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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » The waking-up cliche'

   
Author Topic: The waking-up cliche'
mayflower988
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My story opens with a prologue that tells about a traumatic event in the main character's life when she is eight years old; the prologue is from the villain's point of view. I was thinking to have the first chapter start with the MC having a nightmare about the trauma and then waking up to show how she still feels the effects of it. But I think I read on this forum about the cliche of starting with a character waking up, and I was wondering if this also applies to a story like mine, where the prologue already started the events of the story in motion. What do you all think? Should I go a different route with the first chapter? Or am I good to go?
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Tiergan
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I'll probably take flak for it, becuase I love pointing out that particular cliche. But... I wouldnt worry about it. I would say 1 in 7 books I open, maybe more start with that cliche. Bottom line is, if its the right part to start, then its the right part to start.
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genevive42
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Do what is right for your story, the way you want to tell it. The only drawback to the waking up cliche is that it gets used often, but if you use it well then good for you. There is no 'rule' that should stop you from telling the story the way you want to tell it. However, if you do something that gets done frequently, you must do it better and more interesting than the rest to get an editor's attention. Take that as a challenge.
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Pyre Dynasty
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First step is call the prologue chapter 1. (There is nothing wrong with having a short chapter.) People think "Prologue" means optional. I like prologues myself but they have fallen out of fashion because too many people were doing them so poorly.

Starting with a dream isn't exactly starting with a wake up. Of course that's a whole different bag of cats, because you are starting with a confusion. You need a flag of some sort to tell people it's a dream, and you have to make pretty darn sure it has bearing on the story.

I learned what the trouble was with starting with a wake up in one of my creative writing classes. We had four stories we were workshopping that day and three of them started with a wake up scene. One was an epic fantasy, one a romance, and one a spy thriller. All three of them had nearly identical first pages, just the nouns were different. The character wakes up, the world is hazy and slowly comes into focus. Description of the room. "Where am I?" Walks to the bathroom for hygiene related things looks into the mirror (river) and thinks a description of themselves. Oh yeah, I'm a spy/Ranger/getting married. Then they get dressed almost run off to start the story but stop for a second and return for that all important plot-centric item (cell phone/engagement ring/stone of unpronouncableness).

I kid you not.

It seems like the logical first step in a story because that is how our day begins. But it is how all of our days begin more or less. What if instead you have your MC doing something she likes, that way we get to know who she is, and then something triggers the memory.

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Meredith
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This is a first draft, right?

Okay, then. Don't let your internal editor get too involved in things, yet. There's time for that later. The point of a first draft is to get the story on paper (or on disk). Too much worrying about whether this or that is right can paralyze you and keep you from getting that first draft done.

Write it how it flows for you and worry about whether it needs to be changed later. That's what revisions are for.

JMO.

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extrinsic
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Pyre Dynasty pegged why waking up openings are trite as much as cliché, because they can be setting intrusions from a writer's writing setting, Dischisms, and also be a figurative waking up in the imagined world of a story opening.

A challenge of waking up from a dream, nightmare, virtual reality, or relating the "reality" of a dream state is the unreality of the experience. The action is intemediated by the subconscious state, two steps removed from reality.

In medias res opens literally in the middle of the action. Characters interact, clashes happen, crises happen, openings cause complications and problems wanting satisfaction, cause and compel central characters to act. Morning ablutions and everyday routines openings after waking up from a dream stall forward movement. Dreams are often retold in summary and explanation recital too. They are after the fact accounts that do not dive into the middle of the action.

Go ahead, though, write the dream in. In time maybe the dream's significance will present in other ways.

While Pyre Dynasty notes how common the pump priming or scaffolding dream opening is, wandering around taking care of morning ablutions is, I'd wager one or two of the same stories had going to sleep, losing consciousness, or death closings. My experience has been they often go hand in hand. Still Dischisms.

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mayflower988
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Thanks for all the comments.
Meredith: Yes, this is my first draft. You're right, I need to just get the story out.
Pure Dynasty: I'm sorry, I didn't quite understand - why do I need to call the prologue chapter 1? Wouldn't it make more sense as a prologue since it happens ten years before the next scene (the present)?
I think I'm going to keep the nightmare and waking up from it, at least for now. It seems like the waking up cliche is more of a normal coming into consciousness and getting ready for the day. My scene is one of those nightmares where the MC's sister is calling for help, but MC can't get to her. I'm definitely going to put things in there that signify it's a dream, such as fog that turns thick as mud. Then after the MC wakes with a start, the scene will be her dealing with her emotions and memories. No "morning ablutions". :)

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Pyre Dynasty
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I'll take a second to agree with Meredith. Don't worry about editing while drafting unless you seriously feel you've taken a wrong turn.

I say don't use the word prologue because, sadly, many people these days skip the prologue. they see it as not part of the story, like the trailer to a movie. So if your prologue is important to the story, which I have no doubt that it is, than it needs to be in the story. Stories to many people begin on chapter one. If it isn't important than don't include it at all. It does make more sense to have a scene so separated be separate, but my research is turning up more and more prologue skippers.

I have some theories as to why this happened, I've read some painful prologues. Some writers tend to make them highly stylized, unlike the rest of the book. Or they dump their worldbuilding bible into it. Or they did some prewriting exercise and decided to tack it on. There are also many good prologues that have been given a bad name by those other ones.

I wish it wasn't like this, it makes it much harder for me to tell the readers something the POV character doesn't know. (I'm a fan of Dramatic Irony.)

If it really wouldn't work as a chapter one than I don't think it would work as a prologue, remember this is supposed to be the first thing people read in the story. Perhaps the information can be integrated better later in the story.

Please don't take me as the end all beat all expert, I am prone to an authoritative voice. Do what is right for your story.

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Robert Nowall
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I've tried to avoid it, since one day back during my Internet Fan Fiction period, when I noticed that my last three stories started that way. (One was "out there," as they say...I started the second at a later point in the story, and, well, I never finished the third one.)

But it seems a valid starting point. The beginning of one's day is the beginning of something, after all...

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wise
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I'm beginning my novel with a prologue, but now I'm wondering if that's a good way to present it. The reason I'm calling it a prologue is because it's set 2,000 years in the past and it introduces the reader to the theme of the rest of the book. Of course all of those characters in the prologue are long dead in the time-frame of Ch. 1, which is why I hesitated to include it as the first chapter. There's such a jump in time, it seemed best to call it a prologue. Will my readers skip it? I don't want them to, because it is extremely important to the overarching theme, but the time difference is so great that to make it Ch. 1 and then start Ch. 2 in a different time period might seem abrupt. Any thoughts on this?
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Crystal Stevens
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quote:
Originally posted by wise:
I'm beginning my novel with a prologue, but now I'm wondering if that's a good way to present it. The reason I'm calling it a prologue is because it's set 2,000 years in the past and it introduces the reader to the theme of the rest of the book. Of course all of those characters in the prologue are long dead in the time-frame of Ch. 1, which is why I hesitated to include it as the first chapter. There's such a jump in time, it seemed best to call it a prologue. Will my readers skip it? I don't want them to, because it is extremely important to the overarching theme, but the time difference is so great that to make it Ch. 1 and then start Ch. 2 in a different time period might seem abrupt. Any thoughts on this?

I've wondered about this too because I have around a 10 year leap in time in my novel from what I've made a prologue to the first chapter. And like wise said; the prologue describes the incident that the novel is about.

Sorry for highjacking this thread. Maybe we should start another one about time lapses between prologues and chapter 1?

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extrinsic
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Understanding the purposes of a prologue helps. Though a prologue need not be labeled one. As Pyre Dynasty points out, many are mislabeled, many don't do what prologues are intended for, many are lacking in the fundamental features of plot, mostly causation, tension, and antagonism: a problem wanting satisfaction.

Back in the old days, pre 14th century, what we know today as a prologue was called a chorus, Greek chorus, a prefatory introduction to the main action, usually sung, danced, narrated, and acted, usually poetry. For modern plays "The singing chorus is used frequently to interpret the mental and emotional reactions of the principal characters, after the manner of a Greek chorus" (Rodgers and Hammerstein Wikipedia). The early Greek chorus sang the characters and settings' pedigrees for the opening. So-and-so of Such-and-such place at such-and-such time begat So-and-so, ad nauseam.

Musical screenplays also did the Rodgers and Hammerstein Greek chorus, though musicals have seen a decline in popularity. Audiences anymore want recital summaries and explanations and emotional subtext leavened in as imitation mode instead, and left to individual interpretation and not told to them how to think, how to react, how to feel, how dumb they are for not picking up on the cues of a drama.

A prelude is also a prefatory introduction, unlike a prologue though, the chonology spans a previous time, often with a major gap in time between it and the main action, and in the same voice as the main action, character voice rather than narrator (chorus) voice. Nor does a prelude necessarily need to be labeled such. Chapter one will suffice.

Interestingly, if a narrative has a prologue, or preface or preamble or prelude or exordium or foreword or editor's or author's introduction, the narrative should have a bookend bracketing chapter: epilogue, afterword, coda, postscript, peroration, postlude, explication.

Naming the various chapters according to their structural features might be an interesting and illustrative exercise. Exposition in the sense of dramatic setting, character, and plot introductions. Inciting crisis, first rising action, second rising action, third rising action, realization crisis, climax entre, climax crisis, climax exuent, tragic crisis, first falling action, second falling action, third falling action, transformation crisis, denouement.

Or traditionally, act one, scene one and so on. However, doing so reminds readers of the artificialty of the created world, challenging willing suspension of disbelief: a major reason why not to name an opening chapter a prologue.

[ July 15, 2012, 02:43 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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wise
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Thank you for clearing this up, Extrinsic. It sounds like my opening is a prelude, not a prologue. I hadn't really thought it through and used the title "prologue" as a convenience. The large gap in time was my concern. My (now) prelude is in the same voice as the rest of the book, so other than the huge gap in time, it fits nicely. If I was returning to that time throughout the book, I would include it as a chapter, but I think it will work best as "prelude".
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mayflower988
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Yeah, I keep forgetting to hold off on the editing. It's hard, though, because I just recently thought up this new angle to my story. Now I feel like I have to go back and rewrite everything.
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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by mayflower988:
Yeah, I keep forgetting to hold off on the editing. It's hard, though, because I just recently thought up this new angle to my story. Now I feel like I have to go back and rewrite everything.

What I do in that case is to insert a note and keep writing forward. I allow only one direction in a first draft. I can make notes, but I am not allowed to revise until I get to "The End". It's the only way for me.
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Pyre Dynasty
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quote:
Originally posted by Meredith:
What I do in that case is to insert a note and keep writing forward. I allow only one direction in a first draft. I can make notes, but I am not allowed to revise until I get to "The End". It's the only way for me.

I do this too, when I put a note in I put a # in front of it and when I go through editing I search for all the #'s.
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mayflower988
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But whenever I think up a new way to tell the story, it's like I can't think of the old story anymore. You're probably right, though. I am a novice, after all. It's going to be hard, but I'll try your idea. So you just add in the new scene and then go back to writing the old one?
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MAP
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Openings are really hard for me. I struggle to find the right place to start the story. The beginning really needs to capture the readers' attention in some way (especially for debut novels), so it is good to know the pitfalls and why some beginnings are more difficult to pull off than others. It wouldn't hurt to brain storm and think of other places to start.

And there is a lot of prologue hate out there (not by me. I always read the prologues), but it is worth considering if you really need the prologue or can you work that information into the story later on. I'm not saying you can't have a prologue, just saying it is worth thinking about. A lot of times writers use prologues as a crutch because it is an easy way to introduce backstory, but easy isn't always what is best for the story.

Here is a link to pub rant where agent Kristen Nelson talks about prologues.

But once you've carefully considered other options, don't worry about the rules. You should do whatever you feel is best. If opening with a prologue and/or dream is what is the best place to start your story, go for it.

I see the rules as something to stop and think about not strickly adhere to. Make sure breaking them is what you really want to do, what is right for your story, and not something you are doing because it is easy.

[ July 16, 2012, 12:31 PM: Message edited by: MAP ]

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axeminister
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quote:
Openings are really hard for me. I struggle to find the right place to start the story.
Could I interest you in a 13 line hook challenge? *wink wink*

We're starting a new one this Friday. *nudge nudge*

Axe

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extrinsic
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MAP, every writer struggles with where and when and with who to start a narrative. The five W's actually, who, what, when, where, and why, and how. While simple to say, at the core of where to start is a problem wanting satisfaction, the what so to speak, typically a problem first, then a want. Developing a problem wanting satisfaction is a struggle. Pump priming and scaffolding writing often explore for a problem wanting satisfaction. Also, a main dramatic complication, the problem wanting satisfaction, may not be apparent in nor necessary for an opening. A bridging complication can open as artfully as getting directly into the main complication, perhaps more artfully from a central character discovering a major problem due to a minor problem.

Knowing the complication is the necessary essential for knowing where to start, at least that if not more. From that, characters and settings and plot and voice can be developed. From that, the "hook" can be developed, if the dramatic complication is not the hook itself evoking and exciting reader curiosity, which in turn evokes excitement, which in turn evokes suspense and empathy and thus tension due to causation and antagonism.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Originally posted by mayflower988:
But whenever I think up a new way to tell the story, it's like I can't think of the old story anymore. You're probably right, though. I am a novice, after all. It's going to be hard, but I'll try your idea. So you just add in the new scene and then go back to writing the old one?

mayflower988, you can still make notes and just keep going from where you go the new idea for the story.

You can even write the story in pieces, if you need to. Write the new idea parts because they are the exciting thing for you now. Then write the parts that fit in among them, so they go with the other stuff you've written before the new idea parts.

Once you've got most of it all down on paper (or screen), you can go back through it and tweak it and edit it and rewrite it and reorganize it and smooth it over and insert stuff to help it make better sense and so on and so forth.

Just get it down, in whatever order it demands from you. Movie scenes are not necessarily filmed in the order in which they are viewed, and story scenes don't need to be written in the order in which they are read.

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Robert Nowall
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Here's a piece of advice on where to start---start somewhere, even if it is with a character waking up, and go on from there---then, when you go back to edit, look and see if some other location in the story that you've written might make a better place to start from.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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What Robert Nowall said.

Just get it down in words on paper or screen.

If it helps to tell the story into an audio recording device, and then transcribing it onto paper or screen, then do it that way.

Once it's down, you can work on it, but as long as it just stays in your head, it doesn't count as written.

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JoBird
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quote:
But once you've carefully considered other options, don't worry about the rules. You should do whatever you feel is best. If opening with a prologue and/or dream is what is the best place to start your story, go for it.
This makes me think of something Orson Scott Card wrote as a bit of advice. Essentially, he says that you can always break a rule, but you have to be prepared to pay the price. Hopefully, I didn't paraphrase him too poorly there.

Anyway, after checking out the agent Kristen vlog, and reading a few other blogs on the topic, I'd be leery of including a prologue. Personally, I'm a fan of prologues. I always have been.

But what price do you pay for including one?

Does it become harder to get representation for your novel? Does it become harder to get someone to publish your novel?

If either of those are true, then I'm less inclined to just go forward all willy-nilly with a prologue. The idea that your story absolutely has to have one, well, that's probably not true. There are probably other ways to get across what you're trying to say without one. Probably. I always reserve the right to stand corrected.

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Robert Nowall
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Some other belated advice...

John Campbell once told Isaac Asimov (whose memoirs I read it in) that if he was having trouble starting a story, he was most likely starting at the wrong point, and he should start at some later point. Seemed like pretty good advice.

So if "waking up" doesn't work, go past that, past the morning time in the bathroom, past the nutritious breakfast (or something grabbed in a rush), past the morning commute and the run up to the place of work...start when something's happening...

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