper about Persuasion, in which I basically just took it, the story, and applied it to different settings. Most of them genre fiction.
[Mary] I based Jane Ellsworth in Shades of Milk and Honey on Anne Elliott.
[Brandon] Can we get... Can we get that...
[Dan] Can we get some of those? I've got them somewhere. I should haul them out.
[Brandon] Okay. We'll see if we can get them in the liner notes.
[Mary] That would be fantastic.
[Dan] Also, Anne Elliott shows up in my e-book, Night of Blacker Darkness.
[Howard] All right. So since you probably don't already have it bookmarked, go to the little browser field in your URL and type in audiblepodcast.com/excuse and then you hit return. It will take you to audible, and the page where you can kick off a 14 day free trial membership. Pick up Persuasion by Jane Austen. Who's the narrator on that?
[Mary] There's a number of different narrators. I can...
[Howard] Oh, there's several versions available...
[Mary] I can give you one of my favorites, but I can't remember who the narrator is.
[Dan] We'll put it in the liner notes.
[Howard] Okay. Perfect.
[Brandon] All right. Great question here. How do you stay motivated, especially during editing, when it seems like everything is crap?
[Mary] Remember, if you can, why you loved the story, what the geewhiz factor was that made you go, "I want to write this."
[Brandon] That's great. I think that'll do it for me.
[Dan] I have nothing to add to that.
[Brandon] Is there a sure...
[Howard] If you're...
[Dan] Howard has something to add to that.
[Howard] If you're being paid to write, remember your deadline and your paycheck and those sorts of things. I find that feeding my family is a fantastic motivator, and has me working on days when I would really rather be doing something else.
[Dan] Remember the cubicle and/or food service...
[Brandon] Job chasing it.
[Dan] Job that you don't want.
[Brandon] I've got kind of a weird one. It's kind of a personal one, that really only works for me, but it may give you guys some insight into how I think. I've been given... I think during these hard days... I've been given pretty much the best opportunity anyone's ever been given in epic fantasy in the history of the genre. Right? I've basically been given the best opportunity for promotion, the best chance at success, because of things that have happened. There are so many people who want to do what I'm doing. I feel that if I don't give it my all, that I'm in some way kind of betraying all of these people who would love to be able to do what I do. It's kind of... It's my duty, as the one who made it, to make good on it. That's not going to help you guys, but it really does... It's something that... Yeah.
[Dan] So, in your face, listeners.
[Mary] No, I don't... There's...
[Brandon] That's not what that was supposed to mean.
[Howard] I don't think that was what he was trying to say, but... Good call, Dan.
[Brandon] Thanks for boiling it down, Dan.
[Dan] No problem.
[Mary] Yeah, but... I mean, seriously, the thing that everyone can apply in their own writing career from that is that you are writing something because you love to read. When you are writing, you are writing for other people like you. Remember that.
[Dan] I spoke at a high school a couple of weeks ago, and somebody came up and asked what it was like. I said the two best pieces of advice, I guess not even advice, but just the two best things I can tell you. A, it is way harder than you think it's going to be. And B, it is way more awesome than you think it is going to be.
[Brandon] Wow. That might actually be a good place to stop. Let's go ahead and bring it out. We actually had a guy offer us a writing prompt.
[Mary] Oh, thank heavens.
[Dan] No way.
[Brandon] An actual writing prompt.
[Brandon] It's a pretty good one.
[Brandon] So it was Bill Housely on twitter. He says, "A lone woman who runs an orbital refueling port makes first contact when some desperate aliens stop by for fuel."
[Brandon] That's a great writing prompt.
[Dan] Bill Housely, you're our favorite listener, today.
[Brandon] So that's your writing prompt. Go for it. Thank you all. You're out of excuses, now go write.