14.16: Your Setting is a Telegraph

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary Robinette, Margaret, and Howard

Your setting can quickly tell the reader what kind of a story they’re reading, and in this episode we’ll talk about how we make that happen. Think of it as the “establishing shot” principle from film making, expanded to cover whatever worldbuilding details we choose to reveal first.

Liner Notes: Here are the Schlock Mercenary Book 19 prologues Howard described, complete with the footnotes which make fun of prologues.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Dan Thompson, and mastered by Alex Jackson


Write an opening. You can start from scratch, or re-open something you’re already working on. Write a half page, and with three concrete details establish the tone. Now rewrite, keeping the dialog the same, and use different details to telegraph a different tone.

Terminal Alliance, by Jim Hines

8 thoughts on “14.16: Your Setting is a Telegraph”

  1. Guys? You’re changing the title of the PODCAST to the title of each episode. In the last three days, it has gone from “Writing Excuses” to “14.15: Technology” to “14.16: Your Setting is a Telegraph,” which is what it is right now.

    It’s really confusing iTunes, and it tries to download every episode as though it’s a new podcast.

    Can you please check what’s going on and fix it?

    1. Ow! I didn’t realize that had happened. Our web guy installed some new plug-ins, and it may be that one of those has a default option we need to change. We’re looking into it now.

  2. This episode gave me a lot to think about. I did notice myself doing this unconsciously, when I shifted the fatal first meeting of my novel to an urban setting, when originally it had taken place on the road, in a traveling setting. There’s a good bit of traveling in the plot, but most of the main action takes place in cities, so it seems appropriate in retrospect.

  3. This week, the fanciful quartette, consisting of Brandon, Mary Robinette, Margaret, and Howard, tackled the issue of how to use your introductory setting to quickly tell the reader what kind of story they are getting, what the tone and mood of the story are. In other words, how to telegraph the punch of your tale! Pay attention to the pie fights, comparisons with screenwriting, and whether or not you want to telegraph it or let the reader stumble right into an unexpected tonal shift when you read all about it in the transcript available now in the archives.

  4. The title of this episode… my brain keeps trying to come up with a way to set an entire story, with very very tiny characters, on a set of telegraph equipment in an office somewhere…

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