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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Waking up in a strange place

   
Author Topic: Waking up in a strange place
Owasm
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I haven't been here long enough to really evaluate a larger body of Hatrack work, but it seems there is a great deal of beginnings where someone is waking up in a strange place.

In the last few days, I'll bet I've read at least four novels and short story fragments with variants on the theme of waking when or where they're not supposed to.

Is this a hackneyed plot device? It looks like something to avoid.

[This message has been edited by Owasm (edited March 25, 2009).]


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Nick T
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Hi Owasm,

To me it definitely is a bit of a flag. I haven't been keeping that close an eye on the forums the last two weeks, but I'd be surprised if someone hadn't flagged it as a problem in their critiques. Based on my six months or so here, it's a bit of a anomaly; I haven't seen that many stories with that entry point.

Nick


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Denem
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Guilty. I opened a recent short story with someone waking up in a strange situation. My problem is I really like the opening and think it is a good place to set the hook. There is probably another way to do it, but I haven't thought of it just yet. Maybe someone could offer some suggestions on how to avoid this particular device.
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BenM
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Another one brought to my attention recently I think is called the white room syndrome. It's where the character starts out in white surroundings and acts as an expression of the author staring at a white page.

I wonder if the dream sequence acts as a similar psychological crutch - the author isn't sure where to start, so 'wakes up' into the world with the character, perhaps with a few lines of motivating backstory or dream sequence to give them something to write down.

I've been guilty of both in my own drafts, and I agree with the suggestion made elsewhere (for novels) that 'discarding chapter one' is a good move; if a white room or dream sequence gets us started writing that's fine, but don't get too attached to it. When the real action starts in the second chapter after the mental warm-up of the first, then we've got a natural opening fragment instead of the one we agonised over trying to write.


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rstegman
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Johnny woke slowly, the sound were wrong. he slowly opened his eyes. There was something familiar about this place, He seemed to recognize the stain on the ceiling. He rolled over to ask his new girl a question. He was alone. It did not look like she was ever there. He sat up and looked around.
What was he doing in his own home? in his own bed?

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Troy
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Any time you begin a story with someone waking up, you are cheating. It is the laziest kind of plotting. It was cool once, or perhaps twice, if Raymond Chandler did it once and Roger Zelazny did it once. Then it was novel. Then it was interesting.

It isn't anymore.

I can't stand it when a story (of any kind) begins with someone waking up. It shows such a dramatic lack of imagination that I can usually assume that the rest of the story is going to be pretty hack.


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Troy
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quote:
Maybe someone could offer some suggestions on how to avoid this particular device.

In medias res.


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Denem
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My apologies, Troy, but my imagination is a little lacking at the moment. Maybe you can explain 'In medias res.' a little bit - for us unenlightened folk.
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Bent Tree
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I dug up an old thread 'waking from a dream' because by the time I found it I was too lazy to link it here.
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Bent Tree
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I'll stick to my station I made months ago, There is no good reason to start a story with a character awaking. Our chances as unestablished writers are slim enough to risk waiting months to get an auto response that didn't tell you your story got tossed two months ago because the slush editor considers it a cliche.
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BenM
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quote:
My apologies, Troy, but my imagination is a little lacking at the moment. Maybe you can explain 'In medias res.' a little bit - for us unenlightened folk.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_medias_res


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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It means "in the middle of things" (more or less).

Damon Knight used to recommend (he's the author of CREATING SHORT FICTION as well as of a lot of science fiction stories, and the guy who inspired the 13-line rule for this forum) that writers should start the story with the scene in which the main character became involved with whatever it is the story is about.

Now some people think that involvement should start when a character wakes up, but that really doesn't happen all that often, and if a character is in the middle of things while he or she is asleep, then the story should probably start with whatever put the character in that situation BEFORE he or she went to sleep.


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rich
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You cannot use "waking up" to begin a story. It was done one time, and can never be used again. Ever. I will not argue about this.

"When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin."

(depending on translation)


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rich
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Ugh. I just saw in the other thread that my joke has been blown. By quite some time. Drat.

(from the guy who always seems to be coming in late to these things)


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Jeff Baerveldt
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I have to disagree with those who say that you can't open a story with the POV character waking up. But I will say that if you do open a story this way, you better have a pretty darn good reason to do so.

The best novel I know of that begins with a POV character waking up is the unabridged version of Stephen King's THE STAND. And if I remember correctly, the disorientation that comes with being woken up in the middle of the night out of a deep sleep profound effects what the POV character does.

So King does it right. The waking up is essential to the plot.

But most of the times it doesn't.

The better approach is to open the story AFTER the character has just been woken, and without mentioning the the grogginess of the character, use it to create atmosphere and suspense.


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extrinsic
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To my thinking, Dischisms are more than a cup of coffee and a smoking cigarette, an unkempt room. They're waking up, unannounced dream sequences, white rooms, bland landscapes, openings that launch into characters talking in Brenda Star dialogue; reflexive, introspective, emotive openings without causal setups; plot pump priming, story scaffolding; the urge to create profound misery, melancholy, maudlin melodrama; in short, a writer's setting intruding into a story.
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Bent Tree
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quote:
The best novel I know of that begins with a POV character waking up is the unabridged version of Stephen King's THE STAND. And if I remember correctly, the disorientation that comes with being woken up in the middle of the night out of a deep sleep profound effects what the POV character does.

I also know of countless and great titles opening this way. My point is that as relatively unestablished writers which most of us are, we have enough obstacles to overcome to get through the slush. So there is no reason to take the risk.

Let's face it, Stephen King could turn in a MS hand-written on the back of a roll of paper towels to an editor and it wouldn't even get damp with slush.

Once you have a few pro-rate sales or a little buzz to your name, you could consider it. I have seen it done well, but my pile of rejections won't grow any larger because it was tossed for a cliche on the opening page...I hope


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KayTi
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What are the characters doing at the beginning of your story? What motivates them? Are they changing their mind about something? Doing something new for the first time? Angry about something? Sad about something? What's just happened in their lives? What is the most important aspect of what has just happened in their lives? (I'll wager good odds that waking up is *not* the most important thing that has just happened in their lives...though I am aware of several significant exceptions to this rule, some of which have already been stated.)

It's a better idea, these days in today's fiction market, to start the story at the moment (or just prior to) that causes the character to change direction. Joe's walking along on the street in his hum-drum way, paying no attention to the stone he's been kicking, thinking about nothing - certainly not his dead-end job or the fact that his toe is starting to poke through the right shoe ever so slightly and he doesn't have enough cash to buy a new pair - when the rock he's been kicking...winks at him.


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Owasm
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Well, I certainly got my question answered.

I am of a mind to avoid waking up. I think the idea of starting the first 13 with a turning point is the key. The act of waking up is too reactive. Perhaps having something done to you is less of a hook to the future plot that doing something pro-active. My writing at this point is cliche-ridden enough.

I've read thousands of books, but in all that time, I was never cognizant of the first page being a hook. I was talking to my son-in-law about George R.R. Martin's Fire and Ice series. What bothered him about the series? The hook at the end of every chapter. He thought he was being manipulated. He's a lawyer, so he can be forgiven... but it is food for thought.

Trying to get our work sold, we write for the editor or agent who will read the first few pages, not for the readers who, at least in my case, give each book a few pages to show its redeeming prose.

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


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Robert Nowall
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I'm inclined to avoid them. I'm not psychologist enough to cast a dream that reflects on someone's inner life...besides, they remind me of reading some of the Ellery Queen mystery novels, where a lot of characters woke up from some pretty intense dreaming (and I remember nothing about the dreams at this late date.)

Come to think of it, there's a couple of dream sequences in my latest thing...but they're not so much dreams as telepathic reflections of something going on involving another character. They seem to serve a purpose in the plot, though...


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