Writing Excuses 10.30: Q&A on Middles, with Marie Brennan

Marie Brennan joins us again, this time to help us field your questions about middles. Here are the questions we collected from the various social media feeds:

  • How do you maintain interest without having something explode every other chapter?
  • In short fiction, how do you prevent try-fail cycles from bloating the story?
  • How do you prevent the introduction of POVs during the middle of the story from being jarring?
  • How do you keep subplots from turning into side quests?
  • In longer stories, how important are “breather” chapters that ease the tension?
  • Do you have methods for weaving plot and subplot threads together? Do you outline this, or keep it in your head?

Fifty-Cent Word: Proprioception, which serves as an excellent metaphor for what expertise with a set of tools feels like. Thank you, Marie, for simplifying the whole “the tool should be an extension of your hand” thing.


Murder the Middle Darling: Remove an element (subplot, side character, location) from the middle of your story, and see how that changes the pacing of your story.

The Summer Prince, by Alaya Dawn Johnson, narrated by Rebecca Mozo and Lincoln Hoppe

Writing Excuses 10.29: Why Should My Characters Fail Spectacularly?

We’re past the middle of the Season 10 Master Class, but we’re still in the middle of our month on middles. Perhaps some spectacular failures will help us all enjoy the middle a bit more as we write our way past it.

(Filed under: “I see what you did there.”)

(Filed also under: “spectacular failure.”)

Character failure is a big part of making the middle of a story work. We talk about why, and we provide some tips about how to make this work well for you.


“Yes, but/no, and…” Think of the smartest thing your character can do. Now have them fail with either “yes, but” (they technically succeed, but something else has gone wrong) or “no, and” (they fail, and the failure deepens the mess.)

The Edge of the World: Terra Incognita, Book 1, by Kevin J. Anderson, narrated by Scott Brick

Writing Excuses 10.28: Polytheism in Fiction, with Marie Brennan

Marie Brennan took a break from her book tour and joined us for this discussion of Polytheism in fiction. (Note: Marie recorded several episodes with us, and we’re posting them out of order.)

We begin by looking at the pitfalls and common mistakes that people make, and then dive into how we can make a polytheistic setting work well in support of our stories.

Liner Notes: The Belief System Generator, by Kate Hamilton


Use the Belief System Generator, and then write a prayer that works in the belief system that it generates.

The Winner’s Curse, by Marie Rutkowski, narrated by Justine Eyre

Writing Excuses 10.27: Why Can’t I Just Jump to the Ending?

Lots of people struggle with the middles of their books. One way to look at the middle is that it’s the point where you’re no longer working on that new project that has you excited, but haven’t yet gotten to the cool ending that has you excited.

We talk about why the middle is important, and how you can make it enjoyable not just for the reader, but for you.


Look at a scene you’re planning to write, and try writing it in one of the other available settings in your story in order to mix things up a bit.

The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison, narrated by Kyle McCarly