Writing Excuses: retrofitting structure

Writing Excuses is one of the only podcasts I listen to. I like to explain it to my friends thusly: “THEY JUST KEPT TALKING AND I WANTED THEM TO GET TO THE POINT.” My friends usually roll their eyes.

Most podcasts are about an hour long and make me want to tear out my hair. One, two, or occasionally three people will ramble on about some subject or another for the whole duration. It makes me want to eat hearts. I become Baba Yaga in the wood. I whirl about and grab the reins of my chicken hut and ride into the sunset.

Honestly, I hate podcasts. If I want to be talked at by people, I’ll go to work at my dayjob. Otherwise I’m just as happy to read a book. I guarantee I can read faster than you talk.

That said, I love Writing Excuses. What’s interesting about this podcast is that it is a) exclusively focused on writing and writing techniques, b) really short, which makes me happy, and c) is in a conversational format that allows for insight. All of the participants (regularly, the podcast includes Dan Wells, Mary Robinette-Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, and Howard Johnson) come from diverse parts of the writing world. They have experience teaching the craft, but very different opinions about some parts of it. It’s not two people in an echo chamber, nor is it a boring interview. It’s a group of people having healthy conversation (albeit probably somewhat rehearsed) about what techniques they use to make their writing good.

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Gushing is now over, I swear.

Recently, I was listening to an episode from Season 12 entitled “Retrofitting Structure into a First Draft.” I always have a hard time with determining where a first draft begins and a zero draft or second draft ends. The finals are easy to clarify, mostly, but for the purposes of this podcast I think it’s healthy to disregard the “First Draft” moniker. Instead, the conversation is about retrofitting structure of your draft when you know something is broken.

Case in point: a few years ago now (wow, how time flies) I finished what I affectionately call The Zombie Book at a time when many were saying that the zombie genre was dead. Putting aside whether or not a genre can die, this book was my favorite thing. I loved it deeply. Nothing I have written since has filled me with quite as much joy, actually, at least of the maniacal kind. The main character is a rather unstable middle-aged woman who could easily be a supervillain but somehow finds herself helping out with a ragtag band of people saving the world from an apocalypse that’s sort of their fault. It was lots of fun to write, and I still hold out hopes that it will find a home in a publishing house somewhere. I hear zombies and their ilk are making a comeback. A resurrection, even.

Bad humor aside, I loved this book. I hated the ending. It felt like a good ending in that it set up some things for a sequel. It brought some of the various plots I had been playing with to a solid close and opened up some new ones. Sequel material, in other words. Perfect. But it didn’t jive. It didn’t quite feel right.

Listening to this episode of Writing Excuses helped me to figure out exactly why that was. I didn’t quite keep my promises to my readers. There was a tonal shift.

In any case, I’m very excited to perform the activity in this podcast and fix that problem. Hopefully listening to this episode will give you some insight as well.

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Author: Amanda J. McGee

Food and books are my passions. When I'm not planting a garden or working my day job, I can often be found writing genre fiction. Also I like to take hikes.

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