Tag Archives: Plot

Writing Excuses 10.9: Where is My Story Coming From?

This month’s syllabus topic is story structure, and we’ll be starting with the part we start with. And that part usually isn’t the beginning — that’s where the story starts for the reader. We’re going to talk about where the story starts for you. It’s the answer to questions like “where is my story coming from?”, “What kind of a story is this?”, or  “What questions does it seek to raise, and subsequently answer for the readers?”

Structurally, it may help to revisit our discussion of the M.I.C.E. quotient. Knowing that your story is primarily a milieu story, as opposed to a character story, is a pretty big thing to know before you start writing.

Of course, if you’re not outlining, this whole discussion may seem irrelevant to you, but ultimately if you discovery-write your way into a good story, you’ll have answered these questions during that process. Knowing that this is a thing you do will likely help you do it better.

The Sherlock Episode Howard referenced was “The Sign of Three”

Homework For an upcoming “Project in Depth” — you may wish to acquire a copy of Schlock Mercenary: Massively Parallel, because we’ll be digging into the bonus story, “Parallel Perspectives,” which plays with POV in some ways that required significant re-writing during the collaboration process.

Play

Take a favorite piece of of media (but not something YOU created,) and reverse engineer an outline from it.

Ancillary Justice, by Anne Leckie, narrated by Celeste Ciulla. This book has won the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Clarke award, and is a great listen. (note: In the ‘cast, Mary says that this book was narrated by Adjoa Andoh, who actually narrated Ancillary Sword.)

 

Writing Excuses 9.45: Tools for Writing from Oral Storytelling

M. Todd Gallowglas is a writer and a storyteller who has spent years doing traditional oral storytelling at renaissance fairs. He joined us at FantasyCon/Westercon 67 before a live audience and talked to us about how this tradition has informed his writing, and how these principles can inform our writing as well. He also schools us (okay, mostly Howard) about how these principles should be informing parts of our podcast.

Play

Take the book Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, and drill down into the nitty-gritty realities of pancakes falling from the sky.

The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss, narrated by Nick Podehl

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.

 

Play

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…

Play

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.

 

Play

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.

Play

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.

Play

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.

Play

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.