1. PMelol
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    PMelol New Member

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    So apparently it is cliche to start a story with a character waking up, peeing, etc.

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by PMelol, Jul 23, 2013.

    Most stories I have started to write begin like this. People have criticized that. I could see what the problem is. What is a better way to start a story?
     
  2. UnrealCity
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    UnrealCity Active Member

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    Instead of beginning with the character's morning routine, you could introduce the character in the middle of a problem/adventure, or at the beginning of a problem/adventure. You'll want to make the eventual reader want to learn more about what is unfolding, and the character(s).

    Unless there is something bizarrely unusual about the way your character wakes up and goes to the bathroom which is essential to the story, I wouldn't bother.

    Think about what your first scene is, who's involved, and build it from there:)
     
  3. randomme1
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    randomme1 Member

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    I personally have no problem reading a story where the character wakes up, or is peeing, or is doing some other tedious act that we all must do.

    As for what's a better way, it depends on personal preference and your story. The overall goal of the beginning is to hook readers in and introduce your main character/characters, the setting and get the plot started. You could start with a simple act that does all of this.

    The story I'm working on starts with a rock smashing through the window of my MC's house. I don't say what my MC is doing before hand, you don't even know who this guy is at this point. The first sentence is literally, "A rock burst through my window, my only window might I add." It's an act that grabs a reader, at least in some small way. My character isn't doing anything tedious or boring. He's just living his life and then a rock comes sailing in and ruins his day. Some readers then ask, inside their head, "Why is the rock going through the window? Does someone hate him?" Stuff like that.

    Come to think of it, every story I've ever written starts like this. Not with a rock through a window, but similar. I would advise doing something similar to this.
     
  4. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    You know what's worse than cliché? People who think everyday things are cliché and that they shouldn't be in stories.

    Don't be afraid, just write. Write in such a way it engages the reader. Write it so the reader puts him/herself in that situation. What is your MC doing as he wakes? Is he cuddling his wife, aimlessly throwing his hand at the alarm clock button looking for snooze, answering his God damn phone, ffs it's still dark out!

    What is he doing as he's peeing? Is he on the phone? Missed the bowl and wet his bare feet? Dropped his cig down the pan?

    Now if he wakes up peeing....

    Don't listen to people who say it's cliché - just write it.
     
  5. mg357
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    mg357 Active Member

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    I don't think its a cliché I have written several stories were the main character is preforming their morning routine everyone has some sort of morning routine why not have a character in a story or a book perform their's
     
  6. Garball
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    Garball Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand. Supporter Contributor

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    Thank you so much for saying this. My character eats and breathes. Is he cliche?
     
  7. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It may be a cliche, but that doesn't mean there's something intrinsically wrong with starting a story that way. It's probably best to start with something unusual happening to the character - he wakes up to find a giant anaconda wrapping him in its coils, or he wakes up to find bulldozers about to demolish his house (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), or he wakes up to find his bed surrounded by police officers and photographers from supermarket tabloids and he doesn't know why, etc.

    If this particular morning is unusual, then having the character wake up is perfectly okay. If this particular morning is the same as any other morning and the character is just going through the usual routine, then it's probably boring and you should find a new beginning.
     
  8. hibiscus
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    hibiscus Member

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    I personally have no problem with that. This is definitely something to be ignored of. Remember the story of a man, his son, and a donkey. In the end, whatever they have done, others will found that they were wrong, or cliche in your case.
     
  9. Steve Day
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    Steve Day Senior Member

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    Your first sentence's main goal is getting the reader to begin the second sentence.
    Ditto the first paragraph.

    After that, both your reader and your character are awake, dressed, and off on the adventure. Or brown study. If it is an adventure, then a rock through the window- while peeing- is a good start.

    If a brown study, then contemplation of the water gradually turning yellow, followed by the gurgle of the flush, and examining how the the moment mirrors life can go on-and on- for pages.

    Proust's magnum opus is 3,200 hundred pages. Or 4,300 in the Modern Library's translation. Someday, I tell myself, I'll checkout that first sentence.
     
  10. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    It's not the routine. It's how it launches the story. Allan Drury started Advise and Consent with Bob Munson waking up and checking the morning paper. Is it routine? What does he see? That the president nominated Bob Leffingwell as Secretary of State. He utters an epithet. Why?

    That's what the whole novel ends up being about - a novel that won the Pulitzer Prize.

    The problem with starting a story with a morning routine is that some writers describe the morning routine in such detail that the reader has fallen asleep by the time the writer gets to the point. Now, if you look at the example that [MENTION=19031]minstrel[/MENTION] gives above (Hitchhiker's Guide), that is certainly not a routine morning.

    Hope this helps.
     
  11. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think this is rather facile. Too much is made of the importance of the first sentence of a novel. It's a weak reader indeed who won't give an author more than one sentence to say something interesting. The large majority of readers, I think, will try at least a page, and usually quite a bit more, before deciding a novel is too dull to bother with.

    The emphasis some how-to-write books give to the first sentence has become somewhat perverse. It's gotten so that novice writers believe their first sentences have to be practically pornographic in order to pass muster. Frankly, it's nearly impossible to be dazzling, original, exciting, and meaningful in one sentence, especially (since we're talking about a FIRST sentence here) one that is entirely free of context.

    Let's cut ourselves some slack, shall we? Let's trust the reader to have a modicum of brains and a reasonable attention span. Speaking for myself, if a reader drops my book after one sentence, he probably wouldn't understand the rest of it anyway, and shouldn't have picked the book up in the first place.
     
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  12. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    I completely agree. Whilst it is important to grab a reader's attention (obviously), it's not so important that everything is about the first sentence. I think first paragraphs are more important, but as you say, it is a poor reader that does not give the writer and the story a chance.

    And I believe it's important to read books you're not 100% fussed on, anyway. If all we read is what's "right", how do we know what's "wrong" in our eyes unless we read it for ourselves? We are just taking other people's opinions until we decide for ourselves.
     
  13. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Failing to do this is, I think, the root of the vast majority of errors that new writers make. They feel they have to grab, excite, titillate, move, anger, thrill and at the same time spoon-feed every little nuance to the reader.
     
  14. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    The only other thing I can add is that I have witnessed over and over again Q&A's with agents, wherein the question is inevitably asked, "What do you see too much of?" or "What are you sick of seeing?" or "What makes you groan immediately?" or some question along those lines. The answer I have always heard them give is "Having the character wake up in his bed," or "The story opening with the MC hitting his alarm clock," or "Seeing the morning routine of the MC," etc.

    Make of that what you wish. Just know that if you're opening your story this way, so are a million other novice writers. It will be more difficult to convince an agent that what you have written is something special and unique. If your character pees blood, that's pretty jarring and we know right away something is wrong. If he just pees normal urine, flushes the toilet, then turns around and brushes his teeth, I'm not sure I'd care much.
     
  15. u.v.ray
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    u.v.ray Member

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    The world is full of assholes who say you can't do this or you shouldn't do that.

    These people have no imaginations, no insurrection in their hearts, and no balls to do their own thing.

    You can do what you like when you like. The question is whether we are good enough to pull off what we do. As I have said many times - it's not what you do, it's how you do it.

    I have an upcoming story in a zine that opens with the line: The f*cking trains woke him up again.

    And there's nothing wrong with that. Because I say so.
     
  16. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The problem is not with the routine - nothing wrong with starting with that - the problems lies in how mundane it is, and it takes a gifted writer indeed to make something so mundane sound engaging.

    Personally I think the wake up routine opening is often just a lack of creativity - not in every case before I get shot down - but it is easy to write from that starting point for the writer because it's just a run through the motions, so we start there, not for the benefit of the story but because we can't think of anything better.

    However, if you're a good enough writer to pull off the wake up routine and still make it sound fantastic, go for it. If after much consideration you truly believe that the wake up routine is THE way to start your story - it is the best opening your story could get, that it launches the story exactly right that no other scene would - then stick with it no matter what people say. I agree with one of the posters above me who said, it all depends on whether it launches your story. That's what you need to ask yourself. What's so important and fascinating that I need to, absolutely NEED to start the story off with my MC waking up?
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It's not a cliche. It's also not interesting, and doesn't do anything to move the story forward.
     
  18. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Absolutely. Just don't expect me to keep reading.

    The question isn't: Can I use this? It is: why will people want to read this?

    What are you really telling the reader?
     
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  19. Edward M. Grant
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    Edward M. Grant Contributing Member

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    There are way too many books these days. If I'm skimming e-book samples by unknown authors on the web, they get about one paragraph to convince me to read on.

    It it starts "Joe woke up. The sun was shining into his room. He checked his alarm clock. It was set for seven and there were only five minutes to go so he got up anyway. He walked into the bathroom, flossed his teeth and brushed them, then had a pee," I'll probably be reading the next book before you get to the paragraph about the alien invasion. If it starts "One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin," I'll probably keep reading.

    Starting with a character waking up is just such a cliche that I wouldn't recommend any new writer to do it unless they plan to go all Kafka on our ass. Stephen King and JK Rowling can get away with it because their fans know the book will get better.
     
  20. MsScribble
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    MsScribble Member

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    'Joe woke up to find himself sharing his bed with a zombie. And not a very attractive one at that. Just how much had he had to drink?'

    'Joe woke up. The figure's in white moved silently around the room, their shapes blurred by the film of plastic. He had no idea how long he'd been out, or what they had done to him while he had been protected in that thankful darkness.'

    'Joe woke up with a start; he'd been dozing. He was still in the abandoned car and the shadows had lengthened around him. He could hear his mother calling him, worry gnawing at her voice. He grinned and pulled his cape tighter around him, and pretended to take the safety off his plastic ray gun.'

    Yea, I'm bored.
     
  21. u.v.ray
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    u.v.ray Member

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    >> Absolutely. Just don't expect me to keep reading. <<


    If someone gives up after reading one sentence they shouldn't be bothering to read at all. Someone else said "It doesn't do anything to move the story forward." -- We are talking about the very first sentence!!

    From now on I pledge to start every single thing I write with someone waking up. :D

    It can be done. Has been done. And will continue to be done. By writers of far greater notoriety than any of us here.

    Always remember, kids. It is by breaking rules that we define both ourselves and new boundaries. And he who ways "thou shalt not" is your mortal foe.
     
  22. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    I guess you missed my point. That's ok. If you write something that's not engaging, just because you want to, that's fine, but don't be surprised if people don't get engaged. It's interesting to see writers so determined to write anything they want and expect everyone to love it, and if they don't, the reader has the problem.

    Also, explain to me how using a tired, dull, and overused cliche is 'breaking the rules.' I don't understand.
     
  23. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm with those who say a beginner, a novice, an un-published writer might be better off steering clear of the waking up in the morning thing if there's actually some other, equally good way to start it. That being said, if the blurb promises an intriguing story, I don't care how it starts. It's really just the agents that go through a mile high slush pile that might not give your manuscript a chance if it starts with "Larry woke up." I wager the average reader checks what the story is about, not how it starts.
     
  24. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Well, the one thing that's not been addressed in this thread is this - another problem with starting with the wake up routine is the fact that most people check out samples online now - say, on Amazon. And our attention span when reading off the screen is that much shorter. It's true that someone who loves to read will likely read a page or two in a book store - but the same person reading from the screen might read only 1-2 paragraphs.

    Either way, it really can't hurt to ensure your opening is as interesting as possible, and waking up isn't the most interesting thing in the world.

    Although, I do agree that too much emphasis is put on that first sentence. I think it's reasonable to expect the reader to simply be patient enough to read at least a paragraph before they give up. The key isn't creating that hook - not every book lends itself to that - but in my opinion if you can't have a grabbing first sentence, then go for one that's easy to read and paint a picture in your first paragraph quickly. Nothing stops me more than a first sentence filled with names I can't pronounce, or long names that are just a mouthful whose significance I simply don't care about just yet.

    [MENTION=36654]MsScribble[/MENTION] - I'm actually rather intrigued in that second opening with the white figures blurbed by a film of plastic. I'd actually read that.
     
  25. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    You can simply dismiss people who do this as morons, but you're not doing yourself any favors by doing so. As far as agents, you have a very limited amount of space to intrigue them, so you have to make those opening paragraphs especially good. Now, I understand you can dismiss agents as irrelevant and that maybe you don't care about them, because you're going to self-publish. Maybe you believe the big publishers and agents don't know what they're talking about and miss all kinds of good stuff. Ok, fine. You can self-pub, but you're still going to need to convince readers in general. They may have even less tolerance. As has been pointed out, people will browse the first few pages as a sample. Really, everyone does this -- even in a bookstore, people will flip through the book and will read the first page or two to see if it grabs them and if they want to read more. Ok, maybe not everyone does this -- maybe YOU don't. Maybe you're willing to read 50 or 100 pages of a book to see if you like it. If that's the case, then that's great. Good for you for giving writers a chance. But the fact is, most people don't do this. There are so many books out there to read. I'll never have sufficient time to read all of the books that I'm interested in reading. So if I know nothing else about a book -- that is, I didn't read some great review, or a trusted friend hasn't said that I simply MUST read it, I'm probably not going to buy a book that doesn't grab me in the first page or two.

    Maybe you don't care about this, either. Maybe you think most readers are stupid and unworthy of much consideration. That's okay, too. Just realize you're not going to get a lot of them to buy your book if this is your position. Maybe you're just writing for yourself, and you're putting your book out there for the very small number of people who might stumble upon it, and you don't really care if anyone else reads it. That's also okay. There are plenty of people who write for themselves alone. A lot of writers write because they want to communicate and connect with someone else. Nothing makes them happier than hearing that their book really touched or spoke to a reader. But if that's not you, then you don't have to worry about a hook.
     

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