Writing Excuses 10.30: Q&A on Middles, with Marie Brennan

Marie Brennan joins us again, this time to help us field your questions about middles. Here are the questions we collected from the various social media feeds:

  • How do you maintain interest without having something explode every other chapter?
  • In short fiction, how do you prevent try-fail cycles from bloating the story?
  • How do you prevent the introduction of POVs during the middle of the story from being jarring?
  • How do you keep subplots from turning into side quests?
  • In longer stories, how important are “breather” chapters that ease the tension?
  • Do you have methods for weaving plot and subplot threads together? Do you outline this, or keep it in your head?

Fifty-Cent Word: Proprioception, which serves as an excellent metaphor for what expertise with a set of tools feels like. Thank you, Marie, for simplifying the whole “the tool should be an extension of your hand” thing.


Murder the Middle Darling: Remove an element (subplot, side character, location) from the middle of your story, and see how that changes the pacing of your story.

The Summer Prince, by Alaya Dawn Johnson, narrated by Rebecca Mozo and Lincoln Hoppe

4 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 10.30: Q&A on Middles, with Marie Brennan”

  1. I really liked this episode. It answered a number of questions I have had for awhile. I’m a discovery writer and not really good at outlining, but for the last few months have taken my science fiction story and started to write it as a series of twelve hour long episodes. I’m at the middle act now (eps 5-8) and have found that I no longer can keep the story in my head. I started using cue cards with bullet points to outline what needs to happen. An example would be: Genbai returns to find a message from Yoshida. Sometime the bullet points are vague and sometimes they are very specific.

    One question I do have is: How can I tell if I have more than one subplot as everything either moves the story forward or builds character, or both?



  2. Whoosh! Questions, and answers, from the dauntless team plus one! Avoiding tedium, keeping try-fail cycles meaty, shaking up the reader, weaving subplots without getting lost on side quests, giving the reader a breather, and proprioception, weaving in your head instead of an outline! All expounded for you… read all about it in the archives or over here:


  3. Interesting episode. There is one topic I’ve been hoping you all would tackle for quite some time now. As twenty-something writers, we are often held back by self-doubt and our own internal editors. But, I feel like this is only part of a bigger problem. I’d argue that one of the single largest things that holds back my own writing is the thought that I am too young for my voice to matter. Not that I think I’m too young to be writing, but that I have not had enough life experiences, tribulations and general adult knowledge to make me an authority that anyone should listen too. I’ve never had to take out a mortgage, had a child or experienced things every other ‘adult’ goes through day to day. More or less, what gives me the right to write for an adult audience?

    I curious to hear a discussion that would emerge out of this.



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