Writing Excuses 7.52: Microcasting

We’re drawing to the close of Season 7, so here’s some microcasting (that’s what we call a fast-paced Q&A) where we field your questions. Here are your questions:

  • What are your embarrassing early projects?
  • How do you tell if your idea is too big for the story you’re working on?
  • How do you avoid discouragement?
  • How do you handle multiple magic systems in one book?

Two different characters, two different magic systems…

Who Fears Death, by Nnedi Okorafor, narrated by Anne Flosnik

12 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 7.52: Microcasting”

  1. It has been a great 7th year. I look forward to hearing from you guys in the new year. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, if this is your last episode for the year.

  2. I just want to say thanks again for so many years of podcasts. I’m coming to the close of my most recent project, and figured that I’d give a list of things that I’m keeping in mind solely because of what you all have said.

    1. Hollywood formula – making sure that I have the main arcs and reconciliations happen at the same time.

    2. Historical fiction – pick something that you’re interested in, since you’ll need to do way more research than you’d ever think. Also, be careful what you change since it’ll piss off purists if there’s no reason given for it.

    3. Don’t have a flashback in the first couple pages. Since the required flashback would be a boring way to start a story (unlike the sword fight I chose), I just wrote it the first time through and am now going to move it to its own non-chronological chapter to begin act 3. That way the third act gets to have its own self-contained arc and remind us of the beginning of the story.

    4. Three act structure. I’m going out of my way to identify where the acts should be starting and stopping so that I can arrange things in a way that makes more sense.

    5. Try-fail cycles. I just needed to have some of them to show character, and would never have kept them in mind if I never heard you guys talking about them.

    6. EPIC Quotient. A long time ago it was hinted that Card used “milieu” so he could say MICE, but if that were the case he’s an idiot. “Place” works better since you can then say EPIC. While there is locational movement, the true story seeds are idea and character (in mine), so I had to make sure that I was setting things up properly for those to work.

    7. Just powering through. I did a few passes on the first few chapters to get a feel for what I was wanting to write, and instead of wasting a ton of time on the tough middle chapters I just wrote them poorly without thinking too hard about them. A couple of those are actually not that bad on a re-read, and the truly bad ones will be put through the wood chipper.

    8. Showing and not telling. While the nature of my story requires some crazy exposition that either needs a picture or internal monologue to convey some ideas, every time it was possible I figured out ways to have actions relay everything else.

    9. Prioritizing and finding time to write. In the past I was always bad about writing, and then I had a baby and now have a lot of work for my actual job that has been sapping time. I also had a goal to go to the gym every night with some strength goals I had set for myself. When I found that my day was spent completely on work and baby, I’d take time at the gym to get through some chapters thumbing them in on my phone between sets. It’s slower than typing, but it was where I had the least distraction. Had I waited for time on my computer at home, there would have been too much time between writing efforts and I wouldn’t have made as much progress.

    10. Use fewer words. I think I actually took this one to the extreme, as I’m having more things happen in 40k words than some epic fantasies have in 350k. I’m very happy with the result in some scenes, where I managed to convey setting with hardly any words at all, but others seem very spare.

    11. Active voice. I’m going out of my way to make sure that if I’m using a lot of passive voice somewhere (sometimes it just sounds way better in my head) that it’s still flowing well.

    12. Putting little arcs in every scene. This feels weird, as I almost think I could call this a series of short stories with an underlying greater arc. I might have to tone this down a bit, since a lot of chapters have one of those short-story zingers at the end of them, which I don’t know if I like.

    13. Motivation. I’m making sure that there’s a reason why every character does everything that they do.

    14. Getting it on the page. I re-read old chapters periodically to make sure that I didn’t just say something in my head and think that I wrote it.

    There’s a lot more, but so much of what I’m doing right now has been affected by what I’ve heard here. I just wanted to say thanks again, and yeah I already bought your guy’s books (the real thank you).

  3. The w40k magic system is pretty awesome, who can blame Dan for using it :)


    When it comes to movies, titles that give away the concept (I know there’s a shorter word for that, movies like Snakes on a Plane, Cowboys vs. Aliens etc.) do obviously attract their target audience easier then obscure titles.

    Looking back on careers full of accomplishments, how have you managed to sell that many books without taking the easy way out by using titles like that?

  4. Oh not totally related to the podcast, but Dan Wells mentioned he likes to write down the ending before writing the story. What if one decided that wanted to write down the ending of each chapter?

  5. Sarah? I think whatever works for you is good. You might want to consider — along with the ending of the story, these intermediate endings that you are writing? Are they really chapter endings, or are they scene endings, perhaps subplot endings, or some other kind of internal marker? Try-fail cycle low points, perhaps, or scene-sequel endings? Especially given the idea that Mary pointed out that chapters are basically a pacing device, and should be imposed late in the process, it may be that the internal “endings” that you are laying out are really not chapter endings. Still, setting up internal goals or endings certainly seems like a reasonable approach. Go for it!

  6. I guess I could certainly label them scene endings. Its just that I’m going for POV breaks rather chapter breaks per say.

    I think my problem is, sometimes I find myself asking “Ok so I got here, what do I need to accomplish?” Of course now that I have a sense of the overall plot, that’s half way solved.

  7. Love this (and every) podcast.

    A good example of secret history — a distinction I never even considered (or knew existed) until listening to the podcast — is Carrie Vaughn’s A Princess of Spain in the Dec 2012 Lightspeed Magazine.

    Hope you have all have a fine and successful new year.

  8. (Looking (listening?) back on this episode.)

    A great example of two different characters, two different magic systems is the Harry Potter and the Natural 20, a Harry Potter / Dungeons and Dragons crossover. HP wizards have infinite disarming spells, instant-death spells, and really any other spell they’ve learned, per day. Milo, a D&D Wizard can craft amulets that defeat the Imperius Curse, can potentially resurrect the dead, and can do all sorts of other things Harry Potter characters can’t hope to do.

    It gets quite hilarious, since their _universes_ don’t run on the same rules. “Another peculiarity in these people was the inordinate amount of down time they required… Even Hermione seemed shocked by the amount of time Milo spent reading and working… Milo theorized that, while he had to spend an hour poring over his spellbook, performing arcane research, and memorizing spells every morning, the Wizards here had to spend at least four to eight hours a day (judging by comparisons between Hermione and Ron, it was an amount of time equal to eight minus their Intelligence Bonus, in hours per day) sitting around on armchairs and talking about the weather.”

    Just thought I’d mention it.

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