All posts by Writing Excuses

Writing Excuses 10.13: Where is My Story Going?

Any discussion of story structure must necessarily take a look at that big, long bit between the beginning and the end, that piece where almost everything actually happens. In this episode we talk about the middles of stories, and how formulaic structures will help you get them to do all of the things that you need for them to do, and this can be done without the story feeling formulaic.

We got things a bit out of order here — this was supposed to be the SECOND episode of March, rather than the fifth. When Brandon says “two weeks ago” he means “four weeks ago.” Sorry for the confusion.

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Your writing exercise: Take the reverse engineered outline from a month ago, and move a side plot to the main plot.

Words of Radiance, by Brandon Sanderson, narrated by Michael Kramer and Kate Reading

Writing Excuses 10.12: Story structure Q&A, with Special Guest Wesley Chu

Wes Chu joins us again for a Q&A about this month’s topic: story structure! Here are the questions:

  • Do you make a conscious decision about how to structure your story before you begin writing?
  • Is it necessary to use multiple structures (three-act, Hollywood formula, etc) in order to ensure that your story works?
  • What tools do you use to view your story’s structure?
  • What do you think about cliffhangers?
  • How do you come up with plot twists for your stories? (Answer: A blast from the past with Michael Stackpole! Season 1, Episode 19!)
  • What structures should I use to add variety to my writing?
  • Is there a specific amount of time you should spend on your introduction before getting to the inciting incident?
  • What do you do when you’re halfway through with a story before you realize the structure is wrong?

 

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Make a list of all the awesome things you want your story to accomplish. Then put them in the order in which you want them to happen.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, narrated by Cassandra Campbell and Bahni Turpin

Writing Excuses 10.11: Project In Depth: “Parallel Perspectives”

If you haven’t yet read “Parallel Perspectives,” from Schlock Mercenary: Massively Parallel, we have a PDF for you to download and read before you start listening to this episode. It’s a 33mb file in a public DropBox folder.

Parallel Perspectives PDF for Writing Excuses listeners

Got the file? Done reading? Okay, let’s go…

This week is a Project in Depth episode focusing on a 13-page graphic story (“comic book”) found at the end of Schlock Mercenary: Massively Parallel, and our focus this week will be story structure. It’s fun, because the process of structuring a bonus story begins much differently than most projects, and the structure was laid in support of a four-creator collaboration.

The creators? Howard Tayler, Brenda Hickey, Travis Walton, and Keliana Tayler.

(If you’d like your own hard-copy of Schlock Mercenary: Massively Parallel, you can get it from Amazon.com or directly from the publisher.)

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Next month we’re going to talk Beginnings: decide on the promises you want to make to your readers in your story. Then outline according to those promises.

The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle,  by Christopher Healy, narrated by Bronson Pinchot

Writing Excuses 10.10: Q&A with the I Ching

Wesley Chu joins us for a literal shake-up of our structure for one episode. We had loads of fun with this one.

The I Ching is a collection of poems which you consult with numbered sticks. You ask a question, shake a random stick from the cup, and the corresponding poem holds your answer. In writing The Man in the High Castle, Phillip K. Dick used the I Ching to make plot decisions at crucial points. We decided to turn that, and our format, on its head, so we used the I Ching to ask us questions.  Understanding exactly what the I Ching was asking was at least as much fun as answering the questions we inferred.

Here are the I Ching’s questions.

  • Although he reached a great position, Wise Liu did not care for earthly things. He brewed instead the pills of heaven, forging immortality in his earthly crucible.
  • Marriage is a blessed union indeed, when done in accordance with Yin and Yang. The dragon and the phoenix coil together, uniting in a sweet dream of love.
  • All names in Heaven are unique, and even earthly things cannot be the same. Your future is set within the book of fate, which never confuses praise and blame.
  • Emperor Ming slew his one true love, but a shaman took pity, and eased his heart with dreams of roaming upon the moon, his beloved mistress forever at his side.
  • Two scholars went to the capitol for examinations. One passed, and stayed. One failed and returned, carrying a letter from his friend. He fell ill, but eventually, thank Heaven, came home.

 

Important Cultural Note: The I Ching is far more complex than we’ve been able to describe in this podcast, and is worthy of a lot more attention than we were able to present to you in this ‘cast.

Want more Wes Chu? Wes didn’t say a whole lot in this episode, possibly because he was exhausted from the grilling we gave him earlier. This episode was recorded directly it AFTER recording a guest episode with him that will be airing in coming weeks.

Audio Notes: Many of you have complained about the audio quality of the show, especially in the last few months. We went to significant additional effort and expense to make this latest set of sessions sound better. If you like the changes, please let us know.

 

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Competing fiercely to become Spring’s queen, the garden flowers blossomed to their full beauty. Who will win the golden crown of glory? Among them all, only the peony stands out.

The Man in the High Castle, by Phillip K. Dick, which was available on Audible when we recorded this episode, but which is NOT available as of this write-up.

Writing Excuses 10.9: Where is My Story Coming From?

This month’s syllabus topic is story structure, and we’ll be starting with the part we start with. And that part usually isn’t the beginning — that’s where the story starts for the reader. We’re going to talk about where the story starts for you. It’s the answer to questions like “where is my story coming from?”, “What kind of a story is this?”, or  “What questions does it seek to raise, and subsequently answer for the readers?”

Structurally, it may help to revisit our discussion of the M.I.C.E. quotient. Knowing that your story is primarily a milieu story, as opposed to a character story, is a pretty big thing to know before you start writing.

Of course, if you’re not outlining, this whole discussion may seem irrelevant to you, but ultimately if you discovery-write your way into a good story, you’ll have answered these questions during that process. Knowing that this is a thing you do will likely help you do it better.

The Sherlock Episode Howard referenced was “The Sign of Three”

Homework For an upcoming “Project in Depth” — you may wish to acquire a copy of Schlock Mercenary: Massively Parallel, because we’ll be digging into the bonus story, “Parallel Perspectives,” which plays with POV in some ways that required significant re-writing during the collaboration process.

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Take a favorite piece of of media (but not something YOU created,) and reverse engineer an outline from it.

Ancillary Justice, by Anne Leckie, narrated by Celeste Ciulla. This book has won the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Clarke award, and is a great listen. (note: In the ‘cast, Mary says that this book was narrated by Adjoa Andoh, who actually narrated Ancillary Sword.)

 

Writing Excuses 10.8: Q&A on Character

It’s time for a Q&A on characters! The questions for this episode were provided by the attendees at the 2014 Out of Excuses Workshop and Retreat:

  • How do you have a character grow in power and/or expertise without needing to ridiculously overpower the villains?
  • How do you give a flawed character a growth arc without changing what originally made that character likable?
  • When you have a 1st person POV, how do you convey the emotional complexity of the non-POV characters?
  • How do you create an interesting an engaging story with a main character who is not the protagonist or hero of the story?
  • Is there an easy way to tell when the plot is driving the character instead of the other way around?
  • How do you write a character with egregiously offensive views without you, as the author, appearing to espouse or condone those views?
  • How do you write a character who has a belief that is different from your own?
  • What are some tips for writing a sympathetic antagonist?

 

Liner Note: The Tumbler to which Mary referred is Diversity Cross-Check.

Note: We offered to take questions on Story Structure during March, but we’ll be recording that episode two days from right now. Send us your story structure questions now! Do not delay! If you tweet them to @WritingExcuses they’ll pile up in a space where we can quickly find them.

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Sketch out the events before and after your dead-drop scene from last week and three weeks ago.

Furies of Calderon, by Jim Butcher, narrated by Kate Reading.