Writing Excuses 10.13: Where is My Story Going?

Any discussion of story structure must necessarily take a look at that big, long bit between the beginning and the end, that piece where almost everything actually happens. In this episode we talk about the middles of stories, and how formulaic structures will help you get them to do all of the things that you need for them to do, and this can be done without the story feeling formulaic.

We got things a bit out of order here — this was supposed to be the SECOND episode of March, rather than the fifth. When Brandon says “two weeks ago” he means “four weeks ago.” Sorry for the confusion.


Your writing exercise: Take the reverse engineered outline from a month ago, and move a side plot to the main plot.

Words of Radiance, by Brandon Sanderson, narrated by Michael Kramer and Kate Reading

12 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 10.13: Where is My Story Going?”

  1. Hi,

    I don’t know where else to ask this. It is not topic related.

    Will your Listenermail be working again sometime? I noticed that it is down for quite a while now.

    Greetings from Hamburg, Germany

    By the way, I just love your podcast!

  2. Is there someplace that I can go to research the types of formulas that are being discussed in this episode. Like the ones for romance or mystery.

  3. Hi, I’ve tried a few times now over the months to find where I can download the podcasts (for my i-pod), but all I can do is play the episodes right here on the website. Am I missing something? Or is that the only way to listen?

    Thank you!

  4. Is there any reason Writing Excuses is no longer on the Australian iTunes? It’d be really handy to listen to the podcast that way again but it seems it was removed at the start of 2015.

  5. The terrible middle? Isn’t that where try-fail cycles and beats and all that stuff comes in? With a dose of mystery, full of clues and revelations, a nod to horror stories, gun fights, and an explanation of how to avoid cliches while still using the formulas, our intrepid podcasters expound on moments of awesome and the all important stand-up-and-cheer moment. Just imagine, being able to show your friends how their favorite buddy cop show is just like a romance, or how that war flick is really an underdog sports story in disguise.

    Read all about it! A transcript, over here


    and in the archives, too.

  6. I totally agree with Mary’s and Dan’s comments about the problems of following a recipe without understanding how it works, especially when mixing different formats.

    I’d add that a fairly common problem is that a structure recipe is applied in a way that breaks the internal logic of the story:

    For example, in a romantic comedy, the protagonist are finally ready, but, oh no, we need a dramatic third act, so let’s just drop the devil-ex-machina to pull them apart, and then finally let them get together again in a ridiculous way that has no connection whatsoever to the theme of the story.

    The <em<sports underdog structure that Brandon mentions far too often leads to the cliched almost-there-but-it-is-just-not-enough-they-are-going-to-fail-despite-all-that-preparation-but-then-the-coach-gives-out-a-pep-talk-and-so-they-succeed-possibly-even-though-they-do-not-do-the-things-they-trained-so-hard climax, which actually undermines the moral of the story.

    A fine example where this problem was avoided – and I read that the script writer had to fight for this really hard – is the movie The King’s Speech, which follows the underdog structure. I remember watching the final sequence, anxiously – please, please, don’t ruin the movie – and then crying, because they didn’t ruin it, there was no breakdown, no pep talk, just the calm I-will-be-there-watching-out-for-you, and the impact of the king fighting for each single world, with all the people listening intently on their radios, was so great.

    Another good example, beside Grosse Point Blank, of an action movie ending that’s both following the format and meaningful can be found in The Matrix; I wrote about that in my blog post Terminate With Extreme Prejudice.

  7. Problems on the US iTunes as well. Try this temporarily and see if it works until they fix the xml feed or whatever.

    Using the Safari browser navigate to https://writingexcuses.com/2015/feed/ which gets the first 8-9 of any year it seems. To get the full year you have to subscribe in parts with year/month like so https://writingexcuses.com/2010/05/feed/ (2 digit month) .

    A link then appears on the right sidebar of the browser that says ‘subscribe in iTunes’ and that got the indicated feeds on my PC.

  8. Regarding the recipe analogy, I find it frustrating when people think the Hero’s Journey means stuff like the protagonist “must” be a “humble farmer” who meets an “old wizard” with a “magic sword” etc. This comes from a misunderstanding of the range within the Journey and the simplistic notion that Star Wars is the archetypal Hero’s Journey, which it is. But then people stop there and don’t investigate what it is really all about.
    One of Joseph Campbell’s first examples of the Journey is the sheltered Prince Siddhartha who goes on the journey that will lead him to become the Buddha when he first encounters sickness, poverty, and death. Every story contains the core ideas of Journey, not just the ones that look like Star Wars or King Arthur.

  9. I finally understand Howard.

    In the past he’s described his outlining process as how a 5 year old would describe the story. That never really made sense to me, until I realized during this podcast that a 5 year old is going to just string together those moments of awesome, because those are the most memorable things.

    That also helped me realize that if a 5 year old can skip over large swatches of my story, then maybe I need to re-evaluate where the awesome is in those sections.

  10. @kyle try tvtropes.com……although must warn you, horrible site, might consume your life

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