Breaking Clichés

I recently got some feedback on a short story from a top editor and of course the piece is going back into the shop to utilize their comments. However one of the compliments I received was on using a clichéd opening that worked in spite of the cliché. The story began with the character waking up.

If you do not write much or do not hangout with writers learning their craft you may not know just how often this opening starts off stories that fail to deliver. It has been theorized that this opening is so prevalent among novice writing because it mirrors the creative process. The writer doesn’t know how to start the story and begin at the start of the day, with their main character coming out of a slumber. This theory is further reinforced if the character awakens to a white room, the white space very reminiscent of the blank white paper in a typewriter. (And that gives you a sense of how old this cliché is.)

In art any rule can broken so when it is right to start a story with this tired trope?

I think the critical question is what woke the character up? The story I got the positive comment on had as a major theme sleeping dreams and in order to get the character as close as possible to their dreams I needed them to start asleep, but that alone would not have been enough to break the cliché. In addition to the theme, the character is awoken by bad news. In others words this was not just any random awakening, there was the commentary on the dream and an immediate obstacle that presented a dramatic need to my character.

If you are tempted to having your story start with the character coming awake my first advice would be, look for another point in the tale with greater dramatic impact, but if you cannot leap past the moment make sure it fits thematically and has dramatic stakes straight away.

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