Writing Excuses Episode 20: More Q&A from Conduit

Writer Eric James Stone joins the Writing Excuses crew for our third Conduit installment. We tackle questions from the audience again (except for when Brandon throws a question AT the audience, which still had Mike Stackpole in it.)

Are plot twists necessary? How does the web change the market for writers? How do you make protagonists as interesting as the villains are? How much should you charge for your work?

We ran a little long on this one. “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we can’t count to fifteen without getting to eighteen first.”

Liner Notes:

Eric’s Website

Bob Defendi’s Website

Anthology Builder


This week’s episode is sponsored by Hold on to Your Horses, by Sandra Tayler


28 thoughts on “Writing Excuses Episode 20: More Q&A from Conduit”

  1. And there’s the thing I thought I said last week but actually said this week. It was very fun to do these three back to back and with an audience, but it sure messed up my memory.

  2. Guys,
    thank you for taking the time each week to record the podcast. I write mainly non-fiction, but I still learn much each week from all of you. Keep up the excellent service that you are providing to all writers and would be writers.

  3. @Mike: Thanks for the summaries!

    Great cast guys. I want to understand more about the 3 Act patterns you guys keep referring to.

  4. Hey, thanks for answering my email question! I was listening at work and most times when I hear a Justin mentioned, it is some other Justin, but then you read the first question and I was like, hey… didn’t I send that in? Then when you asked the second one I was like YEAH! That’s MY question!

    My co-worker thought I was nuts.

    I appreciate the information. Writing Excuses has played a part in me writing again. Since I’ve gotten into podcasting I have completed 3 short stories, one finished, one pretty much done as far an I know, and one, my first one, which was a golden fleece of literature until I learned more and saw how crappy it really is, but, editing!

    Thanks guys, your advice has helped a lot.


  5. I’ve listened to both of your podcasts on Plot Twists which are both interesting, but the one question I have from this is – how do you throw off the person who reads the last chapter first?

    I know of a couple of people who do this, but surely if the plot twists differently from what it is in the beginning, then the end will reveal straight away what the plot twist is.

    Do you have any advice?


  6. I don’t think you have any hope of tricking the reader who reads the last chapter first–unless you set out to trick them, on purpose, and then you’ll just end up confusing everybody else.

    I’ve only recently been introduced to the idea that some people read the last chapter first, and I think those people are insane. The good news is, they are also people who specifically don’t want to be surprised (that’s why they read the ending first), so you don’t need to worry about catching them with a twist. Just make your book good to read, so that it’s still enjoyable without the surprises, and that crowd will love it.

  7. Hi, Dan. Thanks for the reply.

    See, the only thought I had when I was thinking about this following your podcast is to have a ‘dummy’ ending. So one that could happen, but isn’t the actual ending.

    Would that just be a lot of work for no reason? Or… is it best just to write it as it’s meant to be read?

  8. I’d say write it as it’s meant to be read. Like Dan said, most of those who read the endings first know what they’re doing. They’re reading things out of order. They’ve given themselves the spoilers, and there’s no one to blame but themselves. It’s not your fault.

    For the record, I always read the last sentence, and sometimes the last paragraph, of books that I buy (and I don’t know why, so don’t ask). I don’t do it much with books I check out from the library, though I’m baffled as to the difference. But I know that by reading the last sentence, I could ruin everything. Or I could tantalize my curiosity to the point where I have to finish the book, just to understand that last sentence.

  9. I know that often when I’m reading a book that makes me think “This is ok, but I don’t know if I want to stick with it for another 200 pages” I tend to go to the end of the book and read one of the last paragraphs. I don’t normally go to the end and I’m not seeking out “the real ending” but sometimes just reading that small bit makes me want to read the rest of the book to figure out the relationship that tiny bit at the end has to what I’ve read already. Time Enough for Love had this going for me. I got about 150 pages in and despite my love of Heinlein I was pretty bored with it. Then I read a paragraph during the portion of the book where he travels to “visit his family” (no spoilers!) and was totally confused. So I finished the book. By now I’ve reread it over a dozen times.

  10. I hate it when I can read the first 5 chapters and the last 5 and not be lost.


    Don’t the Publishing Houses have the job of advertising and publicity? Do they not also, and I really hate to say it…, ‘weed out’ some of the, well slush? We all want to do the best we can when we write, but when we buy a book, we demand that same kind of quality. Can we expect that from someone we have never heard of before? I don’t mean to sound critical, some great authors are just waiting to be “found” online, but it’s one thing to read it casually and something else entirely to invest your money on. Do I maybe have it wrong with the Publishing Houses? Does anyone know what it is that they do for “Us” specifically? Besides money.

  11. Ben,

    I don’t know if you know this, but I’ve heard several podcast novels that were done by authors who could not get their works published, then they podcasted the story for free, some offered self-published copies, and then after the novel was podcasted, they managed to get a publishing contract. I’m not sure why these stories didn’t get published in the first place. Several I have heard are very good. The fact that they were not published sooner makes me wonder…

  12. Hey– I LOVE this podcast, it always brightens up my Mondays (when I get around to it ON monday, that is). Ben, I agree that a world in which all writers are self “published” and I must weed them out myself is rather frightening. Maybe we can contract that out too…

    Also, don’t think I’m randomly plugging stuff, but finalredoubt.com might be a better link for Bob Defendi. It’s where he sells all his stuff.

  13. Okay, off topic on this thread, but I thought I’d toss it into the active thread. If you guys have any questions about whether the podcasts have legs for the long term….

    I’ve been struggling with my current short story because the beginning keeps pulling me back to fidget with it (bad, bad, slap my hand). This morning on commute I went back to Writing Excuses #4 “Beginnings,” and it helped a lot. I realized after listening that I’d “written myself into the character,” and the story for that matter, and that my current beginning will probably be completely tossed…once I’ve finished writing the rest of the story. Then Writing Excuses #5 “Heros and Protagonists” queued up and I thought what the heck, I’ll listen to that. It helped my story in an unexpected way. I have a main character / protagonist (she is POV and has the story arc of change). However, I’d been struggling with two things 1) a character I was considering cutting out, and 2) the catalysts for my MC’s changes. Listening, I realized that the character I was considering cutting, really was the Hero, and could provide, no, really, really wants to provide, the catalyst for the MC’s change.

    Thanks guys!

  14. No, I didn’t know about them. And I didn’t mean to suggest that if one were not to get published right away it wasn’t any good, (I’ve heard it can take a long time to get through, and that sometimes you just get lost in the shuffle), but wouldn’t we get more exposure from the Publisher than from a web-site? Though I think I see your point, if you don’t get published what could it hurt?

  15. Guerry:
    I’m glad that the back episodes are still proving helpful to you. We’re actually considering something kind of sort of related to this, but I probably shouldn’t be mentioning it here. And yet I am.

  16. This is a technical question: Is there any way to download episodes 1-10? I can get 11-present on iTunes, but not the early episodes. I’ve only just discovered the podcast but I’m very eager to start at the beginning and get caught up!

    I tried clicking “download” but that seems to open a streaming window. I will listen online if I must, but my podcast time is usually the subway ride through NYC I take in the morning and home from work again, so I’d love to get 1-10 on my iPod somehow.



  17. Eliyanna:
    Like I mentioned, we’re working on a way to make all the past episodes available. We’ll give more details as they become available.

  18. I’ve only recently been introduced to the idea that some people read the last chapter first — it is a learning style, trying to change that habit is like trying to keep people from breathing. Possible, but not very useful.

    Explains why so many authors like to write about broken or flawed heroes. If you start with a protagonist who is broken, it makes all sorts of things easier.

  19. @Ben Well, the most popular podcast novel I know had two things going for it: 1) It is a FANTASTIC trilogy 2)The author asked for people to spread the word and even had a Ministry of Propaganda with prizes for completing missions. The guy (J.C Hutchins) did a fantastic job marketing his book. It’ll be in print next year, and it started in ’06 I believe.

    I think if the work is good enough, people will let others know. Plus, it is FREE, so if it sucks, you are out nothing. Cory Doctorow (Boing Boing) releases all his stuff for free, and in print. The ways to distrubute media is changing, so yeah, there is a load of poo out there, but the good stuff can really shine if it is great, and if the author takes the time to market themselves.

  20. I’ve listened to every single one of these podcasts and come away with some very good insights about how too look at my own writing. I always look forward to the next. So I wanted to leave a comment to say Thank You! to Brandon, Dan and Howard. Please keep it up.

  21. My wife managed to figure out how to get all the past episodes – so no worries!

    Now that I’ve listened to them, let me give a big thank you for providing such an informative and entertaining podcast.

    There are few topic ideas that I’d love to hear you do that I thought I’d throw out there: the horror genre (I’m really interested to hear about this in terms of fantasy, as in horror with magic systems, etc.). I’d also love to hear you guys chat about writing sci fi/fantasy/horror in an historical setting.

    Thanks again — Loving this! I hope you don’t get bored of this project anytime soon, I found this through being a fan of Brandon Sanderson’s but I will definitely be reading Dan Wells and Howard Tayler now. It’s really neat that you are bringing your fan bases together here.


  22. I know that this is a old discussion but I am trying to catch up on the podcast. Brandon’s comments about audio books is right on. About 75% of what I read right now is in audio format. I am on book eight of the WOT series and all of them have been audio up to this point. God bless the public library’s audio selection.

  23. Derivative of the discussion on plot twists:

    I understand the need to keep the reader interested and on their toes.. but something I struggle with is midleading my characters. It kills me to fabricate wrong turns for my characters along the way, even though I know what’s *really* going on, because I never feel like I can back up the red herring with solid reasoning. Is it just a matter of giving them limited pieces of information along the way? How can I keep the characters and the readers guessing wrong, while at the same time having the answer under their noses the whole time? (It’s always amazing to go through a book/movie the second time and realize that the answer was there all along, like Diane Setterfield’s “The Thirteenth Tale.” I want to be able to do that.)

  24. I’m currently reading The Dark Tower By: Steven King, and I’ve noticed that his “hint” would sometimes only include a sentence 2 or 3 chapters before the event. With that little bit of for-shadowing it was always (thump head, Dou!) right under my nose. On the other hand, I had a really good idea of what would happen, but it would be a surprising, yet inevitable, event.

    It could also be that a few false tasks make them seem to run in circles, but could simply be a spiral, that only you know about, that gets them to the part you need them to be.

    Hope that helps a little.

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