By Writing Excuses | December 2, 2012 - 7:53 pm - Posted in Season 7, Theory and Technique

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.


Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Green Glass Sea, by Ellen Klages, narrated by Julie Dretzen

Writing Prompt: 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.)

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This entry was posted on Sunday, December 2nd, 2012 at 7:53 pm and is filed under Season 7, Theory and Technique. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


  1. December 2, 2012 @ 9:22 pm

    Do you know that the second NaNoWriMo bonus episode ( ) is not on iTunes?

    Posted by Andrew P
  2. December 2, 2012 @ 10:07 pm

    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.

    Posted by Levi
  3. December 2, 2012 @ 10:51 pm

    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!

    Posted by Len Berry
  4. December 3, 2012 @ 7:56 am

    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.

    Posted by Teresa
  5. December 3, 2012 @ 8:47 am

    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).

    Posted by Karol Marcjan
  6. December 3, 2012 @ 9:55 am

    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.

    Posted by Jeannot S.
  7. December 3, 2012 @ 10:35 am

    One of your best episodes, guys. Great job.

    Posted by John V.
  8. December 3, 2012 @ 10:54 am

    Thanks for the podcast. I’ve been comparing what you have said here to what Paula Berinstein says on her podcast The Writing Show ( 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.

    Posted by Jeff
  9. December 3, 2012 @ 4:17 pm

    @Karol – I believe they are referring to this one:

    Posted by Sean
  10. December 3, 2012 @ 7:28 pm

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

    Posted by Sariah
  11. December 5, 2012 @ 7:28 pm

    The lights come up, the curtain rises, and… there’s nothing on the stage?

    Oh! A transcript about beginnings? Sure… over here, they’re free.

    Now where did that playwright go? No backdrop, no actors, nothing happening? What kind of a play is this, anyway?

    Posted by Mike Barker
  12. December 12, 2012 @ 10:06 am

    […] last two episodes (49 and 50) made reference to this one, which was recorded before they were, and many of you were […]

  13. December 20, 2012 @ 6:30 pm

    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.<_<

    Posted by Sarah
  14. January 15, 2013 @ 9:36 pm

    […] other reason? A few weeks ago I had an epiphany. I was listening to the Writing Excuses podcast on “Beginnings Revisited”. I knew exactly how I needed to rewrite the opening. Openings are something I struggle with, but […]

  15. January 24, 2013 @ 12:40 pm

    […] A good beginning represents the story. Now what does this mean? Let me reword this. The beginning needs to set the tone of the story. It hints to the reader what will happen in the story and what kind of story they will be reading. If you’re going to have a bouncy, goofy make-fun story, then your beginning needs to reflect that. If you’re going to have a serious story, the beginning needs to be serious. (Want to know more? Listen to this.) […]