Questions and some answers:
1. What are the main reason some authors only seem to publish a book or two, and then you never see anything more from them?
Some people only write one book, while others change their name or do something different.
2. What is your process for writing quickly under pressure, while at the same time creating cohesive quality content?
Preplanning. Good writing habits.
3. What do you do when you get bogged down in explanations, and can't seem to cut down, no matter how hard you try?
Introduce an external conflict. Learn to cut.
4. You guys promised a podcast would appear on Hero with A Thousand Faces quite some time ago. I'm still waiting.
We did it last week. We drew five faces.
5. Metaphors and similes. What are the concerns about using them in genre fiction?
Sometimes people think you mean it, literally. It's easy to go purple (not the color!). Be careful of stinking as bad as a glorzick on fleebernow.
6. Short story writing tips and pitfalls?
Too many characters. Multiple scenic locations.
7. How do you write sex scenes?
It varies. Cut away and watch the curtains blowing. Read the book and analyze how it's done. So uncomfortable.
8. Science fiction or fantasy poetry.
Have your husband write it. Write it timidly, and try to minimize and downplay it. Copy something. Doggerel can be good.
[Mary] Season Eight, Episode One.
[Brandon] This is Writing Excuses, Micro-Casting!
[Howard] 15 minutes long, in really quick chunks.
[Mary] Because you're in a hurry.
[Dan] And we're not that smart, over and over again.
[Brandon] I'm Brandon.
[Dan] I'm Dan.
[Mary] I'm Mary.
[Howard] I'm screwing up the intro.
[Brandon] You guys need to warn us when you're going to do these things. We should just assume you're always going to.
[Howard] Yes, you should.
[Mary] No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.
[Brandon] What are the main reasons some authors only seem to publish a book or two, and then you never see anything more from them? Do they just have only that many books to begin with, or are there ways to fail or mess up your writing career?
[Mary] Yes, to both of those.
[Brandon] All right.
[Dan] And many other explanations, as well.
[Howard] I have read some wonderful science fiction books from people whose first book didn't sell well enough for them to decide to pursue a career.
[Brandon] Yeah. This is tragic. It really is. Fortunately, for a lot of these writers, one or two books came out, they didn't do well, they changed their name and they tried again. If they're very serious about writing, that will happen. It is one of the nice things about self-publishing, is you never have to be published, you never have to have someone saying, "Yes." But the real... I mean, it wasn't the publishers being evil. It's a business. If a book only sold a few copies, what are you going to do? If you're the business person? Yeah, let's do another? It just often doesn't make a lot of sense. So these people would not get a renewed publishing contract.
[Howard] I loved the Shattered Sphere series from Roger MacBride Allen and wondered why never heard anything else from him, since it was some of the best science fiction I had read. Realized that he got a really good offer to go write extended universe Star Wars stuff and that's where all of his... That's where all of his typing on the keyboard went.
[Mary] Yeah. Sometimes there are people who only have the one book. Like Harper Lee with To Kill a Mockingbird.
[Dan] Yeah. I've got a friend who came out with a book 3 or four years ago. Published it. Then we asked him what he was going to work on next, and he said, "Nothing. I'm done. I wrote the book I wanted to write."
[Mary] Strange and alien, but... Okay.
[Brandon] I'm doing a nano month... National novel writing month... With my friend in July. I was wondering what your process was for writing quickly under pressure, while at the same time creating cohesive quality content.
[Mary] A lot of preplanning. I'm going to speak as someone who does nano every year. I do a lot of preplanning, so that when I go in, I'm not spending my time floundering around, trying to figure out what I am going to write.
[Brandon] Okay. Good.
[Dan] Yeah. I will say that for me, the primary benefit of nano is forcing me to write prose that is maybe not coherent or useful, but that taught me some really good writing habits that I use now when I'm writing things that are coherent and useful.
[Howard] It is my hope that by the time this episode airs, I will be able to answer this question competently, but right now, I have the same problem you have, fair listener.
[Brandon] For me, the habits come into it. Write every day. If you want to learn something from nano, learn how to learn your process. Take four hours a day, or two hours a day, whatever it is, and do it every day. If you have come out not having hit the whole amount, but having done that consistently, you've taught yourself something.
[Brandon] All right. What do you do when you get bogged down in explanations, and can't seem to cut down, no matter how hard you try?
[Mary] I introduce an external conflict.
[Mary] So that can be anything from having the discussion about how we're going to recalibrate the warp thrusters while they're doing dishes and arguing about which one of them is going to do the dishes to... Anything, anything external that I can introduce will give me some tension.
[Howard] It depends on the things that need to be explained. If the... If what I'm explaining is the new position of all the characters based on the change that just happened, the sequel portion of scene, but it's so complicated, it's so involved that it would be long and boring to describe, I just don't describe it at all. Put the characters there, and have them start doing the things that they would do in these new positions and situations, and just hit the most important questions as they come up.
[Brandon] I would say that if you're having trouble cutting down your descriptions, you need to learn how to cut. This may be a skill you just need to learn how to do. Find someone you know who is good at it, whose writing you trust, give them a couple paragraphs, and say, "What would you cut?" Look and see. Are they finding passive voice? Are they taking your long-winded explanations and cutting them down to more specific, powerful, evocative words? I had to learn to do this by having an editor go through and do it to my fiction over and over again, until I saw what they were doing and realized I can... This is how I can trim.
[Brandon] You guys promised a podcast would appear on Hero with A Thousand Faces quite some time ago. I'm still waiting. Says George Choctaw.
[Dan] In your face, dude!
[Brandon] We did it!
[Dan] We did it last week, too.
[Brandon] It was the most transcendent, awesome episode ever. Unfortunately, that one got lost, and we recorded another one in which we just kind of argued about a lot.
[Dan] Just kind of sniped at each other.
[Brandon] And said don't use this.
[Howard] I believe it was Hyrum Smith, who founded the Franklin Planner company, who said that it's exhilarating sometimes just to put a checkmark in a box. We put a checkmark in that box.
[Howard] Oh, yeah.
[Mary] We drew five faces.
[Brandon] Metaphors and similes. What are the concerns about using them in genre fiction? How to pick a strong one and they week one?
[Mary] One of the biggest concerns about using a metaphor or simile in genre fiction is that sometimes people think that you mean it.
[Brandon] Oh, yes. That's a good point. He flew across the room.
[Dan] Yeah. He flew across the room is the classic example. But the one that I get all the time is the reverse of that, where in chapter 1 of I Am Not a Serial Killer, I will talk about the demon is killing people in town, and everyone assumed it was a metaphor, when it totally wasn't, and it was an actual demon. So...
[Brandon] Be very careful about that. Metaphors are one of the best ways to be pithy and cool, and also one of the easiest ways to go purple and have bad prose. In fact, the bad opening sentence contests and things that people do, usually the winners, so the worst, are really bad metaphors.
[Howard] It was like...
[Howard] And then away you go.
[Brandon] So be careful. They can be really cool. Terry Pratchett can spin a metaphor in such a way that it's just beautiful, but he's also writing humor. So he can play that humor thing. Writing a metaphor and putting it in science fiction... "It stank in there as bad as a glorzick on fleebernow."
[Dan] That was one of my favorites.
[Mary] At the same time, if you actually did that well, it is a good way to explain what the glorzick on fleebernow is.
[Howard] Well, your character is from Fleebernow...
[Brandon] No, fleebernow is a type of drug. That's what I was getting at.
[Howard, Mary] Oh! Okay.
[Dan] That's what I got out of it.
[Howard] So your character is a recovering fleebernow addict.
[Brandon] See, that's why the metaphor is bad.
[Mary] That one is bad.
[Brandon] That's why you have to worry about that. Because if we'd said, as bad as a junkie on speed, or something like that, it makes perfect sense to us because we share a common thing. Metaphors... If we don't share the common thing, you have to be very careful.
[Howard] You could get away with as bad as a junkie on neo-fleebernow. Now we know that fleebernow is a drug and it's had multiple iterations.
[Mary] Yes. Yes.
[Howard] We need a new question.
[Brandon] Let's go ahead and do the book of the week. The book of the week this week is A Memory of Light, the last book of The Wheel of Time.
[Brandon] Finally. By this time, it should be out, I should have finished it.
[Brandon] I actually have finished it, but I should have finished all the revisions. Hopefully, lots of people in suits will not be breathing down my neck, staring at me angrily for ruining the company. So...
[Mary] How are you feeling about that?
[Dan] I'd be more worried about the people in cosplay outfits.
[Brandon] That's true. Also the people in cosplay and [Isodae shawls? Ishamael? Atai Mishraile?] breathing down my neck and threatening to drag my nails back.
[Howard] Heavily breathing down your neck, like junkies on fleebernow.
[Brandon] No, I feel really, really good about the book.
[Brandon] The ending is Robert Jordan's ending himself that he wrote.
[Mary] Oh, really?
[Brandon] He wrote the last scene himself, virtually unchanged by me. There are some little edits, editing things we've done, but... It's great. I think you guys will enjoy it. You can get it by going to...
[Howard] Audiblepodcast.com/excuse. Help support the podcast. Start yourself a free 30 day trial membership at audible and pick up A Memory of Light for free and pick up another book for 30% off.
[Brandon] All right. A lot of people have asked about short stories. A lot of people. I don't know if we can cover short stories... We certainly can't in a microcast. Even a given podcast, we can't cover short stories. It's just too big a topic. But, Mary, they asked for short story writing tips and pitfalls. Maybe we can give them a few pitfalls? Especially how to know when you have the beginning of a book instead of a short story, early on.
[Mary] Oo. Boy, that one's tough. A lot of... And... How to tell... I wish I had known you were throwing that one at me.
[Brandon] Do we want you to think about it and we'll throw another one at Dan?
[Mary] I mean, I can do pitfalls, it's the...
[Mary] I mean, one of the common pitfalls, which I have talked about repeatedly, is too many characters.
[Mary] That is actually a warning that you probably have a novel, is when you realize that you have all these characters. The other thing is multiple scenic locations, can also be...
[Brandon] Okay. Yup.
[Mary] Because it's about momentum and slowing the reader down. Yeah... Let's...
[Brandon] Let's do so more...
[Mary] Can of worms that?
[Brandon] Some more short story ones. There's just so much to talk about.
[Brandon] This one's going to be fun. You may can of worms this one, too. How do you write sex scenes? I've heard there are many ways to screw it up, and yet you have never talked about it in the past seven seasons. Also, should writers write sex scenes when they have never experienced it. If so, how do they research it?
[Howard] Clean rating! Clean rating!
[Dan] One of my favorite sex scenes ever is actually in Glamour in Glass that Mary wrote, which is this incredibly prim and proper Regency fantasy. There is a scene where you can tell that the husband and wife are starting to give each other The Look and then there's a sentence that's like, "And then they were occupied for several minutes with the duties marital."
[Brandon, Howard] [laughter]
[Mary] What's funny is that that actually makes me blush. [Laughter]
[Brandon] That's a perfect scene.
[Howard] Michael... Was it Michael Collings or Michael Brent Collings? I think it was Michael Collings who said that writing horror is a lot like writing erotica because you are trying to elicit a physical reaction. If you are trying to write erotica, we are probably not the people to help you with that.
[Mary] Well, but, you don't...
[Dan] You could do a sex scene that isn't necessarily erotica.
[Howard] Oh, I know that. I know. That's what I'm saying. If you are trying to... If you're trying to write sex without writing it as erotica...
[Mary] We could do a whole podcast on this. The thing to understand is that it's going to vary. Our answer is going to vary depending on the type of fiction you are writing. Because clearly in Regency, I'm going to write something very different than I would write it if I were doing science fiction. I have written more explicit scenes.
[Mary] The biggest challenge is that sex, if you start looking at the individual pieces of it, is messy and kind of funny.
[Mary] So trying to describe it in any kind of detail generally has to be handled with that in mind.
[Brandon] Yeah. It's... It's going to vary so much. So much, depending on your genre and your own inclinations. It's interesting, on a side note, a lot of people seem really worried about this. That... Like this person says, should you write it if you've never had it? I mean, how do you research? All of these things. If it has a place in your book, go ahead and give it a try. You are imitating things. I mean, this is what you do as a writer. I've never killed anybody, but my characters have a lot. The thing is a lot of writers seem to get worried that if they don't include X, Y, or Z, either the publishers will want them to or they'll get pushed to or the book won't feel authentic or things like that. I've never had that experience. If you want to do the old Truman show thing... Do you remember the Truman show? They're like, "What do they do when they have sex?" Oh...
[Dan] They cut away...
[Brandon] Yeah, just cut away.
[Dan] And just watch the curtains blowing.
[Brandon] Yeah, the curtains blow or things like that. Go ahead and do that. That works in a lot of genres. If it doesn't work for your story, you're probably best off asking someone other than us.
[Mary] Well, I mean, the same thing that you would... You can ask me.
[Brandon] You can ask Mary.
[Mary] [laughter] I am the one that's not Mormon? Is that why?
[Brandon] No. No. I would say...
[Mary] I'm kidding.
[Brandon] I've read all of our works, and none of us have any stories I've read have we put it in.
[Mary] Oh, okay.
[Brandon] So I would say, if you're wanting to do a graphic sex scene... I'm saying don't ask me because I haven't written them. I can't give you advice on this. So far as I know... If you have, I haven't read that story. I haven't read anything by any of us where we have.
[Mary] That's probably just as well. From... Anyway, what I was going to say is that... Actually, what he is getting at is that you should find people where you think that these scenes work really well.
[Brandon] Yeah. If you think George R Martin's sex scenes are done really well, go talk to him and say, "How did you do these really well?"
[Mary] Or just, not even talk to him, read the book.
[Mary] Read the book and analyze how it's done. The same way you do with anything.
[Brandon] There we go. All right. Enough.
[Mary] So uncomfortable.
[Mary] [laughter] You're the one who asked the question.
[Brandon] I know. It's a good question, and something we haven't touched on.
[Mary] It is a good question.
[Brandon] So I thought we should at least touch on...
[Brandon] I've got like 50 here asking for the Hero's Journey. So in your face!
[Brandon] All right. We've got time for one more.
[Howard] We get to make checkmark after checkmark after checkmark.
[Brandon] Yes. All right. Science fiction or fantasy poetry.
[Dan] What about it?
[Mary] I can't help you at all.
[Brandon] That's what they're asking about.
[Mary] We're going to have to get somebody else.
[Brandon] We're going to have to get a poet in here.
[Dan] They're asking how to do it or where to sell it or what?
[Brandon] But we could ask about have any of you included poems in your fiction in any form?
[Mary] Ah. Yes. I have my husband write it.
[Brandon] Okay. You have your husband write it. Okay. Good. I write it very timidly, knowing I'm not very good at it, and so I try to minimize it and downplay it. Usually I'll go find something that's got an established meter and I'll copy it. So that I at least know I'm doing... And I'll copy their structure, their rhyme and their meter exactly. The biggest thing to worry about is creating doggerel is easy. Creating something that's cool is hard. There are lots of places for doggerel in stories.
[Mary] Oh, yes.
[Brandon] Most songs are going to be what we call doggerel. Most poems of the people... A lot of them will be memorable because they have a catchy rhyme structure and they're pithy. Those are fine. If you want to get the high art poetry, you're going to have to again go to a poet. This is not something I'm good at. Dan?
[Brandon] You're the most poetic person I know.
[Dan] I write poetry all the time and I've never put any of it into a book because I've never found a good reason to. The one thing I will say is that if you are looking for specific advice on science fiction fantasy poetry, I think you might be approaching the question from the wrong direction. Good poetry is good poetry, regardless of the subject or the genre. So just study poetry, and then write that, but about dragons or spaceships or whatever it is you're trying to do.
[Howard] One of the things that we've talked about before also is that studying poetry, reading poems, is a great way to learn how to use language in prose more effectively. Read some Edgar Allen Poe. Read Nevermore... What was the... The Raven. Read the Raven before sitting down to write about a crazy person and see how your language changes as a result.
[Mary] There's also a science fiction... Science fiction poetry association.
[Mary] Which would probably be a really good place to go for questions of this sort.
[Howard] Is it called sifpa?
[Brandon] [laughter] All right. Let's do a writing prompt. What does... sif-fa?
[Brandon] Sifpa stand for...
[Brandon] And what's going on in the SFPA?
[Howard] And it cannot be So Fancy Public Address.
[Brandon] Okay. This has been Writing Excuses. You're out of excuses, now go write.