Tag Archives: Plot

Writing Excuses 9.32: Adjusting Character Proactivity

Let’s adjust sliders again! This episode references our sliding scales for characters, and this time around we’ll be talking about how proactive a character is. We also talk about the verb “protag.” Because protagging is what protagonists should do, especially later in our stories.

Our goal is to be able to consciously adjust a character’s level of proactivity in order to similarly adjust how engaging that character is for our audience. We talk about the techniques we rely on, and some of our favorite stories in which we’ve seen these techniques employed.

 

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Tie your protagonist up, and then have them protag their way forward in the story with nothing but dialog.

The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley, narrated by Diane Warren

Writing Excuses 9.31: Critiquing “An Honest Death”

SPOILER ALERT!

This is our fourth and final SHADOWS BENEATH story critique episode. This episode’s story, “An Honest Death,” by Howard Tayler, is available as part of the aforementioned Writing Excuses anthology, pictured there on the right, which includes the the draft we critiqued in this episode along with the final version.

We still have a few of the first-printing hardcovers left, and if you purchase the hardcover, we’ll send you the electronic edition at no additional charge.

This week we find Howard in trouble. He is, in a word, stuck.

Can our heroes help him? Can special guest Eric James Stone lend enough of his special guest expertise to complete the rescue?

We start with a discussion of what was working, so that Howard doesn’t accidentally “fix” something that isn’t broken. Then we wade into the weeds and go hunting for the pieces he needs in order to finish the story. And when we say “the weeds,” we’re talking serious wandering. The episode runs a full half-hour long…

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You have, with actual paint, painted yourself into an actual corner. But the paint and the corner are in a world in which there is magic, and “you painted yourself into a corner” may very well be some sort of a spell.

The Firebird, by Susanna Kearsley, narrated by Katherine Kellgren

Writing Excuses 9.16: Coming up with a New Ending Halfway Through

What do you do when the ending you’ve planned won’t be emotionally satisfying? You know, when you’ve discovered during the course of writing the story that you’re making promises to the reader that this particular ending won’t keep?

Mary talks about her recent experience with this exact problem in an as-yet-unpublished project. Howard talks about how he had to come up with a new set of concluding moments for Longshoreman of the Apocalypse (which you can read for free here.) Dan weighs the difficulties he’s having with a current project, and how he had to brainstorm what the story was supposed to be accomplishing, rather than simply what the plot was.

We examine the various tools that we use to solve this problem, which probably offers you some motivation to keep filling your own toolbox.

 

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Take a story you’ve already written, and write a completely different ending for it.

Vortex: Insignia, Book 2, by S.J. Kincaid, narrated by Lincoln Hoppe

(Small world! Howard worked with Lincoln Hoppe twenty years ago, running sound for The Garrens Comedy Troupe while Lincoln was on stage being funny and amazing. You should let Lincoln read to you!)

Writing Excuses 8.49: Hard Social Science Fiction with Joel Shepherd

Joel Shepherd joined Brandon, Mary, and Howard before a live audience at GenCon Indy to talk about writing hard science fiction where the science in question is social science. He’s studied international relations, interned on Capitol Hill, and is working a PhD in the field. His books reflect this background.

If hard science fiction is an exploration of what is technically, physically possible given a set of circumstances, hard social science fiction is no different. Further than that, however, good research in the social sciences will allow an author to build complex and realistic plots, stories in which character motivations go much further than picking a side.

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Pick two people on the same side of a conflict, but give them completely different motivations for fighting on that side.

Crossover: Cassandra Kresnov Book 1, by Joel Sheperd, narrated by Dina Pearlman

Writing Excuses 8.22: Pre-writing with E.J. Patten

E.J. “Eric” Patten joins us for a discussion of pre-writing. His first book, Return to Exile, came out in 2011, and The Legend Thief released in March of 2013.

What is pre-writing? Eric walks us through his process for developing a story, beginning with the high-concept world-building inspired by the phrase “Cthulhu for kids.” He talks about the importance of getting the characters right, and how this process precedes plot development. Each of us handles this a little differently, and we talk about how that goes.

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Kids get magical powers from their Halloween costumes…

E.J. Patten’s books aren’t available on Audible, but if you’re looking for Cthulhu that isn’t for kids, H.P. Lovecraft’s classics “Call of Cthulhu” and “Reanimator” can be found in H.P. Lovecraft, Volume 2, narrated by Garrick Hogan.

Writing Excuses 8.12: Project in Depth — Deus ex Nauseum

Brandon, Dan, and Mary interview Howard about how he assembled “Deus ex Nauseum,” the bonus story that appears at the end of Schlock Mercenary: Emperor Pius Dei.

Howard begins with the story’s genesis, which was sort of a science-fiction Sherlock Holmes story, but which wasn’t working very well. He explains why it wasn’t working well, and the point at which he decided to change it completely.

Then the questions begin. We have a fascinating discussion about deus ex machina as a literary device, and how this story plays to that type, and plays against that type.

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Take one story and discard every other page. Use that as framing material for a second story.

The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, edited by John Joseph Adams with stories by Robert J. Sawyer, Christopher Roden, Michael Moorcock, Anne Perry, Neil Gaiman, Anthony Burgess, and Laurie R. King, narrated by Simon Vance and Anne Flosnik.

Writing Excuses 8.6: Retellings and Adaptations

Retellings are pretty popular right now. Game of Thrones is a retelling the War of the Roses. The Thirteenth Warrior is a retelling of Beowulf, and The Lion King is a retelling of Hamlet. Why do we write these? What do we like about them?

Familiar stories let us explore things in new ways, both because we know what’s coming, and because we don’t need to be brought up to speed on the story.

The line between retelling and adaptation is a blurry one, though. For writers, a good approach, especially early on, is to grab a great story, peel everything away to the plot and key characters, and start writing something new.

On This Date Five Years Ago: the very first episode of Writing Excuses appeared online. 260 weekly episodes later, here we are.

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Do a retelling of a Bible story in a science fiction space setting.

Cinder, by Marissa Meyer, narrated by Rebecca Soler

Writing Excuses 8.2: Hero’s Journey

Beowulf didn’t kill Grendel on a day trip, Luke didn’t overthrow Emperor Palpatine in just one season, and here at Writing Excuses, we didn’t get around to properly discussing the Hero’s Journey until we were well into the second decade of this century.

Sorry about that.

The Campbellian Monomyth, as defined in Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces, is a system of comparative mythology that, for better or for worse, gets used a lot by writers. We talk about some of our favorite examples, and immediately begin arguing over terms. Hopefully this is delightful to you, and educational for everyone. Especially since the monomyth is not a checklist, and it should not be taken that way.

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Take Goldilocks and the Three Bears, apply the Campbellian Monomyth, and give us a short story.

At the time we recorded this, Hero With a Thousand Faces was available on Audible. It’s not anymore. So… go find something else educational?