Writing Excuses 10.17: Q&A on Beginnings

We’ve talked about beginnings this month. Now we’ll answer some of your questions on the matter. Here are the questions:

  • What are there differences between the beginnings in different forms?
  • How do you begin in media res when you’re not writing action?
  • What’s the biggest mistake that can be made when plotting the beginning?
  • I see a lot of big-name author beginnings that aren’t all that strong. Why should I spend time making my beginning awesome?
  • How do you balance the need to have something happening right away against the need to have the reader know something about the characters?
  • In creating a character, where do you start in the development process, and what do you begin revealing first?



Take the world-building you’ve done, write your beginning, and then secretly write down your “gee-whiz.” Now run that beginning past some alpha readers, and have them attempt to identify the “gee-whiz.” Compare their answers with your own.

The Shepherdess of Sienna: A Novel of Renaissance Tuscany, by Linda Lafferty, narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal

15 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 10.17: Q&A on Beginnings”

    1. The file was definitely there, and correctly referenced. It had an ampersand in the filename, so it’s possible your browser couldn’t parse the path.

      I’ve renamed the file, altered the link, and tested it in the updated post. If you still have problems, be sure to refresh your cache.

  1. Sorry to show my ignorance here… but when you say ‘geewhiz’, what do you mean by that?

    And thank you guys as always! You’ve changed Mondays to a happy thing.

    1. “Gee-Whiz” here means the cool piece of world-building or plot-crafting that you want to show off. Giant space stations, ghosts that talk on the radio, that kind of thing.

  2. Thanks Howard!

    In your opinion is it important that there be a ‘gee-whiz’ moment in the beginning of the story? From this exercise, it sounds like you do feel there should be some of that early on.

    I’m just wondering if I should change things to move mine up a bit.

  3. I wrote to iTunes support about the podcast not showing up, and here’s what they said:

    If you’re the publisher of this podcast, you can update your podcast by changing the data in your RSS feed. For more information, see this page:



    Last fall, several of my regular podcasts “disappeared” due to some change with RSS. I imagine you’ve investigated this already, but I offer it for whatever use it may be. Just really want WE back on iTunes!

    1. That’s helpful because it’s probably where the problem is, but after digging through this I can’t find anything wrong. If an RSS expert wants to help us troubleshoot, that would be great.

  4. Assuming that https://writingexcuses.com/feed/ is your iTunes RSS feed, I tried running it through a couple of online validators…


    This feed is valid, but interoperability with the widest range of feed readers could be improved by implementing the following recommendations.

    line 1, column 38: Use of unknown namespace: http://www.rawvoice.com/rawvoiceRssModule/ [help]

    <rss version="2.0"

    Basic Feed Validation OK…

    One thing caught my eye — the image size in the iTunes specs says minimum is 1400 pixels by 1400 pixels, and your image is 1200×1200. I know it sounds ridiculous, but you might try bumping your image up to 1400×1400 and see if that fixes it?

    NOT an RSS expert, but…
    'nother Mike

  5. Yeah I am doing a “character opener” beginning in the novel I am starting around. “What’s he good at? Violence. What’s he bad at? Almost everything else.” It introduces my favorite conflict of the book (internal, “why am I only good at hurting things’), what the character wants, sets the tone of dark action/adventure and introduces that this is an unpleasant person overall to start with.

    Well, assuming I’ve pulled it off adequately. We’ll find out!

  6. It looks like the iTunes feed is fixed – at least it seems to be updating- hurrah! Figured I’d mention something I noticed a few days back (before the changes). You had a few special characters in the feed from the extended ascii set &# 187; » and &# 226; Â are ones that I remember. On my old site I know that I sometimes had problems when there were extended ascii characters in the post or titles.

    Like me this observation may, or may not, be relevant. :)

  7. Whatever you’ve done to the player I like it. I realize I may be the odd one here (I’m running linux mint) but this player works better for me. Thanks!

  8. The correct Latin is “in medias res”, not “in media res”.

    On the plus side, I learned how to correctly pronounce “Medici”.

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