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Transcript for Episode 1.20

Writing Excuses Episode 20: More Q&A from Conduit

Guest writer: Eric James Stone

The short and sweet? Do you need plot twists? Yep, but not necessarily always world changers. Speculations about the changing market. How do you make heroes as interesting as villians? Conflict and action!

1. How necessary are plot twists? Do we need plot twists? Can we have small plot twists? How big do they have to be?

  • Short answer. Yes, we need plot twists. This is because in the market that most of us are writing towards, the form, the three act form, dictates a plot twist or some sort of change in the middle of act two when the expectations set in act one have been defied and the conflict that needs to be resolved is either bigger or shaped differently or something. In the best case, your plot twist in act two makes the hero from Act I way out of his depth — the skill set he brings to the table is not one that will work. The point is that this is what our readers have come to expect. We write this because we expect to read this. [My comment — I’m glad that was a short answer!]
  • depends on the genre, on what you’re trying to do. Focus on your strengths. You practice to strengthen your weaknesses, but your book should focus on your strengths. You do have to have conflict, things going wrong, but if you’re not good at the dramatic reveal that changes everything, don’t put it in.
  • you don’t need a world changing reveal, but you have to have some sort of twists.
  • there is one kind of wrenching plot twists that recontextualizes the whole story, but there are other kinds
  • “He came into the coffee shop with another girl, what am I going to do?”
  • twists can be small. Change a line of dialogue to the opposite of what you had written. Then explain why the character said that.

2. How is the market changing with electronic media?

  • to break in, the conventional markets and path are okay. But the commoditization of fiction is increasing. A key question is how long it takes to read. 30 minute chunks. Novels need to have chapter lumps. When you’re reading on an iPhone, Kindle, or Sony reader, the number of pages doesn’t matter, but readers want to know how long it takes to read.
  • chapters of about 2,500 to 3000 words take about 13 to 17 minutes for a podcast
  • I think audio books are coming too
  • we may find that the last 70 to 150 years of literature and publishing are an aberration. We might return to being entertainers who sell direct. Traditional publishing really is in the business of printing, shipping, and warehousing blocks of wood. When you sell short stories off a website, you can make more money than from the publisher selling novels, and you make it now, instead of months later.
  • we may be seeing the return of the serials

[At this point, we had the weekly advertisement for Hold on to Your Horses. What I wonder is who was wailing in the background?]

And Eric mentioned putting his stories in Anthology Builder, at

3. How do you make your protagonist as interesting as your villains?

  • I cheat. I write psychological horror, and I blurred the line so that you don’t know who is a hero or the villain.
  • Oh my gosh, that’s what I’m doing! I just realized that. I’m writing a story about space mercenaries who are actually good guys with questionable morality. They’re killing people and breaking things for money, but they’re good. Thank you for explaining why my characters are interesting.
  • villains often are much more interesting than heroes because they have better conflicts. Conflict makes characters interesting. So my answer is to make sure the hero has good conflicts. If you have wimpy conflicts, you have wimpy characters. With really good deep conflicts, you get interesting characters.
  • I make my protagonist competent, but not overly so. They can’t be a Superman.
  • not the next green beret, concert pianist, brain surgeon? [garbled voices – not really good at CPR?]
  • I’m Batman. [sic]
  • villains are often interesting because they’re more active, and the hero is just reacting. So make the hero active.
  • David Gerrold says that for the first half of the story, the antagonist is driving, but for the second half, the protagonist should be driving. Put another way, in the first half, the monster chases you; in the second half, you chase the monster.

4. What are some guidelines for how much to sell a story for?

  • go for the pro paying markets
  • start at the top
  • and decide whether it is worth it to send it out
  • for a novel? I keep seeing $5,000 advance for a beginner. You should get at least $1000.

5. Do you recommend writing for anthologies? How do you get into them?

  •, word-of-mouth, networking
  • attend conventions
  • be careful with anthologies. Sometimes they are very specific and the stories may not be salable elsewhere
  • [story about a story written for an anthology about zeppelins]

And a voice announced, “We’re all blimps anyways.”

Amidst a flurry of thankyou, thankyou very much, the podcast ended.

Current Mood: amusedamused
Current Music: Better As A Memory, Kenny Chesney