Writing Excuses 7.9: Microcasting

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Editor’s Note: This post has been written by Linda K. Strahl, an editor at the Jet Fuel Review. Her full bio can be found at the end of this post.

This week the group covered a whole bunch of questions to fit into the fifteen minutes of their Microcasting episode. I will summarize a few of their answers for some of the questions asked on their Twitter feed.

What do you do if you don’t like your characters?

The simple answer they give is to stop writing the book altogether because if you don’t like your characters, neither will your audience. A more detailed answer is to make your characters believable to the audience. These qualities might include being really good at something, quirks that you can build upon as an author, strange fascinations (the stranger the better, as they will make your characters unique to one another). Adding these qualities will improve your characters and you won’t have to completely start over.

How do you keep your plot on track?

Outlining is something Mary and Howard both suggest and use to keep track of the actions their characters have to take in order to get a specific result. Deviation from said outline is not allowed. Howard adds that all the decisions made should be in relation to the character’s quirks and nuances. This makes the story fluid for the reader as the character’s decisions are based on the actual personality you give them. Brandon gave an alternative method — if outlining is too restrictive for your process, then give your character goals in each chapter.

What do you do about plot holes?

Howard had to answer the question, as stipulated in the Twitter feed. As the cartoonist of the group, he found out that sometimes an existing work fixes the mistake. His example referenced a cartoon strip he had created that contained an unfinished plot scheme. Using a separate piece of his, he added the motivation of his character, salvaging the work. Howard goes on to say, “When a character is acting out of character, that is the worst plot hole,” which Mary develops further by adding that if you have a character action that doesn’t make sense, you have to go back and add the reasoning. You have to justify the actions of the characters.

How do you know if you should abandon a story and move on to something else?

This was a challenging question for the group. The key answer for beginners is that, “You have to learn to finish things. You are not allowed to quit.” Brandon’s abandonment of a project happened when the entire book was a failure to his previous material. This answer was geared more toward experienced writers. The best answer, I thought, was to make sure, “You love what you are doing. New writers may mistake the lost love as the hard bits. So don’t quit.”

What are some language-level mistakes that mark writing as amateurish?

The “?!” or “!?” — known as the interabang — is considered an amateur punctuation. The group also agrees that sentence structure needs to vary. You cannot have a sentence structure that is the same length with the same amount of verbs, nouns and articles, and not have the reader begin to see the monotony of the form. Too much passive language is a problem, but do not take it out completely. Harry Potter is a good and bad example, depending on who is asked.

Other questions asked and answered. These are completely out of order but go to the Podcast on iTunes for free:

  • What kind of bacon is best?
  • Why is Schlock, who looks like a pile of poo, lovable instead of disgusting?
  • Is it better to use real locations in an Urban Fantasy?
  • How do you ensure the answers to mysteries are satisfying?
  • What should a scene consist of?

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: One Salt Sea by Seanan McGuire, narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal.

Dan Has A New Book Out This Week: Partials releases this Tuesday, Februrary 28th.

Writing Prompt: Write what one of your characters would write if that character had a blog.

Editor’s Note: Linda K Strahl is a transfer student from University of Wisconsin- La Crosse, where she was studying Archaeology and minoring in Creative Writing. She came to Lewis University in Fall of 2010 to major in Creative Writing. After participating in the production of two plays at Phillip Lynch Theater she has become an enthusiastic dramaturg, and is contemplating a career as a researcher and playwriter.

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