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Author Topic: Waking up from a Dream
Bent Tree
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quote:
This is an old thread. Don't waste your valuable time reading this.


This is a continuation of a discussion that started in F&F. After reading several waking from a dream intros, I thought I would open a dialogue on the subject. There are lots of new members that might benefit from it.

One question was asked; Will a story starting with this cliche ever make it past the slush pile?

Any informative links or comments will be greatly appreciated.

[This message has been edited by Bent Tree (edited March 26, 2009).]


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Grant John
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I can't say if they will make it past the slush pile now, but there are books that start with 'cliches' (like waking up, or amnesica, or waking up with amnesia).
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TheHaldurian
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It seems to me that if an editor/reader spots a story that starts with a cliche that is so common, he would probably reject it right a way, in all but rare cases.

But, I am wondering specifically about a story that starts with a character having just woken up, that is, it starts just after he has woken up. The story makes no mention of the MC actually waking up. It is just implied by, or mentioned in, later sentences.

For example (this is just something I made up on the spot to illustrate):

quote:
Vithin heard a noise in the dark trees. He reached for his knife. The trees were silent. Then he heard it again--a whispering. The others were still sleeping undisturbed. Where was the lookout?

Does such a story also have no chance?

[This message has been edited by TheHaldurian (edited March 18, 2008).]


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WetherbyOwl
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Not to bash the question, but what kind of waking are we thinking of here? Are we starting the story in a dream, and then waking from it, or merely seeing a character sleep and wake, or something else? I think the answer to this is important, partially because I am trying to see *why* opening with waking is cliche (not that I disagree, I was just curious as to the reason.)

For my part, opening with a dream hardly ever works because it presents a world that will not really be part of the story. If John is flying over rooftops and he wakes as someone normal, we are disappointed because the "promise" has been broken.

I also have some thoughts on just having a character wake up, but I think these questions will be enough for now.


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Bent Tree
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http://offagainmyworld.blogspot.com/2007/02/alice-in-wonderland-incongruent-ending.html


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Bent Tree
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It raises so much resistance, that I just avoid it all together. To answer that question. I suppose that if the writing was excellent and appealed to the editor it might slip through, but why risk it. There is no absolute reason to start a story with a character waking up. If there is a critical element regarding dreams it could be introduced later any number of ways. Like MC dreading sleeping or recalling an important dream.
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Grant John
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There is something worse than starting a story with waking from a dream. Ending a short story with waking from a dream. I once told a whole year 8 class that anyone who resolved their short story by waking up would immediately fail.

The thing that always gets me is that everyone of them always thinks that it is an original idea, probably because no one would ever publish a story that did end with it all being a dream.


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TheHaldurian
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quote:
It raises so much resistance, that I just avoid it all together. To answer that question. I suppose that if the writing was excellent and appealed to the editor it might slip through, but why risk it. There is no absolute reason to start a story with a character waking up. If there is a critical element regarding dreams it could be introduced later any number of ways. Like MC dreading sleeping or recalling an important dream.

Which question are you addressing?


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Bent Tree
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quote:
Which question are you addressing?

I was attempting to answer the question about just waking up, but I got side tracked. It seems ok to me if there is a very good reason, maybe such as Hearing a strange noise in the night or something along those lines, but there is so much risk even then being tossed into that cliche, it really doesn't seem worth the risk.


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Bent Tree
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This is a clip from Strange Horizons a pro rate, widely circulated speculative fiction magazine. There is also a link where you can view their list of plots they see too often. It isn't nescessarily specific to the topic we have been discussing, but an expansion on other things to avoid.

quote:
Visitor to alien planet ignores information about local rules, inadvertantly violates them, is punished.
New diplomat arrives on alien planet, ignores anthropologist's attempts to explain local rules, is punished.
Weird things happen, but it turns out they're not real.
In the end, it turns out it was all a dream.
In the end, it turns out it was all in virtual reality.
In the end, it turns out the protagonist is insane.
In the end, it turns out the protagonist is writing a novel and the events we've seen are part of the novel.
An A.I. gets loose on the Net despite the computer it was on not being connected to the Net.
An A.I. gets loose on the Net but the author doesn't have a clear concept of what it means for software to be "loose on the Net." (Hint: the Net is currently a collection of individual computers, not some kind of big ubercomputer; software doesn't currently run in the wires between computers.)

As I mentioned the complete list can be viewed at this link.
http://www.strangehorizons.com/guidelines/fiction-common.shtml


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Grant John
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I don't think it would be found on any cliche list, but something I am really struggling with at the moment is getting through the opening chapters of series that start with an apparently unremarkable boy who is working in a castle as a Bakers Apprentice, a Kitchen Boy, a general servant, or on a farm, or in an inn or something of the like, and they fantasise about being a knight and for some reason an old man tells them the history of the entire world... and I know they might eventually save the world in an interesting way, but really I can't watch them use their broom as a mock lance any more.

It was ok when I started reading fantasy, but twelve years after starting to read adult Fantasy fiction I just can't stand it any more. I need remarkable boys or girls, like Robin Hobb's Fitz who was always going to be a pawn, or the Stark children out of The Song of Ice and Fire.

Does anyone else find this? What was once a staple of fantasy is now unbearable?


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Bent Tree
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I was once a bakers apprentice. There are ways to make it remarkable.

I think that I understand your dilema. Things that used to wow readers they now find dull. I often have ideas that I consider spectacular, but to others the seem mediocre. We can only write what we are passionate about though. Write what you want. There will be a market for it if it is well written...hopefully.


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ozwonderdog
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I think if someone wakes from a dream into the story, why is it important they were dreaming? If, somehow, the dream is important to the story, then I would say it was needed. But, as it was mentioned, its a bit of a cliche, so the link would need to be established quickly/

Is there a difference, story wise, between waking from a dream, and just waking up?


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Grant John
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Lol. I am not saying Bakers Apprentices aren't remarkable, but in this case he was purposely made out to be unremarkable.
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KayTi
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I slush read for Flash Fiction Online - www.flashfictiononline.com, and the question I find myself asking about anything that might seem cliche or overdone (or annoying - second person and present tense are two personal dislikes of mine) - is there a compelling reason to write the story in this way?

If the answer is no, it goes in the reject pile. If there is a compelling reason, then I consider it. I haven't found a compelling reason for second person yet, but it really is a pet peeve of mine. Unless you're writing a choose your own adventure (which wouldn't fit the 1000 word FFO guidelines) there just isn't a point. But that's just me. Usually at least 3 slush readers see each story submitted.

I can't recall a rush of waking up stories submitted, but I think there's an observation bias - those who submit stories to magazine for publication probably know that it's best not to start a story with the MC waking up. It's a tendency to want to "start at the beginning" which the beginning of a day might seem to be it, but usualy with a little work or introspection another starting point becomes more apparent as the best place to start the story.


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arriki
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Hmmm...I started a story the opening of which I posted over in F&F and it started with the pov jerking awake from dozing off. It was "Fish Story."

No one complained...so far. He even did a sort of review of where he was. And, though it isn't apparent in the 13 lines, it was important to the story that he was dozing off and dreaming the same dream.

Did mine just slip by you guys?


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Bent Tree
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I just looked back at it Arriki. It was indeed one of the few that bypassed that scrutiny.
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baduizt
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Of course, 'Metamorphosis' famously begins with a character waking up.

Adam
xxx


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Just recently, in a different discussion, I mentioned that if the story doesn't start when the main character is hooked into the situation, how can the writer expect the reader to get hooked into the story?

While I realize that this isn't the only way to hook a reader, it is a good way, and it applies to this question. Waking up, in and of itself, is not very likely to hook a character into a situation.

Unless, of course, you are Gregor (whatever his name was) and on waking up you find that you've turned into a giant cockroach. However, I submit that it wasn't the waking that hooked Gregor into the situation, it was realizing he was now a cockroach, and that happened to be at the same time that he awoke.


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Robert Nowall
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Well, a lot of my story ideas start in dreams, but usually the actual dream details don't make the cut by the time I start typing it out.

My latest story is from a dream...it started with me watching some people walking past me in a forest. The last was a character from a cartoon TV show (not the same one I did Internet Fan Fiction for, if you've heard me talking about that), and while I (in the dream) watched her pass it got into my head that she was not that character or person, but a plant imitating that character or person.

I remembered it when I woke up, thought about it, and started writing. Out came the actual scene with other characters around. Out came the character name and background---hardly mine to use if I don't want to write more Internet Fan Fiction. Out came some of the physical appearance as observed in the dream---inappropriate to the story.

(Left in was the notion of a plant mimicking a person---pretty cliche, but the story is flowing and I'll worry about originality later---and also the character first name, which is common enough not to have any connection with the character on the cartoon show.)

[edited 'cause I just noticed I didn't write "character first name," which I should'a...]

[This message has been edited by Robert Nowall (edited March 20, 2008).]


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rstegman
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Bobby floated over the buildings and slowly touched down softly.
Bobby woke in an instant.
"I think I have it, he exclaimed. He padded in his jammies out his bedroom door, down the steps, out the back door and into the back yard. He was excited as he tried to remember the process.
He put his arms to his side, looked up slightly, using that special grin, and leaned slightly forward, spreading his arms, thinking "up".
He felt a little pressure leave his feet, a thin second before he fell flat on his face in the soft grass.
Bobby was almost at the edge of crying. "The flying takes so long in the dreams I cannot seem to remember all the steps to fly!

I would then end the story with him at the edge of a skyscraper as an adult, everything is gone. He remembers the dream does the moves and steps off the edge of the building. He is actually flying, soaring high above the buildings for real.


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rickfisher
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quote:
Vithin heard a noise in the dark trees. He reached for his knife. The trees were silent. Then he heard it again--a whispering. The others were still sleeping undisturbed. Where was the lookout?
quote:
Bobby floated over the buildings and slowly touched down softly.
Bobby woke in an instant.
"I think I have it, he exclaimed.


The first works for me; the second doesn't. The first works because, as in Metamorphosis (good example, KDW), waking is irrelevant; it just happens to be at the same time. The start of the story is something else--hearing the noise in the trees (or discovering that one has turned into a cockroach). The second doesn't because his waking is NOT relevant. This story should probably start just before the first event that actually allows him to learn to fly, not just before this failed attempt. This information--that he dreams about it and feels that he could actually do it if he just could remember--can be worked in later.

arriki--I think yours passed because it started with a known dream. Kind of like the start of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca: "Last night I dreamed again of Manderly." (quoted from memory--sorry if not exact)

Let's put this into categories:

Bad #1: Something of interest is happening as a hook, and turns out to be a dream.

Bad #2: The person wakes up to the start of another day. (Dreams may or not be mentioned, but we don't start out IN the dream. Or it's not hooky, if we do.)

Bad #3: Dreams and waking are not specifically mentioned, but the story starts with getting out of bed.

OK #1: There's an honest-to-goodness reason for starting where the story starts, and it just happens to coincide with (or is the cause of) waking up.

OK #2: The very fact of a dream is either important or interesting, and it's known that it's a dream from the start. (This one is risky if the dream is at all long--we can't know that the dream is important just from the dream; we need more of the story, too, unless the dream is to an extent conscious and controlled, so that we can find out why it's important at the time it's happening.) Du Maurier was flirting on the edge with the beginning of Rebecca--the dream lasts the entire first chapter (though the chapter is short). But it's so moody that it works. arriki's, on the other hand, was such a short dream (6 words?) and was immediately connected to the unusual situation to which it was related. The dreamer wasn't even in bed.

There are probably other categories, if anyone wants to take a stab at it.

[This message has been edited by rickfisher (edited March 19, 2008).]


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Wolfe_boy
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Let's all remember something too...

An opening can be bad without being cliche, and a cliche opening can be quite excellent. Cliche doesn't automatically equate with poor, merely well used and lacking originality. This points directly to the dream opening - if you're going to do it, and you feel you need to do it for whatever reason, don't fight against the idea that it's a cliche opening, because no one will believe you. Accept the fact that it is a cliche, then go and write the best dream opening (either starting in a dream, or a character just waking up) you can muster. And be prepared to face criticism for the use of a cliche.

Jayson Merryfield


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JeanneT
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And expect to get it back in the mail... with comments from the editor saying this is a cliche. *sighs*

Editors SAY they'll consider a cliched situation if it's handled originally but don't hold your breath.


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Bent Tree
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Digging up an oldie because I am too lazy to link it
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TaleSpinner
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As we learned in another thread just recently, nobody reads the dates at the top of posts.

It's galling to spend time reading through a thread, considering possible responses, only to find it's very old and no response is required. I probably just spent five minutes on this, wasted.

I'm beginning to think it would be nice to find a way to lock threads that have been dormant for over, say, a month, to force posters to take those few seconds to link to them when they appear relevant to today's discussion. If we agree this is a good idea, is it possible to program the BBS to do it automatically?


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BenM
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quote:
I'm beginning to think it would be nice to find a way to lock threads that have been dormant for over, say, a month, to force posters to take those few seconds to link to them when they appear relevant to today's discussion. If we agree this is a good idea, is it possible to program the BBS to do it automatically?

That seems like it's adding a restriction we'll only want repealed later, kind of like making mobile phones stop working when we're driving and then complaining we couldn't get in that 911 call we needed to make.

Perhaps simpler still would to be to have a sticky (I assume KDW can do that) in each forum outlining some basic etiquette. Though, personally, I didn't really see this as an issue.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I can't do stickies, and I really wish I could, because every so often I have to repost in the topics in the Please Read Here First area.

I'll check with the techgnomes to see if there isn't some way to add a sticky option to the forum.


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steffenwolf
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I see two general reasons why starting a story with an awakening can be undesirable:

1. I've heard it happens so so often in beginners' stories, because it is an easy image to conjure as you're brainstorming: you as the writer are waking to the story, so you write about the protagonist waking to the story. I've talked to some slush readers who groan if you even mention this. Along the same lines are starting a story in a white room (which equates with the blank page in front of the writer), and starting with an exploding spaceship. IMO, there's nothing inherently wrong with any of these beginnings, but because they've been done SO many times, it's going to be darn hard to get them to stand out from the crowd.

2. Most of the time when people wake, there's not really a lot going on, nothing to hook. When I wake I slap the alarm clock off, go use the bathroom, go find some breakfast, get dressed, brush my teeth, comb my hair, etc... Nothing there that would interest anybody. As someone pointed out earlier, waking to a noise might be more acceptable because the waking is not the important point, it's the noise.


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Natej11
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In my opinion the question isn't so much if it's cliche, but what the realities of it are. Like it's been said, if it works it works, and if you want it that way and can make it happen then do it.

That said, you have to consider that the reader will likely judge your book based on its beginning. I've put down plenty of books after reading only a few paragraphs. Some were recommended to me, and I slogged through a dull beginning to get into it and ended up liking them, but most readers won't forgive a bad beginning, especially for a first time author.

That means that you have to have a good hook right away, in the first or second line, you need to introduce the character and the world and also put in some action or element of tension that will make the reader want to keep reading, all the while moving the plot along.

Simply put, dream sequences do none of these things unless you're dreaming an info dump, which is just bad writing. What they usually do is get a reader emotionally invested in a false start, which makes them feel jerked around once it ends.

Of course I'm sure there are exceptions. One I can think of is if it's a character-driven story, and the dream is a memory of an important even that is deeply involved in the shaping of the character and the story's plot.

One of the few stories I remember reading that started that way was a first person perspective in which the POV character didn't know why he was dreaming the dream, except it turned out to give him a clue he needed at a later time that helped him solve his dilemma. It was a story I very much enjoyed, and I had no problem with it beginning the way it did.

Nate.


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