Writing Excuses 10.19: Intrigue

What’s the difference between intrigue, suspense, and mystery? We answer this (it comes down to reader knowledge vs character knowledge), and then talk about what makes intrigue useful as a tool for any story, and how to use it without falling back on idiot character plots, or simply withholding information from the reader.

Intrigue is also its own genre, with spy stories and political intrigue stories fitting into this space. We talk a bit about how those stories work, and how they’re built.

Upcoming Homework: We’ll be doing a Project-In-Depth on Mary’s new book, Of Noble Family, in two weeks (episode 10.21, airing on May 24th.) To get the most out of that episode without having anything spoiled, pick up a copy now and start reading!


Write dialog in which each of the speakers has a different subtext and motive. Without explicitly stating those, try and make them clear to the reader.

A Spy in the House: The Agency 1, by Y.S. Lee, narrated by Justine Eyre

27 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 10.19: Intrigue”

  1. What a great topic! Where do *you* guys learn all this stuff? I think you touched on some things I have not heard you discuss yet in any other podcast over the years! Thanks for all your hard work!

  2. Interesting. If you use the direct link (https://writingexcuses.com/2015/05/10/writing-excuses-10-19-intrigue/) to the article the download link does not display. (Chrome v.42 & Safari on Mac OSX and Safari on an iPad). If, however, you look at the article on the main page (https://writingexcuses.com/) the download link shows up. You may be missing something in your CSS for individual articles.

    The download link works for me, but only displays on the site index page. Hope that helps.

    1. Thank you, David. We switched plug-ins in order to get onto iTunes, and it would appear that we still have some kinks to straighten out.

  3. You mention a listener wrote a book that made effective use of a some of the techniques you describe. Could we get the name of that a book? I always do love to support another listener.

  4. Heh the last part with Brandon. You couldn’t resist, you could, Brandon? Brandon? That was Brandon, right?

  5. When the smoke cleared, we could all tell that someone hadn’t been telling the truth. In fact, it looked as if no one had even come close to the truth. But…

    That’s why the transcript is here!


    and in the archives.

    And watch out for Agent Question Mark. He’s got an albino fruit bat and he’s not afraid to use it. Or is he?

  6. @Peter Westmer, I believe Mary said that one of the *podcasters* wrote that book, not one of the listeners. That’s why Howard joked about the intrigue of which of them it could have been.

  7. Regarding the problem they discussed at the beginning where people don’t talk like real people, I always felt that was a huge problem with Lost.

    Great podcast!

  8. The download link is still not working on either my android or my PC. It just goes back to the same page. From the above comments it sounds like a great podcast. Please fix soon. I miss hearing from my Writing Excuses Mentors.

  9. Has anyone else reported a problem with listening to it through the podcast subscriptions? It’s been crashing the Podcasts app on my iPhone all week, every time I try to play any WE ep. (And only Writing Excuses, other podcasts are working okay.) :(

  10. You talked at length about espionage style intrigue, but shied away from military style intrigue. I would like to bring up the books in the Falkenberg’s Legion series by Jerry Pournelle. In many situations you are looking at the same battle from 2 pov’s, one on each side of the conflict, and in many cases, information, and misinformation are what turn the tide. He often manages to set up something where you can see the initial plan of both commanders(and know that neither will work), but the victory is determined by a critical piece of intel, or feeding the opposing commander a false piece of intel. One of his favorite military sayings that often comes into play in these situations is, “Surprise is an event that occurs in the mind of the enemy commander.” Food for thought.

  11. While listening to your examples of intrigue the first thing that came to my mind was a anime Death Note. It’s about a young man who comes across a magical note book that kills the person whom names he writes on it. He decides to kill criminals with this power, while trying to avoid the authorities. The real intrigue is the battle of smarts and wits between Light and M, an detective who’s just as smart as Light.

    I’m also having problem listening to thia particular podcast and everything time I try to play it from iTunes my phone crash. I deleted the file and download a few times, but the same thing keeps happening.

    Love the show! You guys have awesome stuff!

  12. Just wanted to let you know I’ve been having the same problem with my iTunes subscription download crashing my iPod. I couldn’t play the last two episodes. All of the other podcasts I subscribe to are playing without a hitch.

    1. If you download the episode from the site and manually copy it to the iPod using iTunes do you still see the crash? If so, this is something we can fix. If not, we have to open a ticket with Apple.

  13. I’m having the same problem as others are reporting with it crashing the iPhone podcast app. Also happening on this week’s episode as well. :(

  14. Howard, when I download the mp3 from your website, bypassing iTunes and the podcast app, I have no issues with playback. So, for me at least, the crash only occurs when I go through iTunes and the podcast app.

  15. Like Mark, downloading the mp3 from your website works fine, I can listen to it in iTunes on my phone or computer. Also, I can listen to the podcasts app via iTunes on my computer no problem. It’s only when I try to play it in Podcasts on my phone that it crashes. (I saw someone mention reinstalling the app, but i’m not sure that’s actually possible on an iPhone?)

  16. My apologies if this is turning into a tech support thread, but as far as I can tell, it’s not possible to delete the Podcast app, so there’s no way to reinstall it. I went so far as to do a full software restore of my iPod Touch, but no joy.

  17. I’ll throw this wrinkle into the mix. The podcast crashes my ipod touch. It first started crashing when the new logo went up. All other podcasts play fine. When I listen to the podcast on my iphone, it stutters if I start and stop it but it plays well otherwise. Different hardware on the touch and phone? I wish I was more geek-wise.

    1. The MP3 format includes metadata fields for images. We populated both the standard “cover art” field and the “small icon” field. (http://www.richardfarrar.com/embedding-album-art-in-mp3-files/ provides a lay explanation of these.) When we got reports of the iOS Podcasts app crashing, we stopped populating $01 (32×32 icon) with image data, but kept the 300×300 image in $03 (cover art.)

      Since the MP3s play just fine in iTunes, and since the ONLY reports of crashing are from iOS Podcasts users, the problem is almost certainly a bug in the Podcasts app related to the way it handles MP3 metadata.

      Please try episodes 10.20 and later with the Podcasts app. If it still crashes, we’ll see if something else can be tweaked.

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