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Writing Excuses 7.9: Micro-Casting

Writing Excuses 7.9: Micro-Casting


Key points:

-- What do you do if you don't like any of your characters? Write a different book OR change the character so you do like them.
-- How do you keep your plot on track? Outline. Decide what you are going to accomplish.
-- Real names of places or pseudonyms? How well do you know the setting?
-- How do you fix plot holes? A big Band-Aid, trowel, and spackle. Figure out what's missing, and fill in the hole.
-- How do you know when to abandon a story? Finish it first. Are you retreading old ground? Is the book not up to your standard? Is it something you wouldn't want to read?
-- How do you make sure answers to mysteries are satisfying? Write backwards. Make sure the answer fulfills the promises you made. Make your red herrings interesting too.
-- What are amateurish language-level mistakes? Repeating the same adverb frequently. Overusing adverbs. Interrobang. Repetitive sentence structure. Excessive passive voice. Avoiding said.
-- What should a scene consist of? Setting, character, plot. A problem and resolution. One or more objectives. Something that cannot be accomplished in another scene. Watch for the can of scenic worms to be opened on a scene construction podcast someday!
-- What kind of bacon is best? Streaky bacon, fakin' bacon, samgyeopsal, smoked bacon underneath real maple syrup, rouladen, and tempeh.
-- Why is Schlock, a pile of poo, likable? Most of the time, he's expressing himself. That turns him into a person.

[Brandon] This is Writing Excuses, Season Seven, Episode Nine, Micro-Casting.
[Howard] 15 minutes long.
[Mary] Because you're in a hurry.
[Dan] And we're not that smart.
[Brandon] I'm Brandon.
[Dan] I'm Dan.
[Mary] I'm Mary.
[Howard] I'm Howard.

[Brandon] We're taking questions from Twitter that we asked for a while ago. Please don't tweet at us right now, because this happened months ago now. But we're just going to try and get through as many of these as we can.

[Brandon] What do you do if you don't like any of your characters?
[Dan] Write a different book.
[Howard] Whoosh!
[Brandon] Okay.
[Mary] Yes.
[Howard] Yeah.
[Brandon] I... Yeah... If you don't like your characters, you're in the wrong place.
[Dan] If you don't like your characters, your readers won't like them either.
[Brandon] I suggest, if you don't like your characters, make them more quirky, give them more conflict, and have them be passionate about some interesting different things.
[Dan] And give them at least one thing they're really good at.
[Brandon] Okay. Yeah.

[Brandon] All right. Next question. How do you keep your plot on track instead of letting it wander?
[Mary] I outline.
[Brandon] Okay.
[Howard] Yeah. Outline. Love your characters for the right reasons, and don't let your characters make decisions that are off the outline. Your characters need to be making decisions based on character quirks and whatever that are in the outline. That way there won't be any surprises.
[Brandon] My suggestion on this one would be to... Even if... This is going to be a problem for a discovery writer, not so much for an outliner. If you're a discovery writer, try to sit down when you're going to write a chapter and say, "I want to accomplish X, Y, and Z in this chapter." Even though you're not outlining, give yourself a specific set of goals related to the character motivations or the overall plot and achieve those in that chapter. Okay.

[Brandon] Urban fantasy. Is it better to use names of places that are real or should you ghost them with a different name?
[Dan] Depends entirely on what you're trying to accomplish, and I would say specifically how well you know the setting. I set a book in Chicago, because I thought it would be cool. I ended up going back and taking almost all the place names out, because I just don't know Chicago very well. So now it takes place in a kind of Springfieldian version of Chicago, that can stand the end, but if you know the city really well, you won't immediately see all the dumb geographical mistakes I made.
[Brandon] I think it's six of one, half a dozen of another. Call your city Metropolis, you get away with some things that you couldn't. Call your city New York and New Yorkers love you. So... If you get it right.
[Mary] Also, if you actually name it... Name things their actual names, it makes it more grounded.
[Brandon] Yes.

[Brandon] All right. Let's... Next question. How do you fix plot holes? It's actually pointed at you, Howard. I don't know why.
[Howard] Plot holes? I never have plot holes that I can't just paste over... I... Gosh...
[Mary] Big Band-Aid... And a trowel and some spackle.
[Howard] Yeah. The worst plot hole I ever had, I realized I could fix my taking a Sunday strip that I had already drawn, moving it forward a week, and inserting a week of comics that added some necessary dialogue to one of the characters to justify the action they were taking. That's the worst kind of plot hole, is when a character is acting out of character. That's the closest I've ever come to having to fix something after I've drawn it, which is a disaster.
[Mary] Yeah, it's just... Figure out... Most of the time, plot holes are when things are happening for a reason that is not explained on page. You just have to go back, and usually it's inserting a scene or inserting...
[Howard] Character motivation.
[Mary] Inserting something. So you figure out what is the reason that this thing is happening that is on the other side of the plot hole. That will tell you what you need to fill the hole with.
[Howard] Yeah.

[Brandon] Okay. How do you know if you should abandon a story and move onto something else?
[Dan] Oh, that's really hard.
[Mary] That is a very difficult one.
[Brandon] I have only done this two or three times. I strongly suggest that new writers avoid doing this, number one. You need to learn to finish things, before you [garbled]
[Dan] Yeah. I would say especially if it's your first, or one of your very first things you're writing, learning to finish something is more important than writing something awesome. If that makes any sense.
[Howard] Yeah. Going through our writers' group, we took my brother Randy's science fiction novel. From the beginning of the novel to the end of the novel, it completely changed flavor. It wandered around. His original premise, we shot down in like the first couple of chapters. Half his science, we poked holes in midway through. He was getting a little discouraged. We finally said, "Randy, this is all stuff you are going to need to rewrite anyway. You're not allowed to quit. Give us the end of the book. Write all the way to the end of the book." Because you have to be able to do that. He did. Actually, when he got to the end, he was satisfied. He'd finished. Now, you can see the beginning and the middle and the end, and you can decide whether or not this is something that can be fixed, or whether it's time to take lessons learned into a new manuscript.
[Brandon] I will say... Let me give you the examples of when I did it, just so you know. The first time I abandoned a book, it was because I was retreading ground in previous books I had written before, and was not adding anything new for myself or for my readers. This was before I published. But that was my first reason. My second reason was because the book just didn't work. The book was subpar, it failed, and that's the thing I can't explain to you new writers. I knew because by then I was a really professional writer. I had published a number of books. The book was a failure.
[Howard] Was that The Death by Pizza?
[Brandon] No. Death by Pizza, I didn't abandon, it was just a fun experience. This was actually Liar of Partinel. The book didn't work. The characters didn't work. The setting didn't work. It was not something I wanted to release. So I abandoned it.
[Mary] I think one of the things for me... And this is a really hard thing. If it is not something that I would want to read, if someone else had written this, and if it was in its perfect form, and I still would not want to read it, then it is something that I should probably set aside. I've done that with short stories where I realized... Much like you... It's like, "Ugh, this has been done."
[Howard] If I've stopped loving something that I'm writing, and that's happened several times as I've been working on creating a prose career for myself, I have to ask myself why I stopped loving it. In some cases, it's because I realize exactly that. This has turned into a story that is not the story I want to tell. But the fact that it's happened multiple times, I have to very carefully look at what's happening and say, "All right. Do I want to quit because I've gotten to one of the hard bits?" Because you have to have gotten through a hard bit back into satisfying territory so that you can know what that feels like before you can confidently let go of something.
[Brandon] This is why I suggest new writers stay away from it. You're going to hit the hard bits and think you're no longer in love with this story, when really you've just hit the hard bits.

[Brandon] All right. Next one. This one's a little bit easier. How do you make sure the answers to mysteries or questions are satisfying? It's something we have to answer often on Writing Excuses. Make promises...
[Dan] I do this by writing backwards. Figuring out a really satisfying answer, and then building toward that, rather than the other way around.
[Brandon] Find out what your promises are. If you are fulfilling the promises, the right ones, it will be satisfying.
[Howard] I talked a little bit about the puzzle box issue, where I know what's in the box, and I'm writing backwards from there. I need to make sure that the possible answers to what is in the box are also satisfying, so that when we get to the final answer, we've been satisfied all the way through. It's not that the solutions or the hypothesized solutions to the mystery have been wrong and boring. It's that they've all been interesting, and when you finally get to the right one, it's also interesting and you really enjoy the whole ride.

[Brandon] Okay. Let's stop for our book of the week. Dan? Book of the week?
[Dan] What is our book of the week this week? I have a book coming out this week, but it's not on audible yet.
[Brandon] Oh, isn't it? Oh, okay.
[Dan] I don't think so. But I can talk about it anyway. Very briefly.
[Brandon] All right. Go for it.
[Dan] My brand-new series coming out from Balzer + Bray. It's called Partials. Post-apocalypse science fiction. It comes out on Tuesday, the 28th of February, which is just a couple days away. So go and buy it. I hope it's on audible, but I cannot confirm that.
[Brandon] Okay. Just in case it's not, let's have you talk about the Seanan McGuire book.
[Mary] Ah, yes. Seanan McGuire has a book called One Salt Sea, which is in the October Daye series. One of the things that's fun about this book is that Toby goes under the sea, so we get to see a completely different Fae culture.
[Brandon] Oh, cool.
[Mary] So, really interesting murder mystery. Very... A lot of world broadening. Again, a disclaimer, I narrated it, so I am partial to it.
[Brandon] So, how can they get this?
[Howard] Which brings us back around to partials.
[Dan] Partials, which is a brilliant new science fiction series by Dan Wells.
[Howard] But if you head out to, you can kick off a free 14 day trial membership there at audible. Download a copy of Seanan McGuire's...
[Mary] One Salt Sea.
[Howard] One Salt Sea. If Partials is out there, you might be able to take a look at that as well.
[Dan] Awesome.
[Howard] So... Cool.

[Brandon] Okay. More micro casts. What are some language level mistakes that mark writing is amateurish?
[Howard] Using the same adverb a lot.
[Brandon] Okay. Even...
[Dan] Overusing adverbs in general.
[Howard] You could even say... Yeah, overusing adverbs in general, but using the same one a lot.
[Brandon] One for me is the interrobang. I know some people really like it. In fact, I had a big argument with a well published and popular author... This is the question mark exclamation point used together. You see it in comics. It's not used in fiction very often. A lot of editors will look at that as amateurish. If you love the interrobang and are an interrobang advocate, go ahead and use it. But if you are not, if you are just using it because you've seen it, it will mark you as looking amateur.
[Mary] Another one is sentence structure that is the same sentence after sentence after sentence.
[Dan] All your sentences are the same length, and they're built the same way.
[Brandon] Passive language... A lot of passive voice is very amateurish.
[Dan] That's if they're very passive.
[Howard] Passive voice is a big one.
[Dan] I would say also, absolutely no passive voice whatsoever is an overcorrection, and will also mark you as amateurish.
[Brandon] Said-bookisms. I used way too much of them when I was early. This is when you use something instead of said.
[Dan] That Tom Swifty kind of thing.
[Brandon] But you don't have to go so far in genre fiction. I mean, if you look at JK Rowling, she uses a large number of them. But I think she uses them correctly. She's a good example of when you replace said with something else, if you prefer to do that. Some editors will like you to do it, not all.
[Dan] My favorite book review of all time was Stephen King talking about the final Harry Potter book, saying that if you took all the adverbs in that book and put them together, it would be a novel all unto itself.
[Mary] Ow!

[Brandon] What should a scene consist of? I don't know if that's one that we can even answer.
[Mary] I can do that quickly.
[Brandon] Okay. Go for it.
[Mary] So your scene needs to have setting, character, and plot. You can do those in varying degrees, but every scene should try to contain those three.
[Brandon] Okay. I feel that every scene should have a bit of rising and... Not necessarily falling action in every scene. But it should start, introduce a problem of some sort, and deal with that problem in some way. Every scene should do that.
[Howard] I would say that it... For the writer, the scene is going to contain one or more, preferably more than one, objectives. What do you want to accomplish with this scene?
[Dan] Exactly. Something that...
[Howard] The reader will know that you've set goals for yourself, but you need to have those goals as you're writing the scene so that it goes someplace.
[Dan] Well, it has to be something that you cannot accomplish in one of your other scenes. Because if you can, then you don't need that scene.
[Mary] You're right. This is something we could do an entire...
[Brandon] Yup. We'll do a podcast on scene construction eventually, but...
[Howard] Can of scenic worms.

[Brandon] What kind of bacon is best, Dan?
[Dan] Oh, boy. It's hard to say. I'm a fan of streaky bacon, which is what the British just call American bacon.
[Mary] I like fakin' bacon.
[Brandon] I like samgyeopsal, Korean bacon.
[Howard] I like a really thick sliced, just straight smoked bacon, underneath real maple syrup.
[Dan] Oh, my goodness.
[Brandon] Okay. We were supposed to laugh at that and move on. We seem to be all [laughter]
[Dan] No, no. I have to tell you. My favorite bacon dish. First of all, I love a good bacon maple bar, but the best use of bacon I've ever encountered is rouladen. It's a German dish. That's bacon and pickles and steak, all kind of wrapped around on each other with mustard. So good!
[Brandon] And here Mary is mostly vegetarian...
[Mary] I'm saying, like a piece of nice thin tempeh, you smoke it a little bit...
[Dan] I've had tempeh, it's pretty good, but...

[Brandon] Okay. Serious question. Why is your lovable pile of poo likable instead of gross and how can we apply that to our writing? Those who don't know, he has a sentient being who looks a bunch like a pile of poo. It's an alien who's very hard to relate to, and yet he's lovable. Why?
[Howard] Most of the time, all we are seeing is his face or his hands. We rarely see him from an angle where his resemblance to poo is absolutely unmistakable. Most of the time, he's expressing himself. Big smile, or huge open-mouthed agonized frown. Big eyes. These are things that we recognize in comics and illustration... They turn something into a person. You put it on a pizza box, and it becomes a mascot for a pizza company. You put it on a wall, and it becomes a horrifying feature of your house. That's probably a bad example.
[Dan] The medium also plays into this a lot. If you tried to do a live-action Schlock Mercenary movie, it would be so disgusting.
[Howard] It's not that it would look disgusting, it's that it would look horrifying. When Doc Nickel fashioned for me a life-size version of Sergeant Schlock's plasma cannon, and I held it up and realized, "Wow, yup, that's the size I imagine it being." Then I imagined Schlock holding it at the proportion he was at, and imagined them making a movie. I then imagined the producer looking at that movie and saying, "Wait a minute. What happened to the lovable pile of poo? What is this horrifying 500 kg monster interacting with... This is terrifying!" Yeah. Medium.
[Dan] Yeah. In small, cartoon-y sizes, he works perfectly.
[Howard] That said, I want to see the live-action version, because I think it would be awesome when he ate someone.

[Brandon] All right. We're going to use one of these as our writing prompt. How about this one? Do blog post and D & D play-by-post game posts count for nanowrimo? So in other words, do blog posts count for nanowrimo? So, you are going to do a narrative blog post. We'll just use this guy's thing. As your writing prompt, I want you to write a blog post in character for one of your characters, if they had a blog. Okay?
[Dan] Okay.
[Brandon] All right. This is been Writing Excuses. You're out of excuses, now go write.
Tags: adverb, amateur, bacon, characters, finish, mysteries, outline, passive voice, plot, plot holes, promises, red herrings, scene, schlock, setting, story, write backwards
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