Open your eyes and begin

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Hillsy
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Open your eyes and begin

Post by Hillsy » December 30th, 2009, 3:03 pm

So beginnings....more specifically, the cliche'd "Waking start"

OK, ok. I know the rule: Don't ever start with a character waking up. (And don't work with animals or children). Now I assume, and correct the assumption if I'm wrong, this is because you are beginning of the day, rather than the beginning of the story which happens sometime after breakfast. If so, start then, not at daybreak. OK, fine, I can understand that. But what if the two are entwined? What was that? You want an example? ok fair enough.

Years ago I started a story (could've been a novel but I only got 10-15K in) and the opening line was the main character rolling over and waking himself up because he had broken ribs, black eye a thumping hangover and a split lip. I wont bore you with the plot (and I may still revisit the idea) but basically what he feels then, and what he has to deal with afterwards, sets the character off towards his adventure. If I started at breakfast, I wouldn't have been able to capture the feelings he had, alone, suffering in bed and instead portrayed his mask he holds up to the world. A totally different dynamic. And as a start does it not have intruige? Does it not ask the reader to find out what happened to him? Does it not do what a start should do?

So can you have a character waking up in a way that is not hackneyed? Say, awakens with a gun barrel buried in his temple (Another fledgling idea I had), or maybe to find the roof of his house has been blown off in the night. Are these illegitimized simply by the fact that he's just woken up? Is the rule too broad, and it should be "Don't have a character wake up - and nothing has happened".

Also do genres play a part? If a dude wakes up and finds his alarm clock has been unplugged by his ghost and acts totally ofay with the whole thing, is this legitimate because it offers a question? (Why is someone cool with a poltergeist in his house?) SF, Fantasy and Paranormal all offer waking scenes that can be totally off the wall......

Helbria started awake, hand slipping on the ice limned pommel of her saddle, and threw heself down flat on Gaelrid's back. The Dragon snorted, adding smoke to the fine mist they flew through, and continued the slow monotone beat of his wings.
"How long have I been out?" Helbria asked. The air bit at her face and cheeks with cold teeth and her breath crystalised as it shuddered out of her nostrils.
"Since Morn." The Dragon answered, glancing back at her. "The sun has fallen now. Falenia is in sight now." It was true. Helbria wiped sleep from her face and peered through the curtain of fog. There, balanced on the mirrored water of the ocean that rolled beneath them, lay the lights of Falenia. The highest, residing atop the Palace's highest tower, a glowing star above the island kingdom, would be where His Majesty would be waiting for their news. Helbria and Gaelrid had already decided he wouldn't enjoy recieving it.


Is it fair to say that doesn't follow what you'd expect for a "waking start"?

Reason I ask is because I'm polishing my WiP and had come to terms with the fact I'd have to change the start as it is a waking scene. However, if I do this and go with my 2nd choice and start a millisecond before it all goes to hell, I don't know how much the reader is going to understand until it's over. The genre is Science Fiction, so I'd then have to tack back through the mess to bring the reader up to speed. The waking scene is not your normal "He woke up, it was saturday" kind of fare: It straight away offers questions about the world, the character, and his relationship to a couple of others mentioned in the first couple of pages. Being SF, it's also larger and at a more sedate pace than your usual cover-to-cover-in-2-days stuff. I'm beginning to wonder if I have to change it now, just come up with a different slant.

The bugbear about the waking intro seems to me to be alot about a clamour for a gun shot opening. Shoot first, run and then keep running until you hit The End. Swing the biggest hammer you have and arrange the mess afterwards. I personally hate it when you can't get a grip on the world, characters and motives because the author is too busy charging around stirring up the beehive, introducing characters or having the protagonist escape from/save/sleep with/kill people. I'd happily read through 5 pages of set up so I knew what the hell was going on from the off, rather than try and piece the whole thing together as I went along.

So tell me, can you do it? What is it about the Waking Start that should be avoided, and what doesn't matter?

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Katrina Stonoff
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Re: Open your eyes and begin

Post by Katrina Stonoff » January 2nd, 2010, 5:24 pm

There are two problems with the "wake up in the morning" start, as far as I can see. 1) Waking in the morning tends to be really passive and boring, and 2) It's been done so often, it's a cliché.

Your opening where the guy wakes up after a beating might overcome the first objection, at least in part, but it's still a cliché. Granted, if you do it well enough, you might be able to pull it off, but why risk pushing an agent or editor's "Oh, puhleeze!" button with a clichéd opening?

I think you could pull off the waking after a beating as long it doesn't occur in bed in the morning. For instance, what if the person who beat him threw him into a dark alley that smelled of piss and vomit? Waking up *there* with broken ribs, a black eye and a split lip might be interesting enough to overcome even the cliché. On the same note, your paragragh about Helbria waking in the dragon's saddle didn't strike me at all as a "waking up in the morning" scene.

As far as waking up to find a gun in his temple or the roof of his house blown off ... why would you start the story that way? Do you have a sufficiently compelling reason the villain comes in at night and wakes your POV character with a gun barrel? And why wake to find the roof missing? Wouldn't it be more exciting to start with your character crouched in the bathroom, clinging to the toilet to keep from flying out when the roof is torn off? If you don't have a very strong, very specific reason that THIS story MUST begin with a wake-up scene, don't write it. IMO

Now for all the disclaimers: I don't read the slush pile, so I don't know just how big and bad the "Oh, PuhLEEZE" button is regarding wake-up openings. If they're *enough* overdone, it might be virtually impossible to get past the cliché factor.

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Re: Open your eyes and begin

Post by trini » January 2nd, 2010, 6:19 pm

Julian May started a book with "It was a dark and stormy night." But that was Magnificat, her fourth book in her second series. Neil Gaiman used "It was a dark and stormy nightmare." It was quirky and cute and he is Neil Gaiman. The lesson there is, if you want to open with a cliché it might only work if you are already well published and in a position to harry your publisher. As a first timer I would not recommend it. I am happy you asked the question though. I was wondering if my opening scene was strong enough. I am now moving my page one to page one of chapter two.
Last edited by trini on January 2nd, 2010, 11:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"It was a dark and stormy nightmare..."

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Re: Open your eyes and begin

Post by Nick » January 2nd, 2010, 7:13 pm

The notion of starting with waking up doesn't bother me at all, really. Operative phrase being "notion of". I don't care how cliche something has become. If you can serve me "the butler did it" or "the Hero saves the whole of creation from the Big Bad" in a way that feels exciting, not necessarily fresh, but alive, I will totally buy into that. Would I prefer something fresh? Nine times out of ten, yeah, but I can totally buy into something done a million times before if it's done right. But I recognize my opinion is probably in the minority, especially if you're talking about publishers and agents. And just to go back to what I said a sentence ago, I will say it is really difficult to rehash an old plot in a way that feels engaging, at least in a way that feels engaging to me (I could go on for days about RTD and his laziness, but I'll spare you).

So, my thoughts basically boil down to thus:

If and only if you feel it is vital for the story to begin with the character waking up, go ahead. Now, I don't mean, you know, the character wakes up to find their room is full of zombies (although that's not a bad idea; note to future self: write that) but if you jump in right before the action and there's a lot of confusion because of that jumping in, yeah, find some way of spacing it out. Not necessarily for waking up, but if you think waking up is the only way it can be done, go for it. Also, try to avoid the long wake-up sequence, where the character kind of lazily shifts an eye open and just kind of sits around in their bed for a while not doing much of anything. A chapter of an old WIP began with a character waking up, third or fourth chapter I think it was, but I spent a paragraph saying he hopped out of bed, showered, dressed, and ran off to catch the train at Euston station and then we were right along with the plot. I didn't spend a lifetime describing his wake-up routine.

Now, even in light of the above, I say try to avoid it. See if you can't find some way of making the narrative work without it, if you really think you need a slower opening. Really just because it does generally seem a bit hackneyed, just hearing the character wakes up, and means it might -- doesn't necessarily mean it will, but it might -- be ignored/shot down. I would agree with the above actually -- try to avoid it until you have some past ventures under your belt.

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Scott
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Re: Open your eyes and begin

Post by Scott » January 2nd, 2010, 8:23 pm

Admittedly I'm no veteran of fantasy, but I liked that. Very nice writing.

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Re: Open your eyes and begin

Post by Kaitlyne » January 2nd, 2010, 11:27 pm

Okay, so I'm no agent, but if I had seen, "It was a dark and stormy nightmare" followed by the type of writing Gaiman typically does, I'm sure I would have been hooked from the start whether it was a debut or not.

In my opinion, the problem is what was mentioned before. If that's where the action starts and it's not just being done because that's where the day began, why not? And yes, it is cliche, but the trick is doing something different that doesn't follow the cliche. The cliche is the guy waking up in the morning and having breakfast and doing nothing essentially, right? So if you're doing something original with it, like the example of waking up on the back of a dragon, wouldn't that be um...uncliche. I think I just invented a word. I know personally seeing something that takes a cliche and turns it on its head actually makes it more interesting because it's not what I expect. It makes me go, "Hey, that's kinda cool!" I think the hard part is just writing something good enough and different enough to elicit that kind of response. Just my two cents.

trini
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Re: Open your eyes and begin

Post by trini » January 2nd, 2010, 11:57 pm

Nice point Kaitlyne...maybe page one can stay where it is...
"It was a dark and stormy nightmare..."

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Re: Open your eyes and begin

Post by Wheelsgr » January 3rd, 2010, 7:43 am

(Hello, hi, I'm new here, hiya)
Okay, now that that's out of the way:
I don't understand these little rules. If the writing is good, isn't it just good? I mean, typically when I go shopping and my friends are somehow forced to come along with me, they always ask why I don't like particular things and I'll give this or that reason for why I don't like it. However when finally (an hour, two hours later, perhaps) I do come across something that I adore they are usually quite puzzled. A critique I offered earlier now becomes something I either overlook or like in the case of the current item.
I think if your writing is good and the story starts with a character waking up and then proceeds to give me something to be interested in, then okay. Furthermore I keep on hearing things about trilogies and how much agents hate them. Okay. But if the writing is good, an agent will be glad to see more, won't they? So you say that you're able to create something that stands-alone if needs be but you also have follow-ups mapped out. I think you just have to focus much more on the overall effect, and especially the pacing. A lot of the times in an attempt to appear intriguing and original a writer will simply do something odd and off-putting. Better to have one cliché line and great writing that can then be edited rather than a really awkward opening, I say. I don't think you can always depend on what it is said about the likes and dislikes of agents. Just have a look at this for crying out loud: http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/200 ... -most.html
Anyway, what do I know? I might be wrong but I don't think there's anything wrong with it.

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Re: Open your eyes and begin

Post by Kaitlyne » January 3rd, 2010, 9:33 am

I really like your shopping comparison. That makes perfect sense. I like to say that there are no absolutes. I also tend to think often rules are mostly designed to help new people starting out not make mistakes that a more experienced person would recognize. And this is a good example of that, btw. I mean, a lot of novices do start with a person waking up because they don't realize that's not where the story starts, so in that regard it's a good rule to have.

I'm someone who would rather say, "Go ahead and try it." While it might not work, I think doing something that breaks a rule can be a good learning experience. Granted, that doesn't mean I'd advise someone to write a 300,000 word epic fantasy series for their first novel, but in general rules can be broken as long as the writer is aware enough of the art involved to make it work. I've learned more from breaking rules and then having to try to improve it than I did in classes where we were counted off for not following them. That's just me, though. I imagine everyone is different. At the very least I think it's important to know the rules and be aware of why they exist. That why is typically more important than the rule itself.

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Hillsy
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Re: Open your eyes and begin

Post by Hillsy » January 3rd, 2010, 8:37 pm

Thanks guys....a lot of good points there.

Interestingly it seems to be that it's not just the cliche itself that does the damage, but also what happens around it. Basically, it seems the "That's interesting!" part must overcome the "Not another one!" and things are ok. Fair enough.

So running on that theme - that it's not so much the actual waking up, but the waking up and nothing of note happens - what is it that catches the eye? Actually that opens up a much broader question about what catches the eye full stop, but that's getting a bit deep. More specifically, can something related to world building, rather than instant plot-related action, ever really be enough to overcome a cliche in that way - or does it need to be so block-busting you have to have a body (proverbially) by the end of the paragraph?

I go back to an example I mentioned above: A Man lives, in harmony, with a poltergeist. If you *Show* this in an opening waking scene, or any cliche'd start, is it enough that the world you are creating is different from the norm. Would that get overcome a cliche? For instance:

The rattle and clatter of plastic CD cases tumbling to the floor like broken glass finally brought me out of sleep. I scrubbed my face with my right hand, wishing for the umpteenth time for two peaceful nights in a row, and hauled myself into a sitting position.
The damage was better than usual. My CD's lays scattered where they fell off the shelf. Half my posters hung by less than four corners and my DVDs shaped interesting veves around my TV. At least that was still in one piece. Also, surprisingly it was actually morning. Most occasions it's between 2am and 6am.
"Kevin?" I said. I aimed for an authorative tone, but even I could hear the sleep deprivation and annoyance in it. "Kevin, I hope there's a good reason for this?" There never was.
At the far end of the room from the foot of my bed the door creaked opened and slammed shut. Kevin's usual sign of assent.
"What is it this time? Next Door's cat on the roof again? Suspicious men in the hedges? Different..." As soon as I saw the blank face of my alarm clock, somehow more noticable by the lack of bright, luminous numbers, I knew why. Kevin had pulled the plug out of my clock again, and now I was late.
"Right! That's it you little ectoplasmic b*stard." I yelled, jumping out of bed and grabbing my glasses case like a weapon. "You come here and turn coporeal for five minutes so I can kick your phantasmic ass back to the other side!"


OK so, The fact that he's late may have nothing to do with the plot, but it establishes a dynamic between the two characters and, more importantly, gives a salient detail into the world the story is based in. I read a lot of SF and fantasy so often the magic systems, or future worlds, or galactic construction, offer as much of the charm of the book as the characters and plot.

So ignoring if you will the specifics of the above passage, is the fact of trying to get the reader (or agent) to want to know more about the world and the characters, enough to get to page 2 or 3?

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MedleyMisty
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Re: Open your eyes and begin

Post by MedleyMisty » January 3rd, 2010, 8:58 pm

My story begins with the protagonist waking up. And having breakfast, even. ;)

It works for my story though. It's much more character than plot driven and states of consciousness are important and it sets up the normal atmosphere that slides into insanity over the course of the story.

And there is a little prologue to pique the interest before we are introduced to the main character waking up.

Of course, I don't write for publication and I live to break rules. :)

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Re: Open your eyes and begin

Post by Kaitlyne » January 4th, 2010, 1:10 am

Hillsy wrote: The rattle and clatter of plastic CD cases tumbling to the floor like broken glass finally brought me out of sleep. I scrubbed my face with my right hand, wishing for the umpteenth time for two peaceful nights in a row, and hauled myself into a sitting position.
The damage was better than usual. My CD's lays scattered where they fell off the shelf. Half my posters hung by less than four corners and my DVDs shaped interesting veves around my TV. At least that was still in one piece. Also, surprisingly it was actually morning. Most occasions it's between 2am and 6am.
"Kevin?" I said. I aimed for an authorative tone, but even I could hear the sleep deprivation and annoyance in it. "Kevin, I hope there's a good reason for this?" There never was.
At the far end of the room from the foot of my bed the door creaked opened and slammed shut. Kevin's usual sign of assent.
"What is it this time? Next Door's cat on the roof again? Suspicious men in the hedges? Different..." As soon as I saw the blank face of my alarm clock, somehow more noticable by the lack of bright, luminous numbers, I knew why. Kevin had pulled the plug out of my clock again, and now I was late.
"Right! That's it you little ectoplasmic b*stard." I yelled, jumping out of bed and grabbing my glasses case like a weapon. "You come here and turn coporeal for five minutes so I can kick your phantasmic ass back to the other side!"
I want you to write this book. :D

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Hillsy
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Re: Open your eyes and begin

Post by Hillsy » January 5th, 2010, 5:00 am

Haha.....Paranormal ain't really my bag, Kaitlyne. Though I'm more than happy to donate that start/idea to anyone that wants it....=0)

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Re: Open your eyes and begin

Post by lexcade » January 5th, 2010, 5:02 am

yeah...my protagonist is waking up from a...um, procedure...with a bunch of scientists standing around her. it adds to the creepiness of the whole scene. i swear it.

stories start however they start. if your PG is waking up at first, then by all means, let him/her/it. people (and other fantastical critters) have to sleep some time.
"Art imitates nature as well as it can, as a pupil follows his master; thus it is sort of a grandchild of God." ~~Dante

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