Writing Excuses Notes Season 01 Part 01

Out of all the animated shorts that I’ve seen on YouTube, story is definitely the biggest let down. We (the team) seem to share a liking of shorts that quickly show character and conflict. This seems obvious, but so many shorts very quickly loose engagement through poor storytelling. The artistic, visual appeal of the short can also influence whether we like a short or not but this is because we tend to watch the start longer if it’s ‘pretty’ and often the story will be present already in the mood and atmosphere if the art direction is strong.

Season 01, episodes 01 – 10 of Writing Excuses so far has made some useful points on making original ideas, cutting what doesn’t work, beginnings, heroes, protagonists, villains, and pacing.

Episodes 01 – 10 notes:

01 Brainstorming

  • Begin your story by fleshing out three sections – character, setting, plot
  • Beware of world builders disease. It can be fun and useful to build a detailed history of your world but character and conflict are what really drive the story.

02 Blending the Familiar with the Original

  • Combine a mundane idea with an extraordinary idea. Your ideas must have great chemistry.
  • “The strange attractor” is the familiar idea that you can relate to e.g. school. Some forms of idea combinations used to be original but are now a cliché e.g. high school + supernatural.
  • This balance of mundane + original can change depending on what target audience you want e.g. Romance 99% familiar, Sci fi 70% original, Manga 70% familiar.
  • Combining two mundane ideas in ways that haven’t been done before can also lead to extraordinary ideas.
  • Expand beyond the hero’s journey. Stand on the shoulders of giants and jump for the weird and extraordinary.

03 Killing Your Darlings

  • Take a long hard look at whether or not your idea is actually original. Read extensively in your genre.
  • Write a million first words. Your first book should be hatcheted. You need mileage!
  • Practice the art of cutting the the ideas that you love, your darlings.
  • Destroy your masterpiece and know that you will make a better one soon.

04 Beginnings

  • The first line of your book is the first promise that you make. If you’re writing a comedy then your first line should be a joke.
  • “In late and out early”, start as close to the action as possible and leave as close as possible.
  • The first line of your book doesn’t have to be the first one that you write. Write the other scenes that you already have an idea for.
  • The first line is your hook. It sets up expectations and sells the rest of the book.
  • Setting is different to world building. Don’t start with a big list of mythology. Establish the world in a simple powerful image e.g. “Ash fell from the sky”.
  • Establishing, world building shots should always have conflict or emotion e.g. dialogue of people arguing.
  • Plan to cut your first chapter. Throw it away!

05 Heroes and Protagonists

  • A hero moves the story forward. The main character is the eyes through which we see. The protagonist gets a character arc but does not have to do heroic deeds. All three of these do not have to be the same character.
  • There are different types of heroes – ordinary people versus superman type heroes.
  • The inner quest is as important as the outer quest. Sometimes the hero needs to overcome internal flaws.
  • In order to connect to the story, we should be able to see a bit of ourselves in the hero – faults and flaws which are overcome.
  • Try taking a superhero and putting her in a situation where her powers are a liability.
  • Every hero needs to be competent at something, as well as having flaws.
  • For the everyman hero, put him/her in a situation where the things that they are nerdy about are really important and make the story move forward.

06 Flaws vs Handicaps

  • A flaw is internal e.g. anger issues and a handicap is caused by something/someone external.
  • We identify with growth and change – the everyman who becomes super.
  • For a character with an unlikable flaw to be likable, make sure they’re competent in something.

07 Villains

  • A good villain needs to be understandable. What are their motivations?
  • A good villain is someone who can exploit the hero.
  • You can have an everyman villain and superman villain e.g. gollum versus Sauron.
  • How do you make a villain sympathetic? Their flaws can be relatable. The villain thinks she/he is a hero but their goals are conflicting with the real hero. The villain could be a hero who can’t overcome a flaw. A villain succumbs to flaws e.g. wanting to be in control.
  • An anti-hero is a villain fulfilling an heroic role. They have lots of flaws but do heroic things. The ends justify the means. Simply because they are the main character, we empathise with them.
  • Novels are about characters and short stories are about ideas.

08/09 Scifi

  • Scifi – new things that are conceivably possible. Fantasy – news things that are conceivably impossible. This can be subjective.
  • Why do we write scif? Writers have had optimism for the future, but have also told cautionary tales about science.
  • It’s important, even more in this genre, to know what has come before.
  • Scifi is about exploration and discovery. This applies to making original plots also.
  • Sub-genres: space opera, military SF, Hard SF, cyberpunk, dystopian.


10 Pacing

  • In late and out early – jump straight into conflict
  • Figure out what is meant to happen in a scene and make sure that happens.
  • Make sure the scene has a strong purpose, otherwise scrap it. Pre-write and plan what needs to happen in the scene.
  • Even if the scene is there to explain a setting, make sure that there is tension.
  • Even with a thriller you need a breather.
  • Tools for pacing: timebomb, travelogue, countdown.
  • Time bomb – there is a time limit, a sense of urgency.
  • Travelogue – there is a clear indication of where the characters have been and their destination e.g. the journey in Lord of the Rings or Dante’s Inferno.
  • The countdown – there are a series of tasks that need to be completed e.g. in Kill Bill.
  • Cram as much into a scene as you can. Have your main objective but also build on your characters and settings.
  • Pacing is all about preparation.

One thought on “Writing Excuses Notes Season 01 Part 01

  1. Pingback: Audience versus Magic | Natasha Crowley

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