All posts by Howard Tayler

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.

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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

Writing Excuses 10.29: Why Should My Characters Fail Spectacularly?

We’re past the middle of the Season 10 Master Class, but we’re still in the middle of our month on middles. Perhaps some spectacular failures will help us all enjoy the middle a bit more as we write our way past it.

(Filed under: “I see what you did there.”)

(Filed also under: “spectacular failure.”)

Character failure is a big part of making the middle of a story work. We talk about why, and we provide some tips about how to make this work well for you.

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“Yes, but/no, and…” Think of the smartest thing your character can do. Now have them fail with either “yes, but” (they technically succeed, but something else has gone wrong) or “no, and” (they fail, and the failure deepens the mess.)

The Edge of the World: Terra Incognita, Book 1, by Kevin J. Anderson, narrated by Scott Brick

Writing Excuses 10.28: Polytheism in Fiction, with Marie Brennan

Marie Brennan took a break from her book tour and joined us for this discussion of Polytheism in fiction. (Note: Marie recorded several episodes with us, and we’re posting them out of order.)

We begin by looking at the pitfalls and common mistakes that people make, and then dive into how we can make a polytheistic setting work well in support of our stories.

Liner Notes: The Belief System Generator, by Kate Hamilton

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Use the Belief System Generator, and then write a prayer that works in the belief system that it generates.

The Winner’s Curse, by Marie Rutkowski, narrated by Justine Eyre

Writing Excuses 10.27: Why Can’t I Just Jump to the Ending?

Lots of people struggle with the middles of their books. One way to look at the middle is that it’s the point where you’re no longer working on that new project that has you excited, but haven’t yet gotten to the cool ending that has you excited.

We talk about why the middle is important, and how you can make it enjoyable not just for the reader, but for you.

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Look at a scene you’re planning to write, and try writing it in one of the other available settings in your story in order to mix things up a bit.

The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison, narrated by Kyle McCarly

Writing Excuses 10.26: Q&A on Scenes and Description

We close June’s Master Class episodes in the usual manner, with a Q&A from our listeners and followers on Twitter.

  • How do you “Show, don’t tell” a character’s thoughts?
  • How do you describe a character’s appearance when they’re in their own POV?
  • What’s the difference between scene and setting?
  • How does your writing environment affect the scene you’re writing?
  • Can an evocative fantasy setting be described effectively in a short story?

 

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Next month’s episodes focus on middles. Go to a friend and describe to that friend why the middle of your book is going to be awesome. Not the beginning, not the ending… the middle.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, by Patrick Süskind, narrated by Sean Barrett

Writing Excuses 10.25: What Makes a Scene?

What defines a scene? How do we, as writers, structure things using scenes? When does a scene begin, when does it end, and when has it gone on too long?

We each do this a little differently, and obviously the definitions and processes will vary widely across mediums. In this episode we talk about how we do this, and we make reference to Scene/Sequel format, the MICE quotient, and pacing.

 

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Look at the next few scenes you need to write, and identify their plot function, identify what your main character’s goal is. Now consider where the starting and stopping points can be placed to best serve those elements.

The Devil’s Only Friend, by Dan Wells, narrated by Kirby Heyborne

This will be our Project-in-Depth book in August, so dive in now!

Writing Excuses 10.24: Hooking Younger Readers

We are often asked questions about the young reader markets, and while there are numerous professionals writing, editing, and publishing for that demographic, we haven’t yet had an in-depth discussion with someone who really has their finger on the actual pulse of a group of those readers: a school librarian.

Kiley Snyder, Media Specialist at Discovery Middle School in Indiana, joins us to talk about hooking younger readers. Five days a week she hands books to the very people for whom you’re trying to write (sometimes she even gets those books back from them.) We ask her about reluctant readers, about the common elements she sees in the books that hook her students, and about the power of shelving.

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You’re going to have to leave the house for this one: Visit a library, and tell a librarian three books you’ve loved. Then get a recommendation for something outside your regular genre. Then read it.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik, narrated by Julia Emelin

Writing Excuses 10.23: Can You Tell Me How To Show?

Per the syllabus for the Season 10 Master Class, June is for painting a scene, and in this episode we’re going to talk about that paint.

We have all heard the “show, don’t tell” rule. In this episode we’ll discuss showing—how to do it well, how to do it consistently, and how to use it to accomplish things that telling just can’t get across.

Liner Notes: We make several references to Episode 3.14, in which Mary (in her first guest-hosting on the show) told us about the four rules of puppetry, as they apply to her writing. That was almost six years ago, so it’s probably been a while since you listened to it.

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Sit in a room and describe the room. Do this for half an hour. Five or ten minutes in you’ll be ready to express hatred for the person assigning the exercise. Keep going for the full 30 minutes.

Now describe the same room in the specific style of a genre—epic fantasy, film noir, police procedural—using only 250 words.

Finally, describe this room from the POV of one of the characters in your current project.

The Unhappening of Genesis Lee, by Shallee McArthur, narrated by Cassandra Morris