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Writing Excuses Season Four Episode 11: Jordo Tries to Stump Us

Writing Excuses Season Four Episode 11: Jordo Tries to Stump Us


Key points: Push the words, ring variations on their meaning, try interpreting it literally or metaphorically, what happens next, why would this happen? Combine it with something else. Is it like something else? Where's the conflict? Who hurts?

Just the headlines...
Flaming torches light up Britain's Hadrian's Wall.
New York City funeral home van towed with body inside.
Devotees of Florida man drink snail mucus in ritual.
Authorities: Nebraska man too drunk for DUI sentencing.
Dead baby elephant calf born alive in Sydney zoo.
British Granny takes French party scene by storm.
Man copies key on test drive, steals truck.
Dog eats $20,000 diamond.
Snake reappears in 16th century Elizabethan portrait.
New Zealand woman sells souls to the highest bidder.

[Fair warning: a number of times during this podcast, the speakers talked over each other. While I have attempted to capture as much of the dialogue as possible, I know that I don't have all of the crosstalk properly interleaved -- I'm not sure that there's a way to do it in writing. When two people are talking at the same time, how do you indicate that in a transcript?]

[Howard] 15 minutes long because you're in a hurry.
[Dan] And Jordo's not that smart.
[Brandon] Ooo, burn [garbled]
[Howard] And we're unstumpable.
[Brandon] This is going to be a pretty wacky one. We want to try doing a brainstorming episode where we show you how we work as authors turning sparks of ideas into full-blown ideas. So what we have had Jordo do, producer Jordo has looked up on the odd news site... on Yahoo like their list of odd news. He's going to pick his favorites and throw them out us. We're going to try and build a story out of each of these things. So we're not sure how this is going to go at all, but...
[Jordo] Oh, it's going to be fun.
[Brandon] We haven't done any prep for this. We're just going to go. So, Jordo, first idea?

[Jordo] I'm starting you guys off simple. Flaming torches light up Britain's Hadrian's Wall.
[Brandon] OK. Flaming torches light up Britain's Hadrian's Wall.
[Dan] Hadrian's Wall was the wall originally built between England and Scotland way, way back in the day to keep the evil Scots out.
[Howard] Oh, my gosh, have witches emerged on the wall?
[Dan] Scottish werewolves?
[Howard] Scottish witches or werewolves or something? I don't know why people are charging the wall with flaming torches.
[Brandon] I'm going to go historical on this one. I'm always a little bit on the fantasy side. I'm looking at for some reason a massive war... we're talking Lord of the Rings style epic war that happens on Hadrian's Wall at night. So something has happened to the Scotsmen. Maybe it's that they're werewolves, maybe it's something just... let's do an alternate world. I love these alternate world types of stories. So not living up there are Scotsmen, living up there are...?
[Howard] That explains why the Scotsmen wear kilts. Because they're werewolves and they've got those digitigrave legs. Pants don't fit right.
[Dan] And tails.

[Howard] Next up, Jordo.
[Jordo] This one's for Dan. New York City funeral home van towed with body inside.
[Dan] Oh. Well, the first question obviously is who's towing it and why. It's not necessarily a parking violation.
[Howard] And the funeral home van? Was it actually a corpse in a coffin or did the driver die? There's...
[Brandon] See, I like the idea of stealing bodies...
[Dan] Oh, man, I love the idea of stealing bodies.
[Brandon] Yeah, stealing bodies. The idea is someone is...
[Dan] Oh, oh, you mean in fiction? Oh, well, OK.
[Brandon] Uh, yeah. Thanks, Dan. Someone is stealing bodies. Because they'll wait until the coffin gets loaded in... getting into the morgue is too tough, so they just... they tow the car after they load...
[Howard] They steal coffins in transit. Why? Modern-day necromancy, and embalming doesn't stop them.
[Dan] Another cool idea here is... there's the venerable genre of what do we do with this corpse. The where's...
[Brandon] Oh, where'd the corpse go?
[Dan] Trouble with Harry kind of problem. But what if this...
[Howard] Weekend at Bernie's.
[Dan] particular corpse wakes up? This is a... we have the standard crooks that were just trying to boost a car, but they end up with a corpse that's actually a mummy or something.
[Brandon] Ah. I think that's our story right there. That would be a great story.

[Howard] OK. Go, Jordo.
[Jordo] I'm not making this one up, either. Just by the way. Devotees of Florida man drink snail mucus in ritual.
[Dan] Um. Spoiler warning.
[Howard] Devotees? That's devotees, not manatees?
[Dan] Devotees. [Garbled like manatees, but garbled]
[Brandon] No, we're talking about a ritual. So it's time for Brandon to do a snail snot magic system... or a snail mucus magic system. Different snails produce different effects after you squeeze out their mucus and you can use it for various things. The question is what do these various snails... what powers do they produce?
[Howard] And can you have escargot go dancers?
[Brandon] All right, Jordo, next?
[Dan] Then you're combining the snail mucus magic with dance magic?
[Howard] Yes. Yes.
[Brandon] That's a mashup I don't even dare.
[Howard] At dinner theaters.

[Brandon] OK. Next.
[Howard] Jordo?
[Jordo] All right. Here's another one. Authorities: Nebraska man too drunk for DUI sentencing.
[Brandon] Wow
[Howard] Too drunk to be sentenced? So he kept drinking in jail? His body automatically produces alcohol and he's always drunk?
[Brandon] Oh, a guy who sweats alcohol. Now that could actually be a really interesting sort of... Yeah. A guy who sweats alcohol... Or a drink that you drink that inebriates you permanently. Some potion that you drink it, you're drunk until...
[Howard] Perma drunk.
[Dan] The potion of eternal drunkenness.
[Brandon] Yeah. The potion of eternal drunkenness. I think you could go a lot of different ways with that.
[Dan] Or let's combine it... we talk a lot about coming up with ideas, you take something normal and combine it with something weird. So let's combine this with like... nano tech or something. He's not drunk necessarily from alcohol, but he has been drinking... he accidentally drank some nano bots and they're screwing with him somehow. Or converting his insides to alcohol...
[Howard] So his drunkenness could be the inciting incident where we discover that there is a nano plague that will kill us all with drunkenness if we don't... I don't know...
[Dan] Nano bots. Created by a drunk scientist who wanted more booze. So he created little robots that turn all liquid into alcohol in all the world.
[Brandon] Oh, wow. It's like a variation on the gray goo, except there are these little things going that are turning everything into alcohol.
[Dan] It's the alcoholic version of the King Midas story.
[Brandon] Wow. That actually has a lot of potential. All right. That's the best one so far. Good job, Dan.

[Jordo] Thank you, Dan. How about this one? Dead baby elephant calf born alive in Sydney zoo.
[Dan] Fzzz... who... what?
[Howard] Dead baby elephant calf?
[Dan] It's the... What?
[Jordo] A dead baby elephant calf born alive...
[Dan] Gave birth to a live calf?
[Jordo] No. Dead baby elephant calf born alive in Sydney zoo.
[Brandon] So they thought it was going to be dead and... OK, it's an elephant giving birth to undead babies.
[Dan] Or it is an elephant that's currently dead, but they couldn't figure out where it came from or why, and now they've traced its origin. Which means that it was discovered in some bizarre place.
[Howard] That headline is more of a puzzle than anything we're coming up with. My goodness.
[Brandon] Yeah, I think Jordo is looking to stump us. That's OK.
[Jordo] No, I just thought that one was really funny.
[Howard] I like the undead elephants.
[Brandon] Undead elephants. I haven't read nearly enough undead elephants stories, personally.
[Dan] You would think there would be more of them.
[Brandon] But the idea is... we're not just looking for wacky things. Is there some sort of conflict that we could talk about with undead elephants that could actually make a story?
[Howard] We have zombie apocalypses all of the time where it is people zombies attacking us. We sometimes see animal zombies. What if it's a zombie apocalypse and it's just animals zombies and it's just the newborns. That all animal life is now reproducing undeath.
[Brandon] Well, that raises a larger problem than the zombie apocalypse. That raises the...
[Howard] Yes, it does. What are we going to eat next month?
[Brandon] What are we going to eat? This is...
[Dan] You could still eat zombie, couldn't you?
[Howard] Grains...
[Dan] You want it dead anyway.
[Brandon] Yeah, you could eat zombie. But the thing is, if there is no future generation of any of these animals, the population of the planet will die out given one generation.
[Howard] Jordo, that was a very sad story you just told us.
[Jordo] I'm sorry.
[Howard] Can we have another one?
[Dan] A happy one?

[Jordo] You want a happy one? OK. British Granny takes French party scene by storm.
[Brandon] Dancing granny.
[Dan] She's an escargot go dancer.
[Jordo] Well, for the people who aren't big into undead apocalypses, we have...
[Brandon] Dancing granny.
[Dan] OK. Well, she takes the French party scene by storm... let's interpret that literally and she is... she can like control the wind and weather.
[Brandon] OK. So it's like an ancient version of Storm, the X-Man or X-Woman, whatever.
[Dan] Well, she's an old lady. This is like the French mystic version of Footloose. She's sick of all these French partiers so she's summoning an apocalyptic storm.
[Brandon] All right. So we're going to have the big... this is what, Paris, we said? Paris is going to be hosting the international dancing championships and she's going to get her revenge by creating a tsunami that is going to wash all the way to Paris.
[Howard] Wow.
[Dan] She was the girl in Strictly Ballroom that didn't win, and now she's back for revenge.

[Brandon] We're going to break for an ad here. Have we ever advertised Gathering Storm on this... the audio book? I'm not sure if we have. If we have, I'm going to advertise it again because audible is running some fun little deal where they're doing a final four thing with a... various seeds from [inaudible] matches and things, and Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson was a number one seed. It is, according to audible, the number one fan favorite of all of audible's audio books all last year.
[Dan] Well, congratulations.
[Brandon] Up for several awards... audio book awards. I thought I'd give it another promo. You can... it costs $50, but you can get a free copy by going to By going there, you also support the podcast. If you sign up for that, then there is a... you get one book a month for $15. A free book and then one book a month for $15. If you cancel before the 15 days are up, you just get the free book. So go to

[Brandon] All right.
[Howard] Jordo.
[Jordo] Man copies key on test drive, steals truck.
[Brandon] Ooo.. That's a good idea. Thank you for not like stumping us. No. I think there's story right there. Now, that's just a little piece of a story. I wonder if we can turn that into a full story.
[Howard] It's not... the story isn't about how he stole the truck. The story is he needed transportation, he didn't have money, he's desperate. So he takes a test drive, makes a copy of the key real fast, returns the vehicle, and then steals the vehicle off the lot 10 minutes later as part of his quest to...
[Brandon] See, I think I could expand this into a full story, too. That's a great idea, but it would be kind of cool to pull a sting or... sort of thing. Where you get 12 people and they go and they test drive every car on this used car lot over the course of a couple of weeks. They make imprints of every key. Then at night they go in and they steal every car on the lot.
[Howard] All the cars vanish.
[Brandon] That could be awesome. Dan, what have you got?
[Dan] Or as an alternative, we'll shrink the scale down. This is not a truck he's buying a off a lot, or stealing off a lot. It's a truck he saw advertised in a classified that happened to be owned by his father or grandfather. He knows that hidden somewhere in the door or in some hidden compartment is an artifact or heirloom that he needs.
[Brandon] The key... the power to control the undead elephant, obviously.
[Dan] Well, naturally.

[Brandon] Jordo. Hit us.
[Jordo] Dog eats $20,000 diamond.
[Dan] While still on finger.
[Howard] That's a story about locking the dog in the bathroom for the next 48 hours. That's all that is.
[Brandon] No, see, this is a Hollywood type story where...
[Dan] No, that's the story of chasing the dog through the city.
[Brandon] We have to chase the dog through the city.
[Dan] This is a movie starring Dwayne the Rock Johnson.
[Howard] It's a classic... but it's a classic time bomb pop... plot. We only have 18 hours. I know I...
[Dan] Well, until he gets hold of a laxative.
[Howard] Oh, no. Well, that's what happens. The dog... Act III opens and the dog has just eaten some laxative, and we realize we don't have 18 hours, we have 30 minutes.
[Dan] Depending on the brand.
[Howard] Goodbye clean rating. Hello, next news article.

[Jordo] Next news article? This is a cool one. Snake reappears in 16th century Elizabeth portrait.
[Dan] Oo, that's kind of cool.
[Howard] I lost... what, they...
[Brandon] Snake reappears in...
[Howard] lost their snake, they lost their pet snake and...
[Brandon] it reappears...
[Howard] now it's in a painting?
[Brandon] in a 16th-century Elizabethan portrait. Wow. Time traveling snakes. That's one idea.
[Dan] Or it may be that the snake was originally in the portrait and disappeared and then came back.
[Howard] Well, it's not even time traveling, it's portrait traveling.
[Brandon] Okay. So we've got the snake can jump into portraits or the snake teleports back in time or... um... wow...
[[Howard] Or the snake as a... as per the biblical metaphor, this is actually Satan.
[Brandon] Okay. Oh. Nice, nice. But let's actually build a story out of this, rather than just...
[Dan] Okay. Here we go. How about this? We have our confused art collector who can't figure out why the snake vanished and then reappeared from his painting. Meanwhile, there is some kind of paintomancer who can summon creatures out of paintings and then send them off to do his will. When they're done, they go back into their painting.
[Brandon] Oh, okay. So it's kind of the Inkhart type thing, except with paintings instead. Kind of like the magic paintbrush, but it's a painting you've already done. If there is a painting of a tiger...
[Howard] It may not be a painting he's done.
[Brandon] Yeah, I know. A painting that's already done, you can pull things out of the. I would wonder why he's picking the 16th-century Elizabethan painting, rather than just buying a painting of a snake on the street.
[Dan] Might have to depend on the components used...
[Howard] The power in the paintomancy is the number of people who have looked at the painting.
[Brandon] Oh, wow.
[Howard] The older the painting, the more powerful it is.
[Brandon] Wow, now that's clever.
[Howard] Provided it has been in a museum. If it's been in a private collection, it starts to lose its power.
[Brandon] See, the way I would construct this story is I would have whoever is investigating it be some sort of Harry Dresden type wizard for hire thing. He's having to figure out how this magic works, and makes that connection. That's why these famous paintings are being picked and that sort of thing.
[Howard] Jim Butcher, if you listen to this podcast, we may have your next Dresden book for you right here.
[Brandon] That doesn't involve nearly enough Harry getting  the crap beat out of him, so I don't know if it's...
[Dan] Oh, well, you know, the little blue boy or the Mona Lisa will beat the crap out of him. [inaudible] versus Mona Lisa, tonight at 10.

[Howard] What have we got for a writing prompt?
[Brandon] Writing prompt is the very next thing Jordan was going to say.
[Jordo] New Zealand woman sells souls to the highest bidder.
Tags: brainstorming, conflict, headlines, ideas, literal, metaphor, writing excuses

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