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Marian Perera
06-25-2007, 08:11 PM
Does anyone feel that there's a problem with starting a story by having a character wake up? I'd written such an opening for my novel - the character was severely injured and wakes up to find himself in unfamiliar surroundings - but I thought I'd read somewhere that this kind of opening was cliched or otherwise unpopular. I could rewrite it, but I was wondering what other people thought on this topic.

reenkam
06-25-2007, 08:39 PM
I've done it a couple times. People might say it's cliche or boring, but sometimes I think it's the best way to start. Not every story can start with action and at least when someone wakes up the reader finds out information as the character does.

Robin Bayne
06-25-2007, 08:41 PM
One of the most common pieces of advice I hear is "Don't start your story by having your character wake up."

Even if you do it well, that kind of opening might not make it past the editor or agent's quick opening scan.

Danger Jane
06-25-2007, 08:42 PM
I haven't started a novel with a character waking up; I've started a few scenes that way in my day. I'd say that like anything, if done well, it's doable. But if it's poorly written, readers (like agents) will see the cliche a lot more clearly, and be a lot more averse to it.

Tallymark
06-25-2007, 08:53 PM
I think what's more taboo is having the story start with a dream, and then the character wakes up (and we learn that the first few pages didn't really happen). Starting with dreams is usually a big no-no. Starting with waking up doesn't sound so bad as long as its interesting and there's a reason for it...if they're waking up and brushing their teeth and trotting off to work, not so interesting. If they're waking up because a ninja has just burst into their bedroom--now something is happening!

I'd be careful not to let it transform into an info dump, though (probably why a lot of people say don't do it). it would be easy to have him wake up and, whilst taking in his new surroundings, think extensively about the last stuff he remembers happening, which delays the current action and comes across as feeding information.

mysterygrl
06-25-2007, 09:02 PM
Having a character wake up in your first chapter has been done so many times by so many writers. (Miss Snark said "dream" and "waking up" openings are an automatic yuck for her.) That said, if you can approach it in a really fresh way and cut to the chase fast, it might work. But the bar is set very, very high.

Why not start with your character already awake and trying to figure out his surroundings?

Marian Perera
06-25-2007, 09:16 PM
Why not start with your character already awake and trying to figure out his surroundings?

I think this is a very good idea. After all, the story can't start until my character wakes up, so he might as well be awake when the story begins, trying to work out where he is. I also had him waking up from a nightmare of the attack that put him in that situation - so I might as well eliminate two of the problems that agents have with that opening and just start with the character awake. Thanks!

josephwise
06-25-2007, 09:21 PM
There's a reason people warn against wake-up beginnings, whether there's a dream involved or not. Typically, when we wake up, the conflict has yet to begin.

So, it depends. If your character wakes up, has cereal, goes outside, talks to the neighbors...that's not an advisable beginning. But if your character wakes up half-drunk, in a dark room at a party, and he doesn't see his wife anywhere...there's conflict.

Even in that case, though, you might focus on him noticing his wife is missing, rather than the actual act of waking up. It's easy enough to mention in the second or third sentence that he had just woken up.

I'm sure editors and agents see a lot of dull wake-up beginnings, but they wouldn't necessarily shy away from a wake-up beginning that involves heavy conflict. In fact, better advice is to ALWAYS begin with conflict of some kind. Do that, and cliches don't matter.

Jamesaritchie
06-26-2007, 01:41 AM
The problem with opening with a dream, or with a character waking up, is that there's an excellent change an agent or editor will stop reading right there. It's been done to death, it's usually boring, (Why not open with the scene where the hero was injured), and you see it twenty times per day.

Marian Perera
06-26-2007, 02:08 AM
Why not open with the scene where the hero was injured

The injury is only important in that it leads him to be rescued by people who are going to use him to further their aims, like Paul Sheldon's car crash in Misery. That's one reason I don't want to start with it - the real conflict can't begin until he wakes up and realizes that he's alive but a prisoner.

Jamesaritchie
06-26-2007, 02:20 AM
The injury is only important in that it leads him to be rescued by people who are going to use him to further their aims, like Paul Sheldon's car crash in Misery. That's one reason I don't want to start with it - the real conflict can't begin until he wakes up and realizes that he's alive but a prisoner.

The injury is important because it's what starts the whole process.

reenkam
06-26-2007, 02:32 AM
Everyone keeps saying that waking up is cliche and in tons of books, but that it'd never get passed agents and editors......

I personally can't think of any books that start this way, actually.

Marian Perera
06-26-2007, 02:56 AM
The injury is important because it's what starts the whole process.

That's true, but I'd prefer the readers' first questions to be, "Who rescued him? If they saved his life, why is he locked up?", rather than, "What happened to the bandits who attacked him?" I want the focus to be on his being alive but a prisoner, rather than on the attack. That way, the conflict will start out with tension and mind games and escalate to the physical, rather than starting out physical and then scaling back.

Kristin Landon
06-26-2007, 03:00 AM
My instinct is that a character at the beginning of a book should already know what's wrong—what's going to be driving her out of her comfortable life and into the story. The reader has to be shown, somehow, what this problem is, but it often slows things way down if the MC has to discover it first.

Even a few sentences amounting to "Everything was fine that lovely morning" gives a flat, airless feeling. At this point in the story we don't know the MC and don't care about her enough to be shocked simply because she is. Better if she already knows something that, when we figure it out, shocks us.

lkp
06-26-2007, 04:46 AM
That's true, but I'd prefer the readers' first questions to be, "Who rescued him? If they saved his life, why is he locked up?", rather than, "What happened to the bandits who attacked him?" I want the focus to be on his being alive but a prisoner, rather than on the attack. That way, the conflict will start out with tension and mind games and escalate to the physical, rather than starting out physical and then scaling back.

Then why not start with the "rescue"? After they've locked him up, he can piece back the events between the injury and the rescue if he needs to.

In general, I don't understand why people would want to begin a book with someone waking up. Since the point is, the character wakes up and then something happens or he does something, why not just begin with the something happening?

If you can find it, the crapometer where Miss. Snark evaluated book openings was really illuminating for me. With a whole bunch of first pages together, it was easy to see how banal any first page is that starts with a person waking, a person dreaming, a person standing around in the scenery, or a person getting a phone call. And I think most agents read queries in a bunch

Marian Perera
06-26-2007, 04:58 AM
Then why not start with the "rescue"? After they've locked him up, he can piece back the events between the injury and the rescue if he needs to.

Well, what happens is that the main character is on a journey far from any civilized places when a pack of brigands ambush him and stab him in the gut. But they're immediately attacked and slaughtered in turn by some people who are far more dangerous. The main character doesn't know any of what happens after the stabbing, because he's dying of shock and blood loss. His rescuers then take him to a secret settlement where they heal him and save his life - and lock him up. So I thought it might be a bit jarring to have him suddenly attacked, before the reader had a chance to connect with him as a character. And the rescue happens while he's unconscious. That's why I wanted to start after he comes to, though as mysterygrl suggested, I'll start with him trying to figure out where he is rather than with him waking up.

lkp
06-26-2007, 06:42 AM
Ahh, I see. I thought he woke up and then someone rescued him. In that case, I think you have your solution. Good luck.

Ziljon
06-26-2007, 06:45 AM
I start each day by waking up. Yesterday, however, I woke up in a pool of blood...

Novelhistorian
06-26-2007, 06:47 AM
I personally can't think of any books that start this way, actually.[/quote]

Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka.

reenkam
06-26-2007, 06:57 AM
I personally can't think of any books that start this way, actually.

Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka.[/quote]


one so far....and is that supposed to be a good book? (i haven't read it)

DamaNegra
06-26-2007, 07:53 AM
Waking up could be fun if you wake up to this (http://www.nandahome.com/). That would sure make an interesting start :D

Claudia Gray
06-26-2007, 08:23 AM
The "waking up" scene is greatly overused and makes a lot of agents groan. That said, I've read it used in many books and often to good effect; it's all in the execution. If you can accomplish the same mood and setting without it, do without it. If there's no other way, make it as original as you can, and good luck!

Saanen
06-26-2007, 02:34 PM
Well, what happens is that the main character is on a journey far from any civilized places when a pack of brigands ambush him and stab him in the gut. But they're immediately attacked and slaughtered in turn by some people who are far more dangerous. The main character doesn't know any of what happens after the stabbing, because he's dying of shock and blood loss. His rescuers then take him to a secret settlement where they heal him and save his life - and lock him up. So I thought it might be a bit jarring to have him suddenly attacked, before the reader had a chance to connect with him as a character. And the rescue happens while he's unconscious. That's why I wanted to start after he comes to, though as mysterygrl suggested, I'll start with him trying to figure out where he is rather than with him waking up.

Honestly, that sounds really interesting and unusual. If I picked up a book that started with a guy being attacked and then saved by even more dangerous people, I'd keep reading. I'm not 100% sure I'd keep reading if it started as a guy wondering where he is and what's going on--hey, those are my questions. I want them answered. :)

Elodie-Caroline
06-26-2007, 03:28 PM
The very first line of my story is my female character waking up because the telephone is ringing. She's getting some really bad news. The person who murdered her husband is now out of jail--Straight into the action this way.


Elodie

Marian Perera
06-27-2007, 12:42 AM
Honestly, that sounds really interesting and unusual. If I picked up a book that started with a guy being attacked and then saved by even more dangerous people, I'd keep reading.

Now you've got me wondering if there's any way I could start with this scene. Maybe that's a topic for another thread - whether it's a good idea to start with someone being viciously attacked before the readers have had a chance to emotionally connect with that character. My other concern about doing so would be that it gives away the surprise of who has actually rescued the main character. He wakes up in a locked room that is always kept dark, even when people enter to leave food for him, and he soon suspects why they won't show him their faces. When he challenges them on it and they finally light a lamp so he can see their faces, it's a pretty tense scene. That tension would be lost if he saw them in broad daylight. Though maybe he could be rescued at night.

I'll have to think on this. Thanks for the idea.

Saanen
06-27-2007, 01:12 AM
At night, or maybe the rescuers have covered their faces or otherwise disguised themselves? Perhaps the MC is thrilled and relieved that he's being rescued, only to have one of his rescuers turn around and clip him in the head with an iron pipe (or what have you), obviously on purpose. Next thing you know, he's waking up with a mild concussion and a spotty memory of what happened....

It sounds really interesting! If you start with action, not only does it grab the reader, it also eliminates the whole problem of starting with a wake-up scene. :) Good luck with it!

Lauri B
06-27-2007, 02:06 AM
if i remember correctly, Ms. Snark hated reading pitches in which the main character woke up primarily because it was all a prelude to the real action. Which in many cases, it is. In Metamorphoses, though, Gregor wakes up and is a cockroach. In the first sentence. That's not just waking up.

Will Lavender
06-27-2007, 02:32 AM
Gravity's Rainbow opens with the character waking up, doesn't it?

Marian Perera
06-27-2007, 02:48 AM
It sounds really interesting! If you start with action, not only does it grab the reader, it also eliminates the whole problem of starting with a wake-up scene. :) Good luck with it!

What I thought about on the subway ride home went as follows...

Nightfall. One of MC's two guards thinks he sees someone nearby, but considering that they're out in the veldt, maybe it was just a baboon. MC and guards make a camp and settle down for the night, and the brigands attack. They stab MC in the stomach. He falls, trying to hold his guts in with his hands. And then he thinks he's hallucinating, because a rider on a zebra gallops into the camp, leaping over the fire and drawing the brigands' attention... drawing it away from the next rider, who's mounted on a sable antelope which puts its head down so that a horn punches right through one of the brigands. That's all the main character sees before he loses consciousness. Gripping enough start? :)

Sean D. Schaffer
06-27-2007, 03:00 AM
Does anyone feel that there's a problem with starting a story by having a character wake up? I'd written such an opening for my novel - the character was severely injured and wakes up to find himself in unfamiliar surroundings - but I thought I'd read somewhere that this kind of opening was cliched or otherwise unpopular. I could rewrite it, but I was wondering what other people thought on this topic.


I don't know. I've heard of dream beginnings where the character is involved in either a dream or a nightmare at the very start of the novel, and then we find out later that the character is only dreaming. I know that's pretty chiched, but I have never been bothered by stories beginning with the character waking up, especially if they wake up from a long coma or something like that.

Whether this beginning is cliche or no, I couldn't say, though.

Azraelsbane
06-27-2007, 03:19 AM
I've never started a novel like that. I can see how it would be an easy way to start that could annoy editors. I've started chapters with characters waking up...but it's usually upon recovery from an that took place earlier in the work injury.

Saanen
06-27-2007, 03:48 AM
Gripping enough start? :)

Hell yeah! I like the setting--very unusual! I hope you get the poor guy medical attention quick, though. :)

Robin Bayne
06-27-2007, 07:56 PM
This is excerpted from "Edit Cafe," a blog written by 3 editors-- (http://editcafe.blogspot.com/)

Jane Jones sat drinking her herb tea by the window and looking out on her backyard. She enjoyed how her decision to use mainly blue and yellow flowers had painted a beautiful summer landscape.
Contentment filled her. Owning her own house and having a good job to pay for it made waking up each morning rewarding. She even had a newly acquired housemate in the form of a terrier puppy to enjoy.

The phone rang, and Jane spent the next twenty minutes catching up with her best friend Sue. Soon it would be time to head off to Bible study at church, and Jane collected her well-worn Bible from the bedroom and her notebooks from the living room. Yada . . . Yada . . . Yada . . .

Why do authors persist in starting their stories in such painfully slow manner? Nothing has be presented to make me care about this character or want to keep reading about her.

Send me a chapter that opens like this, and 9 times out of 10 I'll pitch it across the room to the recycle bin. If I make myself read further, it is likely because something in the story summary promised a plot hook that I'm determined to find -- or I feel obligated to the author. Beginnings can be revised, but even an interesting story summary often doesn't have enough power to pull me past a slow and boring beginning. If the book starts out slow, I fear the author will never get it revved up enough to push past that dreaded middle drag that so many authors fall prey to.

I want to be lassoed and hauled into your story. I want to quickly get so tangled up in your characters' lives that before I know it I've read the first 3 chapters and I'm panting for more.


Jillian Jasper's green thumb had become particularly helpful when turning her backyard into a cemetery.
One sentence and my attention is alert. Why would anyone want to bury someone in their backyard? Is she a murderer? Is she nuts?

Elodie-Caroline
06-27-2007, 08:29 PM
Do you think opening paragraph would be any better to send to a publisher at all please?


"Samantha woke with a start as the telephone rang on her bedside table. It was only six-fifteen am. She had had two hours sleep so far, who could it be at this time of the day? Blurry-eyed and fuzzy-headed she fumbled for the phone. She pushed her tousled blonde hair out of her face as she propped herself up on her pillows. ‘Yes?’
‘Samantha, it’s me, Berni.’
‘Mum, it’s early isn’t it.’ The fist of fear gripped her belly. ‘Is something wrong? Is John—Dad okay?’
‘It’s nothing like that, darling. I’m sorry for ringing you up so early, but we had a break-in last night.’
‘Oh, I’m sorry. Anything taken?’
‘The only thing that’s been stolen is our address book.’ Berni paused. ‘Samantha.’
‘Yes?’
‘I didn’t want to have to tell you this, but Jeffrey was released from prison last week. Me, John, and the police think that it was him who broke into our house and took the address book.’"


Why do authors persist in starting their stories in such painfully slow manner? Nothing has be presented to make me care about this character or want to keep reading about her.

Send me a chapter that opens like this, and 9 times out of 10 I'll pitch it across the room to the recycle bin. If I make myself read further, it is likely because something in the story summary promised a plot hook that I'm determined to find -- or I feel obligated to the author. Beginnings can be revised, but even an interesting story summary often doesn't have enough power to pull me past a slow and boring beginning. If the book starts out slow, I fear the author will never get it revved up enough to push past that dreaded middle drag that so many authors fall prey to.

I want to be lassoed and hauled into your story. I want to quickly get so tangled up in your characters' lives that before I know it I've read the first 3 chapters and I'm panting for more.

josephwise
06-27-2007, 09:24 PM
Some things go without saying. Here's my edit (which may or may not be your style; just an example of ways you can trim without losing the message, while at the same time moving the conflict up nearer the start).


It was only six-fifteen am. Samantha propped herself up on her pillows. ‘Yes?’
‘Samantha, it’s me, Berni.’
‘Mum, it’s early isn’t it.’ She moved forward leaning on her elbow. ‘Is something wrong? Is John—Dad okay?’
‘It’s nothing like that, darling. We had a break-in last night.’
‘Oh, I’m sorry. Anything taken?’
‘Our address book.’ Berni paused. ‘Samantha.’
‘Yes?’
‘Jeffrey was released from prison last week. We think that it was him.’

Robin Bayne
06-27-2007, 09:58 PM
Yes, and I like josephwise's version too.

If it were me, I would start the story like this:

"Is something wrong?" It was only six-fifteen am. Samantha propped herself up on her pillows. "Is John—Dad okay?’
‘It’s nothing like that, darling. We had a break-in last night.’
‘Oh, I’m sorry. Anything taken?’
‘Our address book.’ Berni paused. ‘Samantha.’
‘Yes?’
‘Jeffrey was released from prison last week. We think that it was him.’

Elodie-Caroline
06-27-2007, 10:11 PM
Sorry Joseph, that doesn't work for me I'm afraid. There's no telling that she had answered a phone call, Berni could have just jumped in bed beside her telling it like that.
The dialogue was semi-okay, but this sentence wouldn't be said this way ‘Jeffrey was released from prison last week. We think that it was him.' Berni knows Samantha, she knows how she has to deal with her, gently, not abruptly, she loves her. Also it would be 'We think it was him'. Lots of native English speakers don't use words like 'that' in their sentences, we use lazy talk... 'We think it was him,'
Thank you anyway :)


Some things go without saying. Here's my edit (which may or may not be your style; just an example of ways you can trim without losing the message, while at the same time moving the conflict up nearer the start).

P.S. I realise that I had used that in my original writing, it shouldn't have really been there, at that time it was more of an explanation for the MC.

Elodie-Caroline
06-27-2007, 10:20 PM
Hi,
Although the dialogue is nearer to my own, and yes, the last sentence could be shortened that way for tighter writing, without the 'that', it still doesn't explain that it's a telephone call.
A little later on, readers will find out why Samantha doesn't sleep much and why she's had only had two hours sleep.


Yes, and I like josephwise's version too.

If it were me, I would start the story like this:

"Is something wrong?" It was only six-fifteen am. Samantha propped herself up on her pillows. "Is John—Dad okay?’
‘It’s nothing like that, darling. We had a break-in last night.’
‘Oh, I’m sorry. Anything taken?’
‘Our address book.’ Berni paused. ‘Samantha.’
‘Yes?’
‘Jeffrey was released from prison last week. We think that it was him.’

BenPanced
06-27-2007, 10:31 PM
I guess I'm lost. I don't understand the particular reasons behind never using this opening.

FennelGiraffe
06-28-2007, 12:58 AM
How about something like:


Samantha tried to focus on the clock as she groped for the phone. Six-fifteen! She sat up with a jolt. 'Yes?'

‘Samantha, it’s me, Berni.’

etc.

Elodie-Caroline
06-28-2007, 03:39 AM
FennelGiraffe,
Yes, at least that sets the scene up. I couldn't just drop my girl straight onto a story starting a conversation. If I were reading it, I would be thinking 'Huh?' But there again, I'm blonde lol.
From another site I belong to, we often talk about books (It's not a writers site btw). Everyone I talk to likes to read the first chapter or two before they make up their mind whether they like a book or not. They're not reading with critical eyes like we do on here. I got myself some beta-readers from said site last week, and I got many remarks about how I pulled them into the story; one woman read it the whole way through in a few hours because she couldn't put it down.


Elodie



How about something like:

ap123
06-28-2007, 03:47 AM
Maybe it's a matter of personal taste, because I tend to like character driven fiction, but I don't mind a book starting with a wake up, if it's going somewhere other than the bathroom, breakfast, etc.

I get the reason (I think) for agents and editors saying don't do it, because many would fall into a trap of describing the toothpaste, the cheerios, blah blah blah. Like anything else, though, if it's done well and moves the story forward, I would keep reading.

I think the flip side of this question is "Why do I care?" another popular agent/editor comment. If I haven't gotten any sense of the MC at all, I might not care about whether or not he gets medical attention.

Good luck with this, it sounds like an exciting read. :)

Elodie-Caroline
06-28-2007, 04:10 AM
Apmom,
Thank you very much if you are addressing me. If not, I'm sorry for being so presumptuous :)