By Writing Excuses | September 22, 2008 - 3:55 pm - Posted in Season 1, Theory and Technique

Just as no burger is complete without its fries, no protagonist is complete without his sidekick, or his mother, or his entomologist, or whatever side character you decide to give him. This week we talk about why side characters are important, and how to do them well.

Liner Notes

Elantris Mad Prince Deleted Scenes

Dan’s Bunny Book (AKA Blacker Darkness) (Word 2003 format)


Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: This week's Writing Excuses is brought to you by Schlock Mercenary: The Teraport Wars  by Howard Tayler

Writing Prompt: Bring a side character from the future, bring them back to the past and write a story about them.

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This entry was posted on Monday, September 22nd, 2008 at 3:55 pm and is filed under Season 1, Theory and Technique. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


  1. September 22, 2008 @ 3:59 pm

    Oops. Today’s late post is due entirely to my own personal laziness, mingled with a healthy dose of forgetfulness. I don’t know why I even keep forgetfulness around in the first place, let alone in convenient doses, but then I suppose that’s mostly just a sign of high-quality forgetfulness. Remember, kids: if you can remember why you bought something designed to destroy memory, you’ve wasted your money.

    Posted by Dan Wells
  2. September 22, 2008 @ 5:39 pm

    I’m not a kid!!! I’m twenty-one years OLD, I’ll have you know! (j/k)

    But on a serious note, I think you should put Dan’s vampire bunny book in the liner notes. I am extremely interested in reading it, after all the…good things I’ve heard about it :).

    Posted by Jame
  3. September 22, 2008 @ 7:07 pm

    Hey I just finished listening the the post, and I think I understand the writing prompt but you’ll have to tell me for sure.

    Take a side character from a present book/story you are working on that has been inspired in some way by the hero of that stroy, have them sent into the past were they become the main character in a seperate book/story that is the person that is the inspiration of the hero/main character of the first story they were in.

    Does that make sense or should I stop talking now?

    Posted by Joe
  4. September 22, 2008 @ 7:38 pm

    I can download these again from Itunes. Yay!

    Posted by Liz
  5. September 22, 2008 @ 8:29 pm

    I second the request for the vampire bunny book! At least it’ll give everyone another way to procrastinate instead of writing.

    And who’s eating during Shlock Mercenary blurb? There’s silverware clinking on plates in the background. No one wanted to share the dessert with Howard?

    Posted by Sara
  6. September 22, 2008 @ 8:35 pm

    Not only was this an incredibly useful episode, but I could not stop laughing during it! Great work, guys! :-)

    Posted by Michael
  7. September 23, 2008 @ 12:33 am

    Thanks for a great episode once again, and thanks to whoever made it possible to download it directly from the site.

    Posted by Chris
  8. September 23, 2008 @ 11:54 am

    (Pssst. Dan. To go along with your explanation of the rights you’ve withheld with your release of your Vampire Bunny book, you should put the file into a pdf format. It’s not entirely fool-proof, but it is safer from those who might want to tamper with the file.)

    Also, yay! Thanks for posting!

    Posted by Laura C
  9. September 23, 2008 @ 5:33 pm

    I actually did make a PDF, but it was ugly so I didn’t post that version. It probably would have been safer, but I figure anyone who really wants to rip off my horror farce fanfic of John Keats and Mary Shelley can do so just as easily from a PDF as from a word doc.

    Posted by Dan Wells
  10. September 23, 2008 @ 5:52 pm

    I’ve been off the comments area for more than a few episodes, but I just wanted to say how much I really loved this episode and the one before on exposition. Thanks for continuing to really think about these topics and produce such great content.

    I have a morbid phobia of planes. My wife actually spells out the word for me instead of saying it, “So, honey, when we are on the P-L-A-N-E tomorrow…” etc. So, I am traveling tomorrow (yeah Disney World!) and I am comforted to know that I have 33 episodes of Writing Excuses to get me from NYC to Florida if necessary.


    Posted by Eliyanna
  11. September 24, 2008 @ 8:47 am

    33 episodes AND a full, unpublished, largely ridiculous novel. That should get you to Florida and back.

    Posted by Dan Wells
  12. September 24, 2008 @ 3:18 pm

    This was one of the funniest podcasts to date. As well, it was also rather informative. Felt like it flew by way too fast though. I could have done with another 15 minutes on this one.
    You guys are going to have to start offering some special casts that run longer for more involved subjects. Having to wait a full week for my 15 minute fix is KILLING me.

    By the way Dan, did Sandra get you the $5 (or equivalent amount of bacon) at WorldCon? I was hoping that would be enough to get your Bunny Book (AKA Blacker Darkness), but now that I can get it for free, (it is worth free, isn’t it?) then I hope that the $5 went to bacon.
    After all, EVERYTHING is better with bacon, (even free vampire bunnies)

    Posted by WEKM
  13. September 24, 2008 @ 4:45 pm

    I have a confession to make, Dan. After converting your book into a PDF format, I saved it on my jump drive as “The Vampire Bunny Book”. Please forgive me.

    Ennis (the third)

    Posted by Jame
  14. September 24, 2008 @ 8:29 pm

    Don’t worry, Jame. There is no indignity you can heap on my vampires that I haven’t already heaped on them myself.

    Posted by Dan Wells
  15. September 24, 2008 @ 11:57 pm
    Posted by Mike Barker
  16. September 25, 2008 @ 6:37 pm

    Dan, I always thought Blacker Darkness was hilarious. (Though the version I read still had the vampire bunny ending.)

    Now that it’s posted here, perhaps some editor with Dan-taste will read it and make you the next…err…who was that guy (not John Scalzi) who started posting his fantasy book on his blog and then got a huge contract?

    Posted by Peter Ahlstrom
  17. September 26, 2008 @ 8:01 am

    I should probably send it to my agent. I think it needs a solid rewrite before it’s sell-able, though.

    Posted by Dan Wells
  18. September 26, 2008 @ 4:02 pm

    I am only up to chapter 3, but it has been good bathroom reading so far.
    If my leg goes to sleep while I’m reading, it’s a good story.

    Twice so far in case you were wondering.

    Posted by WEKM
  19. September 26, 2008 @ 4:24 pm

    btw, WEKM, I did indeed get your bacon money. I used it to purchase a pizza, and had it delivered to me in the middle of a panel Brandon was on at WorldCon.

    Posted by Dan Wells
  20. September 26, 2008 @ 4:30 pm

    Hopefully bacon pizza? Even if only out of respect for the donation.
    (We all know bacon is the best topping anyway)

    Posted by S.M.
  21. September 26, 2008 @ 4:57 pm

    Perfect! I hope that it distracted Brandon for the whole panel.
    Mwah Ha ha HAAAAA!

    Posted by WEKM
  22. September 29, 2008 @ 8:56 am


    Given your interest in Keats and Mary Shelley, have you read The Stress of Her Regard by Tim Powers? It’s phenomenal!

    J.A. Clemens

    Posted by J.A. Clemens
  23. September 30, 2008 @ 11:37 pm

    Gauntlet joke? I don’t remember that one?

    Posted by Michael B.
  24. October 2, 2008 @ 10:41 am

    For an excellent example of taking a side character and making him a main character, see the just-out JUGGLER OF WORLDS by Larry Niven and Ed Lerner. Sigmund Ausfaller has minor appearances in Niven’s short stories “Neutron Star” and “The Borderland of Sol” (incidentally, both were Hugo winners), and is referenced in FLEET OF WORLDS. In JUGGLER, he’s one of the main characters. (And we get to see bits of the above stories from his POV).

    I read it just after hearing this podcast, a great example of synchronicity.

    – Alastair

    Posted by AJWM
  25. October 8, 2008 @ 12:51 pm

    You guys are fantastic. Not only do you give me great advice for my writing, I get to read samples of your work that are about vampires, Mary Shelley, a questionably sane John Keats, etc. Posting that literary work of genius (alright, maybe just amusement) is something I just adore! Thanks!

    Posted by Mads
  26. August 27, 2009 @ 1:04 pm

    I love comparing your advice and observations to other forms of fiction then writing, and I found one such comparison in Final Fantasy 12. The sky pirate Balthier spends much of his time in cut-scenes referring to himself as the leading man, even though he is a side character. Its your advice to make the extras think they are the leading man/lady taken to an extreme.

    Posted by Michael Greene
  27. August 3, 2010 @ 8:22 am

    I should have realized this two years ago, but: The writing prompt for this episode is to write ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.’

    Posted by Mark VanTassel
  28. November 30, 2010 @ 10:35 pm

    Dan, I rather enjoyed A Night of Blacker Darkness, I’d like it if you wrote more stuff like this.

    I Am Not A Serial Killer is good, but it’s not really my cup of tea. I bought Mr Monster but I have yet to get through it… mostly because I don’t really like the genre (still good writing though), and it didn’t grab me as tightly as the first one (I’m not sure why).

    Posted by Spudd86