Writing Excuses 7.9: Microcasting

Microcasting! This is a fancy word for “Q&A” — we pick some questions from Twitter, and do what amounts to nine mini-episodes of Writing Excuses with a side of bacon. This time around the questions were:

  • What do you do if you dont like your characters?
  • How do you keep your plot on track?
  • Is it better to use real locations in an Urban Fantasy?
  • What do you do about plot holes?
  • How do you know if you should abandon a story and move on to something else?
  • How do you ensure the answers to mysteries are satisfying?
  • What are some language-level mistakes that mark writing as amateurish?
  • What should a scene consist of?
  • What kind of bacon is best?
  • Why is Schlock, who looks like a pile of poo, lovable instead of disgusting?

Dan Has A New Book Out This Week: Partials releases this Tuesday, Februrary 28th.

Howard Has An Actual Birthday This Week: Wednesday, February 29th. There will be a sale on at schlockmercenary.com, and it will involve the numbers 11, 29, and 44.


Write what one of your characters would write if that character had a blog.

One Salt Sea by Seanan McGuire, narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal

35 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 7.9: Microcasting”

  1. Hurray for writing excuses! Thank you for doing these types of podcasts, Q and A is always fun to listen to.

  2. Huh. I have the odd feeling I asked the ‘abandon’ question. Or one like it.

    And, of course, I’ve already done just that. D’oh!

  3. Loved the “when should you abandon a story” discussion. I have a related question that’s been eating at me lately.. suppose you’ve finished a novel and realize it needs major structural changes to fix it. Should the aspiring writer go back and re-write it, or just make a note of it and move on to another project?

  4. One reason people enjoy Sgt. Schlock, Howard’s poo-resembling character, is because his form is often one of his strengths.

    I’ve seen Schlock blasted into very tiny parts and then reconstitute himself just in time to save his friends or infiltrate an enemy ship through it’s waste ports. Its like his super power.

    Also, I’m a sucker for poo jokes.

  5. These guys speak the truth. Once you finish your first story or three, it gets easier to tell the difference between an irrecoverably broken story and just the hard bits. I’m still waiting for my niece to finish her first so I can finally read it beginning to end. When she does, she will have grown a lot as a writer.

  6. Most unsatisfying answer ever:

    Q: How do you make sure the answers to your mysteries are satisfying?

    Brandon: I think up satisfying answers to mysteries.

    Howard: Actually, I think up a BUNCH of really satisfying answers to mysteries.

    Throw in the, “This is really easy to answer” line at the start, and the irony meter explodes.

  7. @Damon Lindelof’s Glasses:

    I don’t think you understood the answer: Dan said “start from the ending,” which means you start with a simple fact, like “the butler is the murderer.” Then you work backwards to make sure there are enough story elements supporting that solution.

    In order to satisfy the reader, it needs to be surprising yet inevitable, and you pull that off by adding the necessary red herrings (a BUNCH of satisfying answers to mysteries) to prevent the true answer from being glaringly obvious.

    We covered this question only briefly because we just DID another podcast about it.

  8. I really enjoyed this Q & A podcast.
    Especially the bacon discussion, made me hungry…… But also I think a podcast about scene construction is a really great idea! As for the plot holes discussion, as a discovery writer I sometimes end up with a huge gap in my thought process about what needs to happen.

    I know what is going to happen, I plan out my scenes a bit more solidly and usually just hold onto a general idea for the rest, though I always know certain plot points, including failures and victories both physical and mental, but I often get a bit nervous when it comes to some of the necessary steps to get there. I wonder if it’s something I am doing wrong, or perhaps I’m just stressing over something that I haven’t even come to in my story yet.

    Even though most or all of you are avid outliners, do you think I should be worried, or should I just press on and see what happens?

  9. Here is a question for the next time you answer questions. I thought of it the other day while reading Alloy of Law. How do you describe your magic system in the story? For example when Brandon’s characters are using Allomancy it is described as “burning” the metal. That creates a great image and is easy to understand. Whenever I try to come up with a cool magic system I have the hardest time explaining what the characters are doing when they are using it.

  10. I think you just answered a different question than the one I was hoping you’d answer when I read the question in the liner notes.

    You answered, “How can I help make the reader more satisfied with whatever answer I came up with?” and I was hoping you’d answer, “What techniques should I use and/or elements should I incorporate to know that my answer has the potential to be satisfying in the first place?”

  11. Great episode! Especially liked the “hard bits” talk. I needed to hear that.

    For anyone not satisfied with their answers, keep in mind that we have four people discussing ten (well, nine) issues in fifteen minutes. There’s not a lot of leeway there.

  12. A few more language-level mistakes:

    1. Using anachronistic language (example: Dude! That sword is so cool! in a work of medieval fantasy)
    2. The inverse: using overly elevated language/diction
    3. Using one or two or three too many adjectives. Adjectives are good, especially in speculative fiction. But if you’re throwing too many into the mix, it feels amateurish. Part of developing as a writer is figuring out which are the right ones to use.
    4. Another overcorrection: using every single sense in the same two or three paragraphs. Yes, it’s important to use more than just sight. But if all the senses keep showing up like clockwork, then the editor/reader is going to feel like he or she is reading a writing exercise.

  13. Actually, regarding the urban fantasy/real places thing… there’s a writer who does use Chicago as a setting, and it seems to cause him no end of trouble. Lot of criticism about his depiction of neighborhoods, placement of landmarks, lack of minorities in areas that are typically a minority neighborhood…

    The issue is that the author has apparently done very little research on Chicago, because in his mind he’s not writing about Chicago as it is, but a fictional version with vampires and fae and magic.

    But the readers expect ‘Chicago… with added vampires and magic’.

    So I tend to think anyone who uses real places needs to take care and either get it right or make it clear that it’s not exactly the same place. Because the readers who KNOW, they WILL call you on it.

  14. Ok, so I’ll admit it, I’m a beginner at Twitter and don’t know where to find you guys.

  15. Our Twitter handles, in decreasing order of nominal accuracy:

    @HowardTayler — Howard Tayler
    @BrandSanderson — Brandon Sanderson
    @MaryRobinette — Mary Robinette Kowal
    @JohnCleaver — Dan Wells
    @MonkeySloth — Jordan Sanderson

    If you put the hash-tag #WritingExcuses in the body of your tweet, one of us will certainly see it.

  16. Love your podcasts and these Q&A series are really helpfull, but I also have a question about the sound quality. For some time now the sound is weirdly breaking up between my left and right ear (my normal hearing is ok btw). Wonder if other people also experience that when using headphone?

  17. Erik
    Yeah, I had that. Thought it might have been an issue with my smartphone, or not using the headpjones that came with the phone. Sound on the left was fine, but the right was distorted.

  18. Great cast. I love hitting so many different topics, it’s almost like a top-level summary of several casts and topics you guys have done before. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of these.

    On a related note, have you guys done one on the role twitter and social media is starting to play for both emerging and professional authors? I don’t recall one and think it could be helpful. Is it expected/useful that published authors will have a social presence nowadays? Can new writers use it to gain name recognition or even published? That kind of thing. I don’t really like or use twitter but I wonder if I’m hurting myself by not using it. When I did, it seemed mostly just for fun kind of things, but I’m wondering if I should be thinking about using it to “get my name out there”, so to speak. Any thoughts?

  19. Jade: Dan is a similar type of writer, according to other podcasts – he creates a fairly general outline and fleshes it out with his first draft. That said, I’m not sure whether he ends up with plot holes in that draft and fixes them later, or doesn’t have them in the first place. For your case, I’d say push forward, ignore the plot hole if you can (I seem to recall one of them said they ended up getting writers block because they kept obsessing over a flaw in the chapter they’d just written rather than the chapter they were working on), and fix any problems in your second draft. Or, as a director would say, ‘we’ll get it in post.’

    A spinoff of the last question. Schlock is one thing – he’s expressive and goofy (without ruining the experience, unlike, say, Jar Jar Binks), which makes us able to relate to him despite him being a sapient self-reforming pile of ooze. What about characters you _want_ the audience to dislike?
    There are characters and real people that are simply detestable.

    Dan did an excellent job with Curt in Mr. Monster. Brandon’s Gaz in Way of Kings is another excellent example. (Heck, I hated Gaz, but I liked reading scenes with him in it even before Kaladin started cutting him down to size.) I have to resort to TV and movies to find a negative example, though that’s mainly because I’m more discerning with books than TV. Criminal Minds introduced Hotch’s boss (the team supervisor’s direct superior) a season or two ago, and she is supposed to be hated in the same theme, but I find I hated her so much I ended up dropping the series. I do mean to pick it up again at some point, but I keep finding other things to watch (or grabbing a book instead) because I dislike her that much.

    So, my question is: how do you make a character the audience hates, and give them a significant role in the story, without making them throw the book/manuscript across the room?

  20. So… Howard is 44, but this February 29 (today) will only be his 11th birthday.
    It took me a second to figure out the significance of those numbers.

    Happy Birthday Howard!

  21. Happy 11th Birthday – does this make you Fancy Pants Howard now? (Now I have “A Paradox, A Parodox” from Pirates of Penzance going through my head with the whole Feb 29th birthday thing.)

    Thanks, guys, I love these microcasts, entertaining and informative. Glad to see bacon was given its proper share of attention.

    Schlock can be pretty scary in the strip, too – when someone realized Schlock was after them and intended to get them, that was a bit chilling. Glad he’s on our side. But we can love someone who, yes, would look disgusting in a live action movie, because we love the character’s personality. And because he’s funny. People love Slimer in Ghostbusters, after all.

    I second the scene construction can of worms for a future episode.

  22. Hey, this is the first time I’m commenting on one of your shows! I’ve been listening since the start of this year, though I wish I’d found out about it far sooner. Each week these podcasts charge my mind with ideas!

    I’m a student at college at the moment, but for the past year and a half I’ve been writing a fantasy novel. I’ve written several chapters and was almost reaching the final few when I thought back to my ending. I’d realised very late that the ending needed to be in third person and what I’d written was all first person. After hitting this wall, I decided to go back and start re-writing in third. (I’ve found this far easier, a far better way to be more descriptive, and that I’m generally better at it) Now, I wasn’t much of a reader before last year. I had read very few books, but one day I decided to pop into Waterstones and buy Brandon’s Mistborn book. Ever since, I’ve become a complete bookworm! My room has quickly filled up with book upon book for me to read. My money may be dwindling but my writing is always improving now.

    Back to the point of writing this, I only started rewriting about two months ago and I’m finding it a real struggle to keep it up. It isn’t that I’m not enjoying it, it’s that my college work is constantly getting thrown at me all at once; it has become very stressful. My friend was even told to quit her job, by her doctor, because she’s too stressed. Now my writing has come to a halt, because my motivation has been squashed and I can’t let out my creativity. Should I give up and disappoint myself and all of my friends who have been waiting to read it?
    I realise focusing on college may be your answer but I want to balance it out. I get four days off a week, but I have to spend a lot of time dealing with chores, trying to exercise, and doing the horrendous pile of homework. Any tips on the best way to go about writing in my situation? Or am I going at this at too young an age? I’m seventeen, I’ve enjoyed writing since primary school. I attempted a novella when I was thirteen and finished it. Is this the stage in life to be more concerned about my education?


  23. @Howard Finally!

    @Laurie It’s a little known fact that Howard is contractually required to keep doing Writing Excuses podcasts until his 21st birthday.

  24. Love the latest microcasting episode–like the previous ones, you guys pack a lot into fifteen minutes, even more so than the already content rich “regular” episodes.

    A shout-out for Mr. Wells– I just checked and see that the spoken version of “Partials” is now available on Audible. Very cool.

  25. Just curious, is twitter the only way we can send you guys questions for future microcasts? I’ve been trying to avoid getting one for as long as I can, but this may be what finally pushes me to get one (despite the fact that joining another potential time-waster scares me).

    Aside from that, great episode, and I’ll join those who are praising the Partials book trailer–it was great.

  26. on bacon – we Brits call streaky bacon er…streaky bacon NOT American bacon

    a schoolboy error Dan…

    Anyway, good post.

    I like going on holiday because when I get back I have a backlog of Writing Excuses :)

  27. Learning to finish something is more important to me than anything else at this point, but how? I’m writing my first novel, a fantasy, and I have the outline of the whole book, but I got to chapter 2 and couldn’t move on. There is a voice in my head that keeps saying, “This is stupid. Nobody cares. Nobody will read beyond chapter 1, so this is just a waste of time.” Even though I know I’m writing for myself and not for anybody else, I can’t get the motivation to continue. I don’t want to give up. I really want to tell this story. I think it’s a great story, but so far I just sit there staring at chapter 2. I think the main issue is that I’m not confident in my writing ability. I feel I don’t do the book justice. What should I do?

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