Help! My Computer is Making Me Write

I devised a tool today to help me stay focused on writing.

It’s a script on my work computer that runs every 30 minutes. Here’s how it works…

Every 30 minutes, I get the following prompt

If I don’t have time to mess with it, I simply click “No”

If I click “Yes,” my writing file appears, and the clock starts ticking. I have 60 seconds to write as much as I can think of. It can be a sentence, a phrase, a description… Anything that moves the story forward.

After 60 seconds, my work is saved and the window closes.

And that’s it! Simple, yes, but it’s fun.

Last Week in SFF – Interviews, Podcasts, and a Chance to Win a Book Signed by George R. R. Martin


Last Week in SFF – Interviews, podcasts, and a chance to win a book signed by George R. R. Martin


George R. R. Martin’s Tiff interview was published on Youtube. Included is a reading from his upcoming book, “The Winds of Winter.”

Interview Part 1

Interview Part 2

Interview Part 3 – The Winds of Winter begins around the final 9 minute mark

New Writing Excuses podcast – Ominiscient Viewpoint Discussion

New I Should Be Writing podcast – Dan Wells Interview / Characterization

Chance to win an anthology signed by George R. R. Martin – Contest ends March 21!

A Memory of Light Ebook Release Date Confirmed

WonderCon 2012 happened in Anaheim

New trailer for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

A + B = X (The Idea Formula)

I’ve been listening to “The Secrets” podcast by Michael A. Stackpole, and he has some interesting things to say about where story ideas come from. He says that original ideas are everywhere, we just need to learn how to create them (operative word here is ‘create’… not ‘wait’). He then discusses the process of taking a common concept and “turning it on its head.” You do that by swapping the identifying attributes of the idea with something new and unusual, or exploring it from different angles.

Consider Twilight. For centuries, vampires were ugly, malicious beasts with an incessant hunger for human flesh. Now, thanks to the Twilight Saga, they are tall, pale hunks with pouty lips and an incessant hunger for love. (I’m basing this on what I’ve heard. I’ve yet to read or watch it. You get my drift though.)

Another way of doing this is by mashing concepts together. Brandon Sanderson talks about this in his Writing Excuses podcast (He calls it genre-blending). Here, you take something familiar and blend it with something strange.

As a formula, it kind of looks like this…
A + B = X, where A equals something ordinary, B equals something strange, and X equals your awesome new book idea.

It works like this:
High School + Kids = boring
High School + Wizards = Harry Potter

Another one I like is:
Exotic Pet Store + Outer Space + George R. R. Martin = Sentient castle-building aliens that worship you until you stab their queen with a katana and they take over your world and devour everyone on it (Sandkings by George R. R. Martin)

Try doing this yourself. Play with the formula and see what crazy new things you can come up with. I’m going to try Cowboys + Zombies and see if that equals a short story. Until next time, have fun and good luck!

10 Great Podcasts for Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers


Hi, my name is Bob, and I’m addicted to podcasts.

Okay, my name isn’t really Bob, and I wouldn’t say that I’m “addicted” to podcasts. But with 2 hours of my day spent on rural commutes through Arkansas, and eight hours of it staring at spreadsheets and emails, I find that having something other than Adele or that “I’m sexy and I know it” song stuck in my head is actually quite amazing. (“wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle, yeah.”)

On the other hand, 85% of my sentences start off with, “well I heard on a podcast that (insert random trivia here).” Some people seem to have a problem with this, but who cares what they think, right?

Here’s the deal: I listen to podcasts because they stimulate my brain. As a writer, I’m always looking for ways to get information related to my craft, or information that may inspire my craft. So, with that being said, I thought I would list some of my favorite podcasts below. If you have any you would like to add, please share them in the comments section.

Podcasts on Writing
Writing Excuses
Hosted by Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Howard Taylor, and Mary Robinette Kowal, this podcast has been quintessential to my development as a writer.

I Should Be Writing
I find myself liking this one more and more. Mur Lafferty hosts the show and often deals with the emotions involved in being a writer. She also has some amazing interviews on tap (Neil Gaiman, Connie Lewis, Tracy Hickman, etc.)

Odyssey Writing Workshop
Odyssey is an annual writing retreat for aspiring fantasy and science fiction writers. Many of their guest lectures can be found on their site’s podcast page.

Short Stories on Audio – Fantasy and Science Fiction
Clarkesworld Magazine
Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Escape Pod

Miscellaneous Awesomeness
Stuff You Missed in History Class
Ever heard of Chicago’s infamous Murder castle? What about the Golem of Prague? Are you looking for awesome characters for your next novel? Stuff You Missed is all the cool stuff they never told you in high school.

Stuff To Blow Your Mind
Will robots be bathing you some day? Can nightmares actually kill you? What’s in a witches brew? Still more cool stuff to get your brain juices flowing

The Geeks Guide to the Galaxy
The guys at io9 never fail to entertain. With episodes featuring George R. R. Martin, Orson Scott Card, and R.A. Salvatore, how could you resist?

Honorable Mention

George R. R. Martin’s Podcast
In October of 2006, Martin conducted eight podcast episodes before the release of “A Feast for Crows.” Episode 3 is specifically geared towards aspiring writers.

The Secrets with Michael A. Stackpole
From what I understand, this is one of the most informative podcasts on writing out there. I’ve seen it referenced many times, but haven’t had the chance to check it out for myself.

Well that’s my list! Hope you enjoy it.

Character Descriptions – When dealing with a large cast


In the first chapter of “Game of Thrones,” George R. R. Martin shows us Lord Eddard Stark. We see Stark through the eyes of Bran, his young son, who has just witnessed his first beheading. Though there are several characters in this first chapter (Eddard, Jon, Robb, Theon, Jory, Hullen, Harwin, Desmond, and the man being beheaded), the only suitable descriptions go to the man getting his head lopped off and, more notably, Lord Eddard Stark.

In a world as vast as Westeros, there are bound to be a large number of characters in any given scene. This can be very difficult for the reader who has only just started the story. George handles this well by focusing the reader’s attention on those who matter most in this scene. Had he gone through with detailing every character listed above, the characters of importance would have been confused and forgotten.

I can understand why he chooses to describe the man being beheaded. We have to remember that this scene is being told through the eyes of a young child. It makes sense that Bran would be curious of this strange man, despite the fact that this is the last time we would be seeing him.

Likewise it makes sense that he would then focus on his father, Eddard Stark. This is the man he looks up to most, and it is sensible that he would be observing his father after such a gruesome event.

As a writer, it is important that we understand the challenges of our craft. George had to make choices here in who he would and wouldn’t describe. He kept the reader in mind, knowing that it would be very hard for us to keep track of so many characters. Also, he kept the viewpoint character in mind, showing us only those that would stand out in Bran’s thoughts. Bran may have seen several people there, but he only really cared for two at that time.

Character Description – With help from Gregory Maguire

After seeing what Gregory Maguire could do with a little old blind woman, I thought I’d give another go at my muscle-man from this morning’s post.

Before, my description of Thurn the Builder was simple:
“He had soft green eyes, hair the color of sand, and a thick, chiseled chest.”

I decided to look past the eye and hair color, and focus more on this man’s brute size and off-setting visage. Thurn may be a kind man by nature, but I don’t want to give the impression that he’s soft. If he’s going to be one of the good guys, I want my readers to be glad that he’s on their side. So here is my new version of Thurn the Builder. It’s a little rough, but, hey, so is he.

Thurn the Builder frightened Mileen. He was a bull of a man, with coarse, wild hair upon every inch of his bare flesh. In his hands he carried a block of red sandstone as if it were no heavier than a tray of tarts. Each step, each turn, each breath revealed a new set of grotesque muscles. Across his lip ran a red, crusty gash that split when he smiled, which he did quite often. And though Mileen knew that Thurn was a gentle man by reputation, his jagged teeth and sun-charred skin made her wish she had never come to meet him.

Creating Unique Characters – Mother Yackle from “A Lion Among Men”

Describing a character in as little as five or six sentences can be a daunting task for a new writer. Too often I find myself getting lazy in this respect. It is so easy to say, “He had soft green eyes, hair the color of sand, and a thick, chiseled chest.”

While this is a suitable description, I find that it does a very poor job of making my character – and my writing – unique. I want to do more than describe a type of human, I want to evoke the image of this specific person.

We all have eyes and ears and even, believe it or not, muscles. What we don’t all have is a broken nose from a bar fight, or a tattoo of the name ‘Bob’ across our chests. More importantly, we don’t have the stories behind those characteristics.

As I studied some of my favorite authors’ characters, I found one that really got me thinking. It is a type of character that I have tried writing myself. Even some of the characteristics are the same. What struck me, though, was how Gregory Maguire’s description of an old woman could be so much stronger than my own. His use of similes and hyperboles always leave me in awe of his creative mind.

Below, the Lion Brrr has just sat down for an interview with the infamous Mother Yackle. This comes from chapter five of his book, “A Lion Among Men.”

He didn’t like the look of Mother Yackle. Who could? She was a walking cadaver. Her eyes rolled, ungovernable but to the spectacle of her inner sight. Her lips were thin as string. Her nails had kept growing while she was interred, and they made a clacking sound like a set of bamboo blinds being lowered against the noonday sun. When she went to scratch a place on her scalp, she misjudged the angle of approach and nearly punctured her own eardrum.

What a visual! How easy would it have been for him to say, “she was an old blind woman, with thin lips and long, clacking fingernails.” Again, a suitable description, but one I find to be very boring. As writers, it is our job to use words in a way that stimulate the mind and tickle the senses. Of course, we all have our own style of writing. But if we want our words to stick, we should at least be sure we are telling our story in the truest form possible. In the odd world of Oz, I find Maguire’s voice to be right on target.