14.22: Characters out of Their Depth

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary Robinette, Dan, and Howard

Sherlock Holmes has his Watson for a reason. Readers need a character to whom some things must be explained. In this episode we talk about how we create these gateway characters without delivering “maid and butler” dialog, or talking down to the reader.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Dan Thompson, and mastered by Alex Jackson


Pick something you haven’t read or watched before. Perhaps something you wouldn’t otherwise consume. Watch the first five minutes (or read the first five pages) with a note card at the ready. Write down the questions you have about the story. Then finish watching/reading, and see how (or if!) those questions were answered.


19 thoughts on “14.22: Characters out of Their Depth”

    1. I don’t understand the details at all, but the RSS feed/podcast app seems to have a 300-episode limit. I’m on an Android device. I changed my podcast app from Podcast Addict to Podbean. Episodes after the 300th appear in Podbean, but not on Podcast Addict. Unsubscribing the Writing Excuses podcast from Podcast Addict and re-subscribing didn’t help, trying to adjust the number of Writing Excuses episodes on the Podcast Addict app didn’t help either.

      1. I don’t think it matters.

        I use Podcast Republic and have had 100 episodes in my feed. i have less than that right now and the last 2 episodes have not shown up.

        1. I could definitely be wrong, butI don’t think it matters how many episodes are in one’s feed. I think it’s about limitations with the app or how the RSS feed is handled. It seems everything over 300 episodes can be a problem. However, I’m getting all episodes now that I switched to the Podbean app.

          1. I’m not sure what PodBean does differently that it’s able to find the latest two episodes, but the problem is that the rss feed itself is missing the latest two episodes, which you can confirm by looking at it directly. Neither of my podcatchers (Podcast Addict on Android and MediaMonkey on Windows) are able to pick them up. WX has been over 300 episodes for quite a while, and it hasn’t been a problem before, so I doubt that’s the issue.

            1. I have Music Bee and Podcast Republic and both are also missing the latest 2 eps.

              oddly, the “season 14 only” feed is not.

  1. If you’re not getting the latest episodes, one trick is to subscribe to this season rather than the whole podcast. The podcast seems to have reached a maximum episode limit, but the season hasn’t.

    Copy/paste this url into your podcast app when adding a new cast: https://writingexcuses.com/category/season/season-13/feed/podcast/

    Hope that helps some of you get the new episodes. You can use the same url to subscribe to any season – just change the season number.

    1. I don’t like this workaround, when it stops updating at the beginning of next season I will have to remember why.

  2. I’m using Podcast Player (Overcast) on Android and also haven’t seen last week’s ep or this one drop there yet.

    1. Ditto, Katie. I have other podcasts with more episodes in Overcast, so it’s not a limit issue.

      I will subscribe to the season separately (thanks for the tip, sci fi fics!) but it’s definitely an issue with these episodes not being picked up for whatever reason.

      Wish I had a solution to offer instead of more evidence that something is wrong!

  3. Hey Howard, a couple of years ago I left a mean comment to you here in the comments. Since life is to short to stay angry at you, I wanted to apologize. Sorry about that. Please continue your great work and especially your comic. Anyway thanks for existing.

  4. The last few episodes (since 5/19) have also not appeared on Podcast addict nor google play music… maybe an android problem?

  5. The original quartet, Brandon, Mary Robinette, Dan, and Howard, slipped over the edge into deep water to talk about characters in over their heads, treading water or just going down for the third time? Why do we want characters that need everything explained to them? What can we do to avoid, “Oh, Watson, you idiot?” How can confusion be good for your readers? These, and other questions, kept the foursome busily swimming in those deep waters, and you can read all about it in the transcript available now in the archives.

  6. One of the best versions of a character in over their head is Sarah Connor from The Terminator. She has to have everything explained to her, and 90% of the dialogue from Kyle Reese is telling her what’s what. But it’s done so entertainingly and slipped in so organically at just the right times that you mostly don’t notice. Action scene? Infodump. Quiet moment? Infodump. Casual aside? Infodump.

    As Dan says about giving the Watson their own character arc, because Reese has his own arc and motivations (which aren’t revealed until the end), his primary purpose as Mr. Explainer isn’t the main take-away for audiences.

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