Writing Excuses 7.22: Microcasting

A microcast is our word for an asynchronous Q&A episode: you ask us tons of questions online, either through twitter or facebook or our listenermail account (on the sidebar), and we want to answer as many of them as we can. Not every answer can fill an entire episode, though, so we take the smaller ones and cover a bunch of them at once in a microcast. This week we take a brief, pithy look at the following:

  • Prologues and epilogues
  • Using drawings to get across settings
  • Simple tricks for naming things
  • Would you self publish if you had a do over?
  • How do you keep a powerful character interesting?
  • Foreshadowing
  • Trimming
  • Flashbacks

Write a flashback, in a prologue, with a mirror scene. Yes.

13 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 7.22: Microcasting”

  1. regarding flashbacks:

    Bleak Seasons by Glenn Cook breaks all your rules about flashbacks and it’s awesome. I think it works in that case because the narrator himself isn’t even sure if it’s a flashback or flash forward. The first time I read it I was completely confused the whole time, but the payoff at the end was so rewarding to make it one of my favorite books of all time.

  2. ben: rule number one of writing is “All rules can be broken, as long as you know what you’re doing.” (Well, except grammar and spelling rules, unless you’re writing an Alkatraz book anyway.)

  3. Prologues are a lot like first chapters in that you should always write one, then you should usually throw it away in favor of weaving the information revealed into more action driven scenes later.

    I want my reader to fall off of a bridge on to a speeding boat, rather than embark from a pier and wave goodbye to family and friends as the barge drifts off into the story.

  4. I would have been interested to hear Howards thoughts on flashbacks in comics. Certainly they are very challenging to do with the daily strip format, and in the cases where you do use them is as part of a scene change between a weeks worth of comics; kathryn’s flashback to the distruction of the battleplate comes to mind.

    One of my favorite flashback sequences though in any medium though was in Tintin: the secret of the unicorn, (thinking of herge’s comic here rather than the movie) where Captain Haddock is reliving the pirate attack on Sir Francis Haddock and the Unicorn. It makes very clever uses of action to action transitions between the past and present. Again though it is very specific to the medium as itwould be difficult to differentiate between the flashback and present in prose and probably just end up being confusing.

  5. There was a lot of talk about prologues, but little about epilogues. Here’s my take:

    Epilogues are great when handled correctly. For the most part, though, they are a let down. This is especially true when they appear to mainly be there to serve the hardcore fans [this is why the ending of the Dark Tower series annoyed me — King tries to have it both ways].

    Now, of course, this is a matter of taste. But, in general, I prefer an epilogue that provides a snapshot of the future daily life for the characters as opposed to a summary of where they all end up in their lives.

  6. About Prologues:

    It’s funny that Mr. Sanderson didn’t mention The Wheel of Time prologue from the first book (The Eye of the World). It’s set a few millennia before the series, when ‘The Dragon’ realized he just murdered everyone he loves.

    It gives the whole series a very tragic backdrop as we soon discover that the hero is the reincarnation of the Dragon (soon being after 800 pages or so, this being the Wheel of time).

    I don’t know how the story ends (Last book I’ve read is the 7th. Brandon, a hint?), but I think Robert Jordan did a great job with that.

  7. Prologues can be well done, but as I understand it, there’s a bias against them because so many are not.

    I might have trotted this story out before, but the worst prologue I ever read… it started out good, I guess. Demons invading an elven city, and the elves struggling to save as many of their people and as much of their cultural artifacts and historical tomes as they can. And they escape on ships. And then the ships get sunk and the elves call for help. Or something.

    And the last line reads something like “They changed into something stronger… and weaker as well.”

    And the whole book, I’m wondering what on earth that could mean. Then I find out.




  8. I enjoyed this episode and was especially interested in the bit about self-publishing. I found the pro-publisher consensus intriguing since I have heard so much about the declining benefits of the publisher route. It’s nice that you have publishers to pay you and do the production work, but I would have liked to hear more about the downsides for new authors.

    I cited this episode in a post on my site: Writing and publishing and madness.

  9. All – great cast.

    I wanted to add to the ‘naming things’ question. If anyone out there uses the software Scrivener, there is a name generator within. Here’s how to get there:

    1. At the top go to EDIT
    2 WRITING TOOLS (at the bottom)

    Thanks again.

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