Writing Excuses 5.9: Character Arcs

John Brown joins us this week for a discussion of plot threads specific to characters. These can be the main plot thread, interesting sub-plots, or just things that shape characters. Sometimes they’re things we do deliberately, and sometimes we discovery-write our way into these arcs. We talk about how we do this, and how we know when it is (and isn’t!) working well.

We ran a little long, but there were four of us, and we put LOTS of nuts-and-bolts stuff in this ‘cast.

Writing Prompt: Your cast of characters is trapped on an emotionally-responsive roller-coaster that mimics their own emotional arcs. How do they use this knowledge?

This Tuesday: John’s first novel, Servant of a Dark God, is out in paperback!

ALSO This Tuesday: The polls are open for you, you citizens of the United States! Go vote!

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Amulet of Samarkand: The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 1, by Jonathan Stroud, read by Simon Jones.

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Writing Excuses 5.8: The Excuses You’re Out Of

We’re off to a great start, with a dangling preposition right there in the title.

We end each podcast with the tagline “you’re out of excuses, now go write,” but many people still come up with plenty of excuses. How does the professional writer deal with these sorts of things? We talk about the absence of the muse, the wrong space, the absence of ideas, discouragement, lack of time, distractions, and pants.

Howard’s pants, of course.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Hyperion, by Dan Simmons.

Writing Prompt: You need to change your shoes, or something awful is going to happen.

Full Circle: Pants at the beginning and the end. Oh, good. That means we wore them the whole time.

This episode of Writing Excuses has been brought to you by Audible.
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*Note: From the Audible website, here are the terms of the free membership. Read the fine print, please!

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Writing Excuses 5.7: Avoiding Melodrama

Melodrama. What is it? What do people mean when they say something is too melodramatic?

Usually they do NOT mean “it’s too much like a classical melodrama,” but it helps if we start with that definition: a melodrama is a story in which each character only expresses one emotion, and/or only has one trait. When we refer to melodrama, we’re usually complaining about over-acting.

So… how do we avoid it? How do we create characters in conflict without overdoing the conflict or the characterization. In many ways it comes back to something we say over and over (and over and over) again: make your characters into real people.

But we’re not going to leave it at that. We’re not just going to repeat what we’ve been telling you for three years now. No, we’ve got good tools you can use for writing powerful, emotional moments without your readers whining about melodrama.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Tomb: Repairman Jack #1, by F. Paul Wilson

Writing Prompt: Write a story in which you take a cliched, angsty hero in a completely new direction, so that it doesn’t feel cliched.

Dramatic Reading: Stick around after the ‘cast for Howard’s reading of Mike O’s response to our “magical ink” writing prompt.

This episode of Writing Excuses has been brought to you by Audible.
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*Note: From the Audible website, here are the terms of the free membership. Read the fine print, please!

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Get your first 14 days of the AudibleListener® Gold membership plan free, which includes one audiobook credit. After your 14 day trial, your membership will renew each month for just $14.95 per month so you can continue to receive one audiobook credit per month plus members-only discounts on all audio purchases. A very small number of titles are more than one credit. Cancel your membership before your free trial period is up and you will not be charged. Thereafter, cancel anytime, effective the next billing cycle. Any unused audiobook credits will be lost at cancellation.

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Writing Excuses 5.6.01: Flash Fiction

Hey! It’s a mid-week bonus episode!

Some people complain that we are not thorough enough in our coverage of certain topics. This episode is not for those people.

Writing Prompt: Write a piece of flash fiction that can be printed on a business card. Hat tip to Eric James Stone, whose business cards are awesome.

Note: if you’re looking for something longer-winded, check out Howard on Mur Lafferty’s excellent “I Should Be Writing” podcast. We talk at length about the personae we adopt as authors and artists with an online presence. Or check out the Fantasy Authors panel at NYCC, with Jim Butcher, Joe Abercrombie, Peter V. Brett, Naomi Novik, Deborah Harkness, and Brandon Sanderson. So long it had to be cut into two parts!

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Writing Excuses 5.6: MicroPodcasts

You’re going to love this one. This fast-paced episode of Writing Excuses goes out to everybody who thinks Writing Excuses isn’t already fast-paced enough.

We’ve done Q&A episodes before, but this one is special. This time we applied our “shot clock” to each question we fielded, and set out to knock each one down within three minutes.

The Questions:

What’s the right way to kill a character?

Who are the authors who have influenced you the most, and why?

When do you quit your day-job?

Brandon, would killing you and partaking of your flesh grant the killer your powers?

What do you do when you discover you hate a character you’re writing?

How do you respond to accusations of having written Mary Sue characters?

What are some basic tools for ensuring that all characters in a story have different voices?

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey

Writing Prompt: Two critics who reviewed Dan Wells’ book and who had completely opposite reactions actually read two different books…

This episode of Writing Excuses has been brought to you by Audible.
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*Note: From the Audible website, here are the terms of the free membership. Read the fine print, please!

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Get your first 14 days of the AudibleListener® Gold membership plan free, which includes one audiobook credit. After your 14 day trial, your membership will renew each month for just $14.95 per month so you can continue to receive one audiobook credit per month plus members-only discounts on all audio purchases. A very small number of titles are more than one credit. Cancel your membership before your free trial period is up and you will not be charged. Thereafter, cancel anytime, effective the next billing cycle. Any unused audiobook credits will be lost at cancellation.

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Writing Excuses 5.5: Writing the Unfamiliar

“Write what you know.”

Really? What about when we need to write about a relationship with which we have no experience, or about a real-world location to which we’ve never been? How do we go about writing what we most explicitly do NOT know?

Dan discusses writing about a sociopathic teenager in a mortuary. Howard covers writing about the relationships in a close-knit military organization. We talk about research, extrapolation, and talking to friends who have had the experiences we lack. But what separates the amateur from the master in this regard?

We talk about all this at length, discussing our own experiences, where we’ve fallen short, where we’ve excelled, and what we’ve done to close the gap. Because we are, of course, masters, and in this regard it’s EASY for us to talk about what we know.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Mr. Monster, by Dan Wells. This is the sequel to Dan’s first book, I Am Not a Serial Killer. While it is less bloody than the first, it is far, far more disturbing.

Writing Prompt: Watch Ian McKellen explain how to act. Many of you may have already seen this, but watch it again. Then let it inspire you…

This episode of Writing Excuses has been brought to you by Audible.
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*Note: From the Audible website, here are the terms of the free membership. Read the fine print, please!

Audible® Free Trial Details
Get your first 14 days of the AudibleListener® Gold membership plan free, which includes one audiobook credit. After your 14 day trial, your membership will renew each month for just $14.95 per month so you can continue to receive one audiobook credit per month plus members-only discounts on all audio purchases. A very small number of titles are more than one credit. Cancel your membership before your free trial period is up and you will not be charged. Thereafter, cancel anytime, effective the next billing cycle. Any unused audiobook credits will be lost at cancellation.

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