As a reader and script editor, there are a few story beginnings I see so often that each time, my heart sinks a little. Even if the rest of the narrative is brilliant, a cliché opening sends a negative signal to me. In no particular order the most commonly used opening clichés are:-
1 Wake Up
It’s early morning, the camera pans around the room showing the character’s bedroom. We see characterful clues such as half-eaten pizza, dirty socks, empty beer bottles and so on. The character is asleep.
1.1 The Dream
This is a sub-cliche of the Wake Up. The opening is a fantasy sequence where the character dreams of how their life might be and then wakes up to find it isn’t. Or a nightmare, where the characters dreams about what they most fear that foreshadows some aspect of the narrative and then wakes up to find it was all a dream. Both of these are clichés that tell us about how the character lives and their aspirations or fears in a heavy-handed way.
2 The Funeral
The story begins with some evocative description of a funeral. It’s the funeral of someone that all the characters that we have yet to meet know. And the death is the inciting incident that kicks off the narrative. Maybe a legacy and the relatives who loathe each other all have to live together in the same house. Or the funeral is for someone who’s been murdered. Or the funeral will force the surviving character to build a new life. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the concepts. It’s the execution of using a funeral to start a narrative that is likely to bore a reader or script editor – such as myself.
3 The Breakfast
In this cliché we see the family in whatever particular configuration it is, at breakfast. Again, it’s a character set up sequence. Dad in his suit, eating half a slice of toast before rushing out the door; Mum cajoling the kids to eat breakfast – kids flicking food at each other, all telling the reader how these people live and how they relate to each other. In other words, a scene devoted entirely to character using the breakfast cliché. Of course, sometimes these openings work and I hasten to add, I’ve made all these writing mistakes myself. But if you want to give your work the best chance, I humbly suggest that you try to think of something else, if only to prove that you can.
Is there a writing cliché you dislike?