I know my problem.

I keep throwing out every opening I write for this thing because what the story really wants to do is open with the protagonist waking up from a dream.

But unfortunately for me and the story, that is a cardinal sin I don’t think I’m allowed to commit. It doesn’t matter if I produce the most brilliantly effective waking-up-from-a-dream opening that’s been seen these last ten years; too many editors will roll their eyes and chuck the manuscript without reading onward. And then readers, if I make it past an editor. Starting with a dream or the protagonist waking up is an unforgiveable cliche.


0 Responses to “I know my problem.”

  1. jenstclair

    Well, if you write it with that opening now, you can always go back and change it when you revise. Just a thought. 🙂

  2. sora_blue

    Bad story, no biscuit.

    It would be no better to start in the dream?

  3. drydem

    how about coming down from an LSD trip?

  4. amysun

    Gar, the frustration. Maybe start with a meaningful scene right *before* the dream so that you can still get to that part fairly quickly, but without it being the very first thing? I’m sure you’ve already been through all the options multiple times in your brain. 🙁

    • Marie Brennan

      This is the piece you’ve seen already, back in December. It may just be inertia talking, for all I know; the story used to start that way, and so my subconscious wants it to stay that way. But it isn’t so much that I desperately need a dream scene as, I have trouble finding a satisfying opening of any other kind.

  5. scottakennedy

    Well, since suggestions are being lobbed your way…

    Would there be any use, if it is the dream content that is needed, in finding another vehicle for it, so it occurs as a story told, a letter written, a sudden foggy memory over tea, etc., at a slight remove from the moment of the actual embargoed “dream”? Though I suppose editors have sensors for such simple workarounds as these as well. Good luck!

    • Marie Brennan

      Referencing the dream later on is already on the docket, yes. I just need something to replace it as an opening. And, as I feared, people have not leapt into the comments here saying “no, dream openings are okay!,” so I can’t talk myself into believing I can leave it as it is.

      • scottakennedy

        In suggesting those measures as a workaround, I did not mean as something other than an opening, i.e., the main character, while being dressed by her maid, tells the maid an odd story (with names changed to protect the innocent), which is only later revealed to be a dream the character just awoke from that has put her in a terrible mood, etc. Again, likely a useless suggestion for your particular pickle.

        As for opening with the dream itself, I don’t know that it would kill it for me, but then again, I’m neither an agent nor editor, and don’t have the same reflexes. Gene Wolfe uses the old “Dear brother, here is the strange tale that happened to me and I hope this message reaches you” to open The Knight and I was pleasantly intrigued. That device felt familiar from probably 2-3 dozen of the Edgar Rice Burroughs books I read in my youth, and I was delighted to encounter this old device affixed to adult content.

  6. mindstalk

    Start with them falling asleep?

  7. diatryma

    I’m sorry. That is a quantity of suck.

  8. celestineangel

    Hmmm. I might be able to help more if I knew more about the story and what’s going on, but I know better than to ask.

    Does it have to be that your character woke up from a dream that is probably pretty important to the plot? Could your character just… wake up? Maybe they’ve already had the dream the night before, or a week before, and expected to have it again but didn’t.

    That way you get your opening of the character waking up that leads into the idea of the dream, without the actual cliche of the character waking up from the dream. It’s mundane enough to escape the cliche, but still interesting enough to begin the story? Maybe?

    • Marie Brennan

      Waking up sans dream isn’t any better, alas. Still very cliche.

      And yeah, I don’t expect anybody to hand me the solution on a platter, not when they haven’t read the story. I’m just whining. ^_^

      • celestineangel


        In that case, I suggest metaphor. Something that could be a metaphor from “waking up from sleep” but isn’t really.


        It’s really, really hard to not be cliche, you know?

  9. pameladean

    Frankly, given that you’ve been beating your head against this for a while, I’d just do it, and see what happens. You’re not an unknown writer, after all.


    • Marie Brennan

      We’ll see. The plan for today is to ignore it and write a short story about a bunch of non-human critters taken from Mesoamerican folklore passing a chunk of rock around.

      No, really. Though hopefully the result will sound better than that synopsis. <g>

      If in a day or two I still don’t have any better ideas, I may give myself permission to write a new opening along the lines of the old one, and see how awesome I can make it.

      • pameladean

        Well, that should be a refreshing change of pace!

        Actually, I think it’s a dynamite description. This is probably one of many reasons, however, that I am not an editor.


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