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Transcript for Episode 1.18

Writing Excuses Episode 18: Questions and Answers At Conduit

Guest Star: Dan Willis

Distinct voices for characters, finishing your story, avoiding second act slump, and naming characters – you asked for it, you got it!

1. How do you create distinct voices for your characters so they don’t all sound the same?

– I think in funny accents while I write them
– I cheat in the worst way — I change fonts
– for the AI characters, I do not use any contractions
– I think it is an extrapolation of the narrative voice. What the character talks about and asks questions about is related to what they see and notice in the world. You make them distinct by having them ask questions or notice things that other people wouldn’t. The way they talk is an outgrowth of their personality. Not using contractions or using big words gets done too much — a better way to characterize is to use what they ask and what they’re interested in as their voice.
– when I set out to write a group of people, I have to do their back story — who they are, what they’ve experienced, how they got there. When you start to write about eight different people, they are all the unicharacter, but once you spend time with them and break them out, they are individuals.
– [skip over the story about Xander looking at a Buffy script and saying that a particular line really was a Xander line, and the writer saying that he wasn’t in the scene] at times, I write a punchline and then realize that it belongs to a different character, so I have to rewrite the scene so the right person is there.
– one thing you can do for practice, is to try writing screenwriting. Don’t allow yourself any dialogue tags, just separate the characters by what they say. [This isn’t really screenwriting, this is just writing dialogue without beats or character tags] don’t do this in regular writing of course!
– the simple answer is to know your characters really well.

2. What do you do when you’re having a hard time finishing your story?

– [some discussion about telling the Gaiman story from two episodes ago, resulting in a summarized version] and the advice to get back to work. It isn’t easy, you have to push yourself to do it, but go ahead and finish.
– I think this happens to discovery writers more than outline writers. Discovery writers often have to write several bad endings first.
– I think sometimes it’s because we have too many ideas. You have to be able to see it through. Make sure to keep yourself excited about the one you’re working on. Those other new ideas are exciting, but remind yourself why the one you’re working on is cool.
– I’m a Nazi outliner, myself. I usually start with a cool ending, then get a beginning, and have an outline. Then I start writing.
– I have yet to write a book that I have not rewritten the ending at least twice. Three endings is a minimum for me.
[And at this point Howard grumbled about the luxury of being able to do this.]

3. Middles? I know where I’m headed, but I bog down. How do I get from here to there?

– how do you write act two of the three act format?
– Act two begins with the protagonist engaged in solving the problem. During act two, the problem gets bigger, there is a plot twist, the protagonist discovers that he is not looking at the right problem, and that something else is what really needs to be done. We usually bog down because the protagonist is too close to solving the original problem. Need to make sure there is a plot twist and that the new problem is ugly enough.
– in act two things have to get worse, there should be unexpected problems.
– I like Try-Fail cycles. Classically there are three, and you need two failures. Act two is a good place for these. These should be real failures, with the protagonist doing their best with all their abilities, but it’s not enough.
– I’m a fan of the three disaster structure. The first disaster is the end of act one, while the second is in the center of act two. The third is the end of the second act or beginning of the third period. So you need to blow something up in the middle of the second act.
– it’s not a story if stuff isn’t going wrong.

4. I’m having trouble naming my characters. How do you name characters?

– my brother says he gets all his names from spam.
– I think a lot of people agonize over secondary characters. Grab the phone book, flip it open, slide your finger down until you find a interesting name, rearrange a little, and get on with the story.
– I look around, pick a two syllable object, then play anagrams with the name.
– I use a big atlas. First I pick a language flavor, then I look at the names of cities, some famous names, and what people in that area are using for baby names — these are the seeds that I use to make up my names.
– Orson Scott Card has some excellent essay is about naming which we will link in the liner notes.

There was a final squeal in the podcast — I think someone thought the microphone was turned off?

Current Mood: lethargiclethargic
Current Music: Put a Girl in It, Brooks & Dunn