Writing Excuses 5.11: MicroPodcasting 2

It was so popular when we did it the first time, we decided to do it again. Here’s a second rapid-fire Q&A, with questions coming to us from Twitter, Facebook, and email.

  1. How do you do bad things to your heroes and not feel bad about it?
  2. How far into writing a novel should you begin letting others read it and provide feedback?
  3. Do the bad things you do to your characters always have to suit the story?
  4. How do you design frightening creatures?
  5. How far into the outlining process do you actually start writing?

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk, narrated by Jim Colby. Content warning! This book has naughty words and some very adult concepts in it. Dan recommends it anyway.

Writing Prompt: You have decided to start “Zoo Club,” and you just punched an elephant REALLY HARD.

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22 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 5.11: MicroPodcasting 2”

  1. Interesting book of the week. The re-watch-ability of the movie “Fight Club” is rather low once you know the twist at at the end. Is the book different enough from the movie to be independently interesting? Anyway, liked the podcast (especially questions 3 &4) and was wondering which Twitter/Facebook feeds you got the questions from (Personal or Writing Excuses Specific).

  2. Awesome podcast.

    Dan, I’m curious on the ETA for the third installment of the I Am Not A Serial Killer series? I read through the first two last month, and now I am chomping at the bit for a third one.

    Is there a third one in the works? It seemed like you left yourself room for a third book.

  3. Hey guys, thanks for answering my question. It helped quite a bit in validating the course I’ve taken in the time since I asked. Also, Howard – today I discovered Mur Lafferty’s “I Should Be Writing” podcast. Your episode was great! I must get a steampunk mop-bucket in the near future.

  4. @Dete

    Dan Wells third book is called “I Don’t Want to Kill You” and Amazon.com has it listed for release on Mar 29, 2011. I am also chomping at the bit for it. I loved the way number two ended. It was the perfect.

    Another fun podcast guys, thanks.

    In regards to question 2. What can someone do when they simply have no one to review their writing and give them constructive feedback? None of my friends read and I don’t trust putting any of my serious work on the internet.

  5. @Antonio
    I actually liked Fight Club even more on a second viewing, and I liked the book despite knowing the twist. Twists are cool, but the writing itself was the part I liked best, and that made the book very enjoyable as well. If the twist was the whole point for you in Fight Club, the book might not be worth it.

    @Dete and Oletta
    Yes, end of March. I’m glad you liked the first two. The third is my favorite of the three, so I think you’ll like it too.

  6. @Oletta: Someone here recommended me to Critters.org. It’s an online, password protected workshop. For novels, you don’t post it on-line. You describe it, give the first chapter, then ask for readers — who you then e-mail. I’ve been running short stories through it lately, and reading a novel for someone. It works pretty well. I guess you’d still be e-mailing it to people you don’t know, but you could always get to know people there by critiquing stories/having short stories critiqued/participating on forums/etc. It’s been really nice for me to have objective readers.

  7. Just read “I am Not a Serial Killer” and looking forward to finding number two after “Towers of Midnight”…

    Concerning outlines: How do people tend to organize their outlines? Any awesome methods? I tend to start writing when the outline becomes unwieldy.

  8. “How do you do bad things to your heroes and not feel bad about it?”

    There are people who feel bad about this? Go figure.

  9. To answer Howard’s question, yes I totally am a better writer because of that writing group experience.

    Yes, the way that the critique worked wasn’t ideal, but at the time I was starting at such a basic level of writing that it didn’t matter. I knew nothing at all about writing, and I view that entire process as a good learning experience. I knew going into it that the book would never be published, so the fact that it was meandering and constantly changing was fine.

    That said, I’m now much more leery about the way I go to my current writing group: I don’t like to take chapters to the group unless I’m a long way into the project, because I don’t want to be influenced like that anymore. (Sadly, this means that my writing group hasn’t seen a chapter from me in quite a while…)

  10. Great podcast, guys – I’m enjoying these micro podcasts immensely. Very interesting answers on #1 and #2 especially. Over all, I agree that hurting your characters should hurt you. I read somewhere that Alexander Dumas was in tears when he wrote scene killing off Porthos in a Three Musketters sequel. But I understand that planning a long time in advance that a character is going to die would be a different dynamic and I can see doing it that way as well – in fact, if I had to kill off a character I was fond of, I think I would need that kind of distance from it to make it bearable.

    On getting feedback – you could do a whole podcast on just this topic, and I know you’ve addressed it in the past. I’ve heard excellent things about critters.org, mentioned above. I’ve joined another on-line group called critiquecircle.com that I recommend highly. For this first real novel of mine, I needed feedback just to keep going, as Dan says, and I could post a chapter at a time and develop an audience, which was a really good incentive to get through the first draft. I think you guys said in an earlier podcast that, for beginning writers, your writing group’s most important function is to just keep you writing.

    Because the site is so large, and the choice to critique is voluntary, people choose to critique stories that interest them, so I didn’t run into the problem you can get with a small face-to-face group, where you have people critiquing stories they’d never pick up voluntarily outside the critique group. While this can provide some really neat insight, there can some problems when, say, the blunt Stephen King style horror writer hates everything the gentile feminine romance writer brings in, and vice versa. Receiving a critique on-line is also much less intense than doing it face-to-face, for those who need a little time to adsorb and think about things.

  11. I’ve struggled with question #1 for years, ever since reading Heinlein’s THE CAT WHO WALKS THROUGH WALLS and his other “world as myth” books.

    I’m a fan of the Myers-Briggs personality type inventory. In the extravert/introvert dimension, extraverts tend to have a large number of friends/acquaintances and introverts tend to have fewer relationships, but generally deeper and more closely held.

    Very curious about how this extends to the writer/character relationship. I think the more gregarious extravert writers (Brandon strikes me as this type) would tend to have more characters but may not care quite as deeply about them. Introverted writers would tend to have fewer characters and be more deeply involved with them. Someone like Howard who spends years with the same characters is more likely to be an introvert. I’m guessing Dan would be another introvert, too.

    If anyone is curious about introverts/extraverts, this article in The Atlantic is a good introduction: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2003/03/caring-for-your-introvert/2696/

  12. I wish to send a big THANK YOU to Miriel and Laurie for your comments and your critique site recommendations. You were both very helpful.

    @Hanna The method of outlining that seems to work best for me is a kind of a hybrid of the methods Dan Wells and Brandon Sanderson have described.

    I use Dan’s 7-Point System. He has a five part video on youtube.com called “Dan Wells on Story Structure” where he explains it quite well and he also mentions it on his blog site.

    Brandon has said he uses Bullets and the Microsoft Word Document Map which is a cool way to jump back and forth in different parts of a Word Document.

    Basically a small sample of my outline might look like this. All of the main headers would have a Header 1 style on them.

    Shop Clerk

    A young girl in a small town discovers the hard way that you should never mess with a demon.

    Main Conflict:
    A demon is released and it terrorizes a small town.

    Small town USA

    Hook: Diana is bored with her life.
    • Diana has no friend and is tired of being stuck in the house.
    • She decides to take a walk around the town.
    • She sees a sign on a new book store and goes inside.
    • The book store has a section on Magic.

    Plot Turn 1: Diana finds a book about demons.
    • Diana looks through the magic books and finds one about demons.
    • The demon book fascinates her.
    • She buys the demon book.
    • The store clerk warns her to be careful with it.

    Pinch 1: Diana does a spell that releases an evil demon. It attacks her.
    • Diana takes the book home and starts to read it.
    • She finds a spell for summoning demons.
    • Diana does not heed the shop clerks warning.
    • She performs the spell and releases a powerful demon.
    • The demon attacks her, and then attacks the people in her town.

    Midpoint: Diana decides she has to stop the demon.
    • Diana is frightened and afraid of the demon she has released.
    • She feels bad that people are getting hurt because of something she has done.
    • She reads the book to find out how to stop the demon.

    Pinch 2: She fights the demon but is not strong enough and it almost kills her.
    • Following the books instructions, Diana gets the things she needs to stop the demon.
    • Diana summons the demon back to her house.
    • She catches the demon in a circle but does not know how to bind it.
    • The demon is furious and breaks free of her circle.
    • The demon attacks her and hurts her really bad.
    • Diana weak and close to dieing, she is helpless and the demon escapes again.

    Plot Turn 2: Diana discovers the demons weakness.
    • While recovering from her injuries, Diana has time to read the demon book from cover to cover.
    • Now she understands what she did wrong.
    • In the back of the book she finds the demons only weakness.
    • Diana has healed and is stronger now and better informed.
    • She decides to try again.

    Resolution: Diana uses her new found knowledge and defeats the demon.
    • Diana summons the one more time.
    • This time her spell works and the demon cannot break free.
    • Diana now has the power to destroy the demon.
    • The demon is gone, the town is safe.
    • Diana burns the book.

    Each bullet can have its own bullet with more information. And you can make as simple or complex as you need it.

    I hope this is helpful.

  13. @Oletta Thank you! It absolutely is. I tend to try getting it down in chapters, but I think this would probably work better for my brain. I’ll give it a shot. ^_^

    Good luck with the critique sites!

  14. @ Writing Excuses crew: Thanks for another very helpful episode. I like the micropodcast format. I like when you guys have guests, too… really enjoyed the John Brown episodes.

    @ Oletta: Thanks for the tips! Your hybrid method looks promising. I’m working my way through the Dan Wells (and others) advice on YouTube now. Until you pointed the way to it I had no idea there had been a BYU writing symposium back in February that I could get highlights from on YouTube. I don’t know who Hezekiah Kidron is (I have a vague suspicion her parents might have been Mormon) but I’m very grateful she’s recorded and posted those YouTube videos.

    I recently viewed Anne Rice’s advice on developing plot and found it very interesting, though not as structured or specific as Well’s advice. She’s definitely a discovery writer! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJX8uX_mjwM At the end of the clip she says something that really rings true for me–“The worst thing to do is to go off and think. I can’t… I don’t get anywhere with that. I have to come back and start moving my fingers on the keyboard.”

    @ Carl: I would guess you’ve found it by now. Sometimes the new ones are way down the list in my iTunes account. The default settings often go by popularity instead of release date and when it has just been released, it hasn’t been seen enough to be popular yet, so it’s way down the list.

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