Writing Excuses 7.16: Continuing with Mary’s Outline

Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more… only without a big speech before the charge.

We’re still tearing into Mary’s first novel outline in this second part of a VERY SPECIAL two-part session of Writing Excuses. Mary reads from her outline, then Brandon, Dan, and Howard look for high-level problems like inactive protagonists, missing character arcs, or other structural issues.

As promised, this episode runs long. Hopefully you’re not in that much of a hurry, because clearly we weren’t smart enough to plow through all this material inside of 20 minutes.

Liner Notes: That link up there is the same as this one right here.


Give us a monkey, a bronze pot, a baby, and pizza in completely different situations than what we heard in Mary’s outline.

Under Heaven, by Guy Gavriel Kay, narrated by Simon Vance

12 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 7.16: Continuing with Mary’s Outline”

  1. …What? I twigged to the swap when Kennedy was explaining his escape, and the mention of an incident clinched it. Should that have happened?

    “I’m not sold on the baby”… *snrk*

  2. In the outline, I think it should happen. In the novel, I’m okay with either option. Either the rising tension that comes when you know something terrible is going to happen before the characters do, or the surprise when the realization comes later, would be okay by me.

    What wouldn’t be okay, would be “Duh. Why are these people all so stupid?”

  3. I like how in analyzing Mary’s outline, you focused not just on the three act structure generally, but where the decision points for the protagonists were and whether they were in the right places for the story. To me, key plot advancement isn’t “stuff happens” but “a fateful decision gets made”.

    By the end, I too was wondering if this was really a middle grade story with body parts and kidnapped babies. But then again, as a kid, I loved Brian Jaques’ Redwall. What could thrill a kid more than cute woodland critters slaughtering each other? Maybe I’m more disturbed than I thought.

  4. Now *that* was awesome. Seemed like more discussion from all parties, and not as rushed as the first part felt.

    Just needs to end with the pig -headed guy sitting down to pizza and then realizing it’s a sausage/pepperoni pizza…

  5. All I can think about for the writing prompt is that there is a monkey making a pizza sauce in a bronze pot, and the main ingredient is baby oil. (made from 100% freshly squeezed babies!)

    I think that I am missing Planescape Torment way too much… (hence the baby oil, which is an actual item in-game)

  6. I really like the advice about condensing the beginning and expanding the end and merging the problems and their solutions. I appreciate books with focus.

    Also, given what you said about themes, foreshadowing, and decisions and their consequences, it sounds like we ought to write (or at least plan) the middle and end of the story before the beginning. Does anyone write like that?

    Also, I wasn’t sold on the recurring pizza theme. I would prefer a story about American children adapting to Chinese food, rather than taking American food with them to China and introducing it to Chinese mythological characters. But that’s just me.

    Thanks for doing this two-part episode! It gave me the push I needed to make my *own* outline.

  7. awesome – very interesting ep

    I’m 40k words in and have hit a wall, so I’m thinking I may need to outline to get me over the finish line.

    Fab story idea, Mary, but I keep getting images of Pigsy and Monkey from the 70s show in my head. God I loved that show :)

  8. As one introduced to Writing Excuses a few months ago, this concept of outlining was new to me. I was halfway through the first draft of a novel that I began last NaNoWriMo (my first) and was now trying to finish. As I worked my way through all six seasons to get caught up I (among other things) started wondering if I’m not actually an outline writer who’s been trying to discovery-write my way through life. At the same time, however, I’ve been intensely curious as to just how deep one should go with an outline. I know there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to that, but seeing Mary’s approach to it was very helpful. I would love to see some of Brandon and Howard’s outlines sometime.

    I’m now gearing up for a second pass at my novel, armed with 6.5 seasons of Writing Excuses wisdom (should that be in air-quotes?), by filling in all the world-building details I’ve come to realize were missing and would have made the first draft so much better had I known. I also intend to take a stab at an outline before wading in again to see if that doesn’t help make my next draft more coherent than the first.

    In the mean time, thank you and all your guests for your efforts on this podcast. I have learned a great deal from listening and, perhaps more importantly, come to think of myself and my writing more professionally as a result. I’m grateful for this wonderful resource, and have set a goal for myself to one day be a guest on your show–which means you have to keep doing this for another, oh….ten years. Are you up for it?

  9. I love Journey to the West and enjoy seeing new adaptations of it. I would definitely pick up a book like this for my cat-loving young cousins. You should definitely pull it out of the trunk.

    I especially like the girl character’s loss of her name idea and her basketball playing, probably because it sort of makes her a reverse-gendered Calvin from A Wrinkle in Time.

  10. I loved this episode, my only complaint is you seem to be under selling what middle-grade children/teens are capable of comprehending and understanding. Mainly in the area of it being too steep and or horrific, they’re we’re shows on television that got TV-Y7 ratings when I was 7-10 that was just as if not more horrific then what this story seems to be. And while I understand watching is different from reading, I think watching something of that level of graphic intensity is much more steep then reading about it.

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