Wednesday, July 1, 2015

On Waking Up

I'm sure you've all see this. The book, the story, that starts with the main character waking up. It's just one of Those Things™.

You've probably also seen literary agents (and/or editors) talking about how much they'd prefer writers to avoid said trope. And I get it. I really do. But I'm a contrarian by nature (or a know-it-all, whatever) and so of course I know of good examples of this as well. Or at least one.

 The one which comes immediately to my mind is Kafka's The Metamorphosis. The opening line?
One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin.

To me, this is a powerful opening sentence. This sentence begs me to read more. Is everybody's "Main character wakes up/feels things" like this? Nope. Hell no.

I've been guilty of "the wake up" I think only once, in Learn to Howl, and even then, I've fiddled with it. I did, in fact, want to avoid the eyeroll moment of "oh look, yet another shitty manuscript in which somebody wakes up in the first sentence. Yawn. Rejection." My main character comes to awareness in the opening, yes, but she hasn't been sleeping, quite. I feel like it works. Either it will or it won't, one day I'll find out. And by then I may have fiddled with it further. It's the nature of the beast.

I poked around on TV Tropes (a dangerous rabbit hole, to be sure) and while I didn't find just one specific "wake up" trope, I did find this handy dandy list of Sleep and Wakefulness Tropes which I'm sure could cover everything you'd like to reference in the gamut.


  1. I think rules are made to be broken — as long as you do so in an interesting, innovative and self-aware way. Ditto with the cliché of the main character looking in a mirror and describing his/her appearance, as if people don't know what they look like without using a mirror!

    1. Yes! Break the rules, but do it "right", seems to be the way. Of course, there's no way to give advice on the right way of rule breaking. One must just do it boldly!