REVIEW KM Weiland’s ‘Helping Writers Become Authors’ Podcasts

In this month's review, Kelly McCaughrain explains how KM Weiland's podcasts enlightened a flight across the Atlantic

I discovered KM Weiland’s podcasts on a flight home from San Francisco that convinced me never to travel west of Donegal ever again. The jetlag was hell, but I survived because Weiland’s podcasts were not only interesting enough to keep my pulverized brain attentive, but so packed with information on story theory I ended up taking notes.

For people who describe things for a living, writers are a vague bunch when asked what they do and how they do it. They make woolly noises about channelling characters and the rhythm of sentences, and the aspiring novelist who asked the question leaves feeling like a muggle beating on the gates of Hogwarts.
Not so, KM Weiland. For her, nothing is sacred. There is not a technique or existing novel she will not dismember and expose the carcass of. She describes exactly why your character does what she does, and why it happens 12.5% of the way through the book and not 20%, and if your ending isn’t working, she can tell you what’s missing.
I’ve read Julia Cameron and Elizabeth Gilbert, I’ve been in classes and critique groups and I’ve found them all helpful, but sometimes you just want someone to explain in plain English how to write a book.

Weiland must be an intimidatingly organised person. The podcasts are linked into an easy to follow series. She also speaks extremely well. One of my pet peeves is podcasters who aren’t naturally good public speakers: people who ramble, aren’t prepared, go off on tangents, giggle, speak too quickly, take ten minutes over something they could have said in ten seconds, or *grits teeth* don’t finish their sentences.

*takes several deep breaths*

This sort of literary vivisection will have some writers recoiling in horror, I know. You’re supposed to light a candle at midnight, sacrifice a goat, and try not to bother the muse with impertinent questions. And if, God forbid, you mention ‘story theory’ to a Lit-Fic writer, they’ll shudder, accuse you of genre fiction and stop inviting you to their parties.
Rubbish. Having the theory in the back of your mind is not the same as writing robotically. I’m as snobbish as the next graduate. I admit to hating crime novels because they’re formulaic, and I initially regarded Weiland’s approach with suspicion. All I can say is I’ve found it so helpful, I’m now an evangelistic convert.

Which isn’t to say I use a dot-to-dot plan for novel-writing. I don’t plan my novels at all. I start with a character and follow them around until something happens. But what I have found is that when I’m stuck and I don’t know why – then I go back to Weiland’s podcasts and the answer is always there. Maybe I’m missing a third plot point, or the character’s ‘lie’ isn’t linked to their ‘flaw', or the subplot isn’t related to the theme or any number of things, but I always find the answer in those notes I took at 1 am somewhere over the Atlantic.

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Kelly McCaughrain is a YA writer from Belfast. Her debut novel Flying Tips for Flightless Birds is published by Walker Books and she blogs at
Find her on Twitter @KMcCaughrain


Natalie Yates is Reviews Editor for Words & Pictures. Twitter: @eastyorknat

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't agree more. Weiland's blog is my go-to for all things story.

    When I was struggling with structure, a writing friend of mine recommended a very famous book that was considered 'the best' writing craft guide but I couldn't make head or tail of it. All I kept thinking was: "That's all very well but how do I do that?"

    Weiland's website, Helping Writers Become Authors, is the 'how.'


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