Writing Excuses 7.49: Beginnings Revisited

We haven’t discussed beginnings this in a while, and when we did, we summed it up with “in late, out early.” Now we’re going to talk about what needs to be present when you’re “in.” We talk about tone, and how the tone you set in your beginning is a promise made to your reader, using examples from George R.R. Martin and David Brin. We also talk about how useful (and how dangerously trite) a labeled prologue can be, and how important it is to establish a setting, especially in genre fiction.

This episode appears out of order with something else we recorded which we refer to, specifically a piece Mary is working on. Tantalizing, yes? Here is the episode you probably wanted to hear first.


Start a new story. Give us character, place, and sense of tone. Do it one sentence, and do it within 13 lines (which is what typically appears on the first page of a manuscript.)

The Green Glass Sea, by Ellen Klages, narrated by Julie Dretzen

15 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 7.49: Beginnings Revisited”

  1. Well done on this cast, folks. I really enjoyed this one. There was a lot of helpful stuff here. I recall the first cast on beginnings, the ‘in late, out early’ one. This one was great, and I’ll say it was followed by a fantastic and suitable prompt. I’m all over this one.

    *P.S. Was curious if you thought about throwing an option for a “random WE Cast” on the main page. Something viewers could click and get a random cast from WE history. This way it will keep us around for our daily dosage of WE. Just a thought. Cheers.

  2. Thanks for reminding us all what the important elements of a starting scene are. I’ve been questioning some of my own pacing lately, but I’ve been reassured that my opening, at the very least, is working.

    Great podcast!

  3. I recently read Angelfall by Susan Ee. I thought this book had one of the best beginnings I’ve ever read and it hits all the things you talk about here.

  4. What was the title / season / number of that episode? Googling for it doesn’t help much (seems like you didn’t use the phrase “in late, out early” in it’s description).

  5. What a nice reminder! I’ve just finished and won the Nanowrimo 2012. I will soon enter the editing and rewriting part of it. Listening to this cast gave me some idea on how i could view and review my story. Just the nudge i needed to set me in the right direction and state of mind.
    Thank you guys you are always fun to listen to.

  6. Thanks for the podcast. I’ve been comparing what you have said here to what Paula Berinstein says on her podcast The Writing Show (www.writingshow.com) with her Slush Pile Workshops where she reads the first chapters of listener submitted work and then gives commentary. Hearing beginnings that need improvement is helpful. It’s also great to hear why some beginnings work so well.

  7. This, for me, was a very timely episode. NaNo just finished and I’m just about to start a new story idea. Perfect!

  8. The prologue bit is a good reason to have an editor that understand what your trying to achieve, not have you write what they are trying to achieve. Especially when what they are trying to achieve is totally different. Like if your writing a tragedy, and they prefer comedies. First of all editors, don’t accept a tragedy if you prefer comedies. That waists both out times.<_<

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