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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » Waking Opening

   
Author Topic: Waking Opening
RyanB
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I'm fascinated by the discussions here on wakening openings. Partly because it's an interesting intellectual topic that reveals things about writing in general. And partly because the first two stories I started had wakening openings and I didn't realize it. One of them didn't need to start with a wakening at all. I've changed it. But I still the other one is best with a wakening opening.

So, I'm wondering what you all think of this:

Safiya slowly gained consciousness. Her right temple radiated pain. She touched the source and her finger seemed to ignite her head. She opened her eyes but was greeted with nothing. She blinked several times, rubbed her eyes. Nothing. Could you break your eyes if you hit your head hard enough?

She turned her head to the side but the pain stopped her immediately. She decided to sit up. Slowly. About halfway up her forehead crashed into something hard and solid. She almost vomited. She groped in the darkness and found cool, rough rock. In five directions she found rock.

She inhaled through her nose. Damp, stagnant air. She wanted to scream but she knew that was the worst possible thing to do. She slowed her breath to listen.

[ January 24, 2013, 02:09 PM: Message edited by: Kathleen Dalton Woodbury ]

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axeminister
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Personally, I'm against the waking opening because of all the backpedaling you have to do simply to get us back to where you started.

That and not knowing anything about the character other than them waking up. That's not a choice or a decision, that's a reflex. We sleep, until we're through sleeping. (Even if we get knocked out.)

What's interesting to me in your passage?
How she got there.

I'm sure you'll get to it, but IMO, that's not tension. Ask OSC - tension comes from what you KNOW, not from what you DON'T know.

Axe

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RyanB
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But where did I "start"? The events that brought her to this situation started thousands of years ago. Even for her personally it started decades ago. Anywhere I begin the story there's going to be backpedaling (and that's the case with a whole lot of stories).

Ender's Game doesn't start when the Buggers first attack. Wild Seed doesn't start when Doro realizes what he is.

For an Idea story:
quote:
The story begins when your main character meets an obstacle. They have a problem that must be solved. This gives rise to a question: how will they get around the obstacle?
That usually means you start somewhere in the middle of the "story" and you pick up the backstory along the way.

Regarding tension: yes, I agree this would have more tension if we knew something about Safiya and a few more facts about her world. (I'm actually planning on starting the story earlier, but I think this approach has its merits.) I'm not trying to maximize tension for this event. That comes later.

The question is: did this hook you? do you want to keep reading?

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skadder
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To be honest, it's (yikes) rather uninteresting...the writing is quite nice, but the focus on opening eyes and sensory stuff etc. is kind of how I feel with a hangover--it's not really engaging. After all, I've woken up (many times)--some of them with sore heads. It's a bit like describing a button to me--you may do it well, but I am not engaged as buttons don't interest me. If you very quickly make the point that the button is magical/full of wildly futuristic technology that your character is shortly going to demonstrate w, well, I may stick with you for a few more paragraphs.

In your second post you are explaining that these events started thousands of years ago (has she slept thousands of years?), but you don't get that chance to make an over-arching commentary with a reader/slush/editor--they just get the story as it unfolds.

If you want to use a waking opening, I'd say you'd need to do a bit more to overcome the problems associated with this cliche.

I think your writing is carrying the opening and if you started elsewhere/used a better angle you'd have bit more to work with and get a better end result.

[ January 24, 2013, 04:36 PM: Message edited by: skadder ]

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RyanB
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A little background: I got the idea from here: http://www.ericjamesstone.com/blog/biography/about-writing/how-i-got-in-to-orson-scott-cards-literary-boot-camp-2003/

I find the idea of being in a cave/complete darkness and not knowing where to go extremely compelling. However, "The darkness pressed in around them." doesn't cut it. Eric admits his opening is flawed and that he should start earlier. So yes, I took a flawed premise and tried to save it by writing it better. (Although I have a completely different backstory and this may actually be the best place to start my story.)

I agree with you that it would be easier to start earlier. Plus making you care about Safiya before she ends up in this situation has some added benefits.

But this approach has its own merits.

And yes, it's harder. Much harder. I cut and cut to try to get enough information and I was still over-budget (Karen cut it down further and it loses even more appeal).

I see it as a risk/reward thing. IF this is the "right" place to begin, and IF you/I can pull it off, then I'm rewarded by doing it. But there's a bigger risk, cause it's easier to crash and burn. My other opening is easier and less of a risk, but possibly less rewarding as well.

So, would you keep reading?

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skadder
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No.
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A Yeatts
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Hmmm.... I'd give you a tad bit longer but not much. She's in a cave or coffin. Seen it done before so as an opening it's not grabbing my attention. It is well written but not breathtakingly original. What I want to know, as axeminister suggested, is how she got there. I don't think the story begins with her waking up in X location. I think it begins with the action that causes person Y to whap her on the head and put her in location X. That's the scene I want to see unfold.

As to Ender's Game, it starts where it does because Ender is the main character. His story starts when he takes action against Peter in a way that makes him a viable candidate for Battle School. Thus his journey (and mankind's with him) begins.

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RyanB
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Actually she falls and hits her head. I'm going to reveal a little more because to me this about where "in general" to start a story rather than about this story in particular.

The "people" that live in the cave don't come out during the day. She doesn't go out at night. She's investigating the entrance to the cave when she falls.

So you all are thinking the story starts when she decides to investigate the cave (and I'll probably start there), but she investigates all the time. She went just a little further this time and she happens to fall and hit her head.

Really, this is the obstacle she comes across in trying to solve her problem.

She also has to sneak out to investigate this place. But she's been doing that for years. It's an invented obstacle so I don't have to start with her "waking up" in the cave.

If I start there I almost feel like I'm copping out, not being true to the story.

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extrinsic
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"Safiya slowly gained consciousness."

That line doesn't work for me. The rest holds up fairly strongly. My concern with the opening sentence is summarizing and explaining an action without a causal stimuli beforehand to elicit the reaction. "Slowly gained consciousness" tells information. The opening's perspective is Safiya's yet the voice of that sentence is a narrator's.

While the subsequent context and texture describe her sensory stimuli, they in and of themselves do not clearly describe Safiya gaining consciousness. Otherwise, I'd say they report Safiya gaining consciousness and the telling sentence could be left out, thus avoiding directly telling readers "Safiya slowly gained consciousness."

Treatment: describe Sayfiya's sensory stimuli while gaining consciousness. What does she see, hear, touch, smell, and taste, and feel and think about those stimuli, about gaining consciousness?

I think the line, "Could you break your eyes if you hit your head hard enough?" Really almost works. I'm not adequately clear on it though. Rhetorical questions without clear attribution could be from character voice or narrator voice. The figurative meaning I interpret, though, is vivid. The language feels like a similar saying by Boston Review fiction editor Junot Díaz, "Prose so sharp it cuts the eye."

The meaning I get is Safiya's head was somehow traumatized. Figuratively, I think she's not quite thinking clearly. She thinks her eyeballs are glass orbs. I'd want to know soon how the head trauma came about. I'd also want her to attempt to recollect how and have at least a vague impression, even if she's off the mark.

[ January 25, 2013, 02:43 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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MAP
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Ryan, if you want to have a discussion about where to open novels and why some openings work better than others, I think you should start a topic in the Open Discussions about writing section.

This opening doesn't work for me mostly because the POV is so shallow. This could be a tense scene if we were drawn more into her head and experiencing it with her, but the distant POV keeps it from being more immediate, IMO. But I do have a personal preference for close POVs.

quote:
Safiya slowly gained consciousness.THis first line is all telling and uninteresting to me Her right temple radiated pain. She touched the source and her finger seemed to ignite her head. She opened her eyes but was greeted with nothing. Nothing or blackness. Fantasy and sci fi readers might take things literally until we have a feel for the world She blinked several times, rubbed her eyes. Nothing. Could you break your eyes if you hit your head hard enough?

She turned her head to the side but the pain stopped her immediately. She decided to sit up. Slowly. About halfway up her forehead crashed into something hard and solid. She almost vomited. Is her urge to vomit coming from hitting her head too hard, is she feeling dizzy or does she have a stomach flu? Why does she feel like vomiting? She groped in the darkness and found cool, rough rock. In five directions she found rock.

She inhaled through her nose. She sure takes a long to breath. Is she human? Damp, stagnant air. She wanted to scream but she knew that was the worst possible thing to do. She slowed her breath to listen.

This feels out of order. I would expect her to open her eyes first, then notice the smell. Then feel around. We are missing all emotion (except for the desire to scream). I think we need to feel that disorientation that we would expect someone to feel when they wake up in a strange place. The whole thing reads clinically (Is that your intent?).

Honestly I think this whole thing should be rewritten. Think about how it would feel to wake up in her situation and then put that on the page. It would be more interesting IMO.

JMO, take it or leave it.

ETA: A few posts went up while I was writing mine. I've got kids swarming me all day, so I'm really slow. [Smile]

Personally I think her investigating the cave sounds interesting even if she does it all the time. Strange "people" living in caves is more intriguing to me than waking up in a cave. But that is just my opinion.

[ January 24, 2013, 09:23 PM: Message edited by: MAP ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Karen?
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RyanB
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quote:
Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:
Karen?

My apologies ... Kathleen.
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RyanB
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@extrinsic, I was cutting stuff left and right but I never thought about cutting the first sentence. Very insightful on your part.

The very next line (after the 1st 13) starts with what she remembers before blacking out, so I'd get to include that as well. Well, you'd at least know that's where I was heading.

I got a kick out of your and MAP's comments about the eyes and the breathing. I'm new to writing SF and I remember reading OSC on how SF readers are different from other readers. They'll consider the possibility that she has glass eyes and/or doesn't breath normally when other readers wouldn't. The setting is going to be somewhat primitive with no magic which I think would clear that up, but I haven't established that yet. Another challenge of starting the piece this way.

I figured I would wonder if I had damaged my optic nerve or the part of my brain that processes sight. She wouldn't understand that so I went with "break your eyes." Guess I would have to change it. I considered "mess up your vision" and variations but I didn't like them as much.

[ January 25, 2013, 08:21 AM: Message edited by: RyanB ]

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extrinsic
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I like the bit about "break your eyes" because it's understandably clear and vague at the same time at the time of first reading and ripe with meanings. It's beautiful language, poetic, albeit subject to misinterpretation, a line to chew. If taken as Safiya's thought, the line characterizes her and her situation by being off kilter. The line is ripe with voice attitude, if it's clearly posed as her voice. If she momentarily thinks her eyeballs are glass and might shatter if she hits her head hard enough, that's a dramatic complication. The line is a potent potable, what I know as a love line; the kind of prose a reader and a writer love to read or write and find memorable. It's worth saving into a favorite line collection file for reinvention consideration, where the likes of "I dive down liquid glass" await their respective re-expression in a work.

I'm familiar with Card's saying figurative language used in science fiction, and fantasy, can be problematic. However, figurative language has a noble place in any genre. Balancing clarity, persuasion, and voice is a tough act, more so in fantastical fiction.

[ January 25, 2013, 04:01 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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History
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And I, on the other hand, found no problem with your opening.

I now know character (gender at least), situation (injured in a cave in), and feel emotional tension (I'm a little claustrophobic and you provided the sense of this).

The writing style is spartan--concise, yet person. Short sentences. Hyperacute, sensnate awareness, as I would expect pain and fear to focus a character's attention. No problem for me.

I'm wondering who she is, how she got there, and how is she going to get out. This is enough to make me read on.

But what do I know. [Wink]

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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JSchuler
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It's pretty standard stuff, here. I think you're dwelling too much on the fact that she has woken up. You have her running through a boot sequence, and she gets Error: Monitor Cable Unplugged. Yes, I would label such an opening as cliche.

Instead, give her something else to worry about. I mentioned in the other thread that in a recent waking opening I read, the character woke during her kidnapping. The reader knows about that within the first thirteen (and I'd say the writer could have actually lead off right with that and it would have been stronger).

So, that's my question to you: what is the force that's driving her? What is she awake for? Put that into the character's mind and don't bother with the RAM check.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Apology accepted, RyanB.
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salixrosa
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The opening didn't grab me, but by the end I did want to read more--specifically because of the phrase "she knew that was the worst possible thing to do". What did she know? I want to know, too!
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