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3 Cliches Found in Story Openings

woman in mirror story opening

Story openings can be some of the most difficult passages to write. You must introduce a potential conflict, an immersive world, and interesting characters, but you’ll likely want to avoid some of the cliches that can lead to rejections and lost readers–at least when they aren’t handled exceptionally well. Here are three of the cliches I see most.

Cliche #1: The Static Opening

Some things are just cliché. The one opening that I will nearly always reject is where the character is sitting on a rock in the forest, or on a train, and wonders, How did it ever come to this? The author will then go on and talk about monsters chasing the character, assassins coming, etc.

The author here is typically responding to the feeling that the end of the story is so much better than the opening, so he or she hopes to tease the reader into getting past the slow beginning.

The truth is that such openings have been used so many times that they really won’t interest me. In fact, it’s a warning that the setup for the tale will be too slow.

 If you feel that your opening is too slow, there are lots of things that you can do to strengthen it: You can create hooks that make us want to read on. You can foreshadow upcoming conflicts. You can create little conflicts in the opening that act as bridges for the reader until the big conflict comes along. You can cut part of the opening so that we start closer to the inciting incident.

Cliche #2: The Weather Report

Not all weather reports involve dark and stormy nights, but most seem to. The truth is that as an author you have to create a world, and part of that involves the climate. So many authors tend to dump this into a first sentence—or even a page or two.

Now, not all weather reports are equal. I’ve seen Dean Koontz write masterful reports that illustrate the wrongfulness of the universe, that establish deep literary illusions, and so on. So you can start a story with the weather sometimes.

Yet overall, I think you’re better off to open with a problem, or perhaps a few lines of dialog. Try it. I think you’ll find that it works better.

Cliche #3: Staring into Mirrors

When you introduce a character, you’ve got a problem. A viewpoint character doesn’t get to see himself or herself. So, if you want the reader to see that character from the outside, you need to establish hair color, eye color, and so on, all through the eyes of your protagonist. This is often done on the first page as the character is primping or staring in front of a mirror. I’ve seen bikers do it by primping in front of the chromed fender of a Harley. I’ve seen soldiers do it by shaving while looking into the reflection cast by their shield—and so on.

The problem of course is that such scenes are cliché, particularly in young adult novels. So you want to avoid being cliché.

At the same time, you don’t want to wait too long for the reader to see your character, since your reader will begin constructing his or her own mental image almost immediately.

There are a couple of things you can try. You could, for example, show the protagonist through the eyes of someone else in your opening. Or you could wait five pages before you do it. Or you could find something really interesting about your character to put into such a scene—the fact that he has artificial eyes, for example, or that he’s sewing up a wound on his face. In short, find a way to make this more than a cliché. Find something unique to show us about your character. Use language that makes us care.

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