More Q&A

(These are my notes and thoughts in relation to the Writing Excuses podcast Season 1, episodes 20 ‘More Q&A’. I will also disseminate this information to the topical sections of my resource section).

Question: How necessary are plot twists?

  • Don’t over-inflate the term ‘plot twist’ to always be the dramatic reveal which changes everything. This is not required in every book and if you’re not good at doing them then don’t do it. Small things going wrong are also plot twists.
  • There must be conflict and challenge for the protagonists; these are more required and important than dramatic reveals.

This is freeing, and correlates with my thoughts I wrote about in relation to the last episode plot twists. It isn’t always necessary.

  • The requirement for plot twists depends upon the genre: romance novels don’t really have plot twists because the reader doesn’t want it; science fiction it is more important; mysteries there must be multiple plot twists.

Question: How is the market changing with electronic media?

  • Speculation that the majority of future readers will want commute-friendly length chapters. The number quoted is 2500-3000 words long.

As someone who regularly reads on a 20 minute commute to work, I agree with this. It is much more satisfying to finish a chapter than to have to stop part way through a chapter.

I know that I am reading a great book when I consider stopping for a coffee (and a bit more reading) on the short walk to work. As an aspiring author I want to write books that completely mess up people’s schedules 🙂

  • Note the increase in the number and spread of audio books; becoming more mainstream.

I’ve never actually listened to an audio book. Maybe it’s because of my disability: I literally can’t walk and think about things at the same time. Sure, I can do some low-level thinking, but walking really does take up a large part of my active concentration. Some thoughts can distract me enough that I fall over. So multi-tasking is not something I do well… listening to a novel via audio book would make me feel as though I’m missing bits.

  • With the advent of the internet, e-books etc authors can now sell direct to readers. (The example is given that a $2 short story sold direct-to-reader gives the author more money than 2 sales of an $8 paperbacks, and the author doesn’t have to wait for 9-15 months for the publisher to send the $0.80).
  • Copy editing / editor can become contract services to individuals.

This is incredibly disruptive. As they describe in more detail in the podcast, this partially breaks the traditional publishing model.

The benefit with the traditional publisher is that they have experts in the fields of editing, marketing etc. You can do it all yourself, as many have successfully done, but it is an additional burden upon the author.

  • Could we see the return of the weekly serial?

I like the romanticism involved in this idea. I love the idea of the weekly radio broadcast where they tell a riveting story… I suspect though our attention span is not good enough these days. We are a binge-watching society, used to getting what we want exactly when we want it, on-demand. I think this would negate our ability to enjoy a weekly-released (or even daily-released) serial; we would find the wait too frustrating.

Yes, audiences tune into popular TV series season after season, grumpily enduring the between season periods… but that is entertainment that comes with visual and audio candy and multi-million dollar budgets. Broad-appeal literary serials: it would have to be exceptional material to work.

Question: How do you make your protagonists as interesting as your villains?

  • Blur the line between hero and villain.
  • Villains are more interesting because they often have better conflicts. Ensure your heroes have good/deep/interesting conflicts or they will be weak characters.
  • Protagonist should be competent but not overly-so.
  • Villains are more active, heroes are reactive. Try and make your heroes active. David Gerrold says that for the first half of the story the antagonist is driving, but for the second half the protagonist should be driving. (In the first half the monster chases the hero, in the second half the hero chases the monster).

Question: How much to sell a story for?

(This is obviously going to be the US-version of the answer, so factor in exchange rates and probably, differing markets).

  • Short stories – about $0.05 per word.
  • Novel – about $5000 advance for a first novelist is a good amount; at least $1000.

Additional Wisdom


  • Recommended way to break writer’s block: take the last line of dialog and make it the inverse…which then forces you to explain why they say that.
  • – resource.
  • The importance of networking (i.e. at conventions).

Technique: Heroes and Protagonists

(These are my notes and thoughts in relation to the Writing Excuses podcast Season 1, episode 5 . I will also disseminate this information to the topical sections of my resource section).

The podcasters loosely define 3 types of character: the hero (the person whose action moves the story forward), the main character (the person whose eyes we see it moving through) and the protagonist (the person who develops as a character). All 3 of these roles can be found in one person, but it is not necessarily the case. They make the point that the protagonist does not have to be heroic. This is only one definition – write a great story, not one that conforms to definitions.

There are two types of hero: the superman hero (e.g. with special powers, and all they do is save the world regularly on a box-office schedule) or the every man hero (e.g. normal person thrust out of their daily life and comfort zone who has to overcome some huge obstacle).

For a character who re-occurs like Dirk Pitt or Jack Reacher the more often they are heroic I think they move down the scale from every man to superman. There are only so many times you can save people from death and the world from evil plans when it’s time to hang up the “I’m an ordinary guy” tag.

I also think Hollywood has conditioned us to a very distorted view of the term hero. Ditto that the media, who can call sports stars “hero”. But I’ll refrain from standing on my soapbox.

Readers like the superman hero because of the escapism involved, but there should be something that the reader can identify in the superman. Usually the superman will have a personal flaw that they need to overcome, because their powers would make solving a normal problem too easy.

An everyman hero needs to be competent (at something) but should have an ordinary background (not special forces, or Chuck Norris as an uncle). They should be out of their comfort zone. In Lord of the Rings, Samwise Gamgee is consistently a crowd-favourite but he is especially normal. The character attribute about him that attracts people is his normality and loyalty. (See also the movie Hotel Rwanda).

A very flawed character must be good at something or the reader won’t like them. Don’t make it easy for the hero.