Do Not Start A Story With The Protagonist Waking Up

  • “Do not start a story with the protagonist waking up,” says Joe Konrath. But with him here — as with so many other things — I must demur.

    Konrath’s peevish list of proscriptions came to my attention recently via Radical Roz Morris, who wrote about another preposterous notion Mr. Konrath (along with many others) has: never begin your story with weather.

    As it happens, one of my favorite openings in all of literature comes from The Sheltering Sky, by Paul Bowles.

    That novel beautifully begins like this:

    He awoke, opened his eyes. The room meant very little to him; he was too deeply immersed in the non-being from which he had just come. If he had not the energy to ascertain his position in time and space, he also lacked the desire. He was somewhere, he had come back through vast regions from nowhere; there was the certitude of an infinite sadness at the core of his consciousness but the sadness was reassuring, because it alone was familiar. He needed no further consolation. In utter comfort, utter relaxation he lay absolutely still for a while, and then sank back into one of the light momentary sleeps that occur after a long, profound one. Suddenly he opened his eyes again and looked at the watch on his wrist. It was purely a reflex action, for when he saw the time he was only confused. He sat up, gazed around the tawdry room, put his hand to his forehead, and sighing deeply fell back onto the bed. Now he was awake….

    But there’s yet another beginning I found almost equally beautiful, from the moment I first saw it, which was relatively recently, and that, perhaps, is part of the reason I’m writing about this subject now: because I’ve been thinking about how much I loved this opening.

    Watch the following clip, which is very brief:

    This is from the 2001 movie Monster’s Ball, starring Billy Bob Thornton, Heath Ledger, and Halle Berry. It’s a movie about racism — or, more specifically, about one man overcoming his deeply rooted racism — and, whether you liked the movie or not, whether you thought the movie succeeded or not, that opening is a smart symbol of a man waking up at last.

About The Author

Ray Harvey

I was born and raised in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. I've worked as a short-order cook, construction laborer, crab fisherman, janitor, bartender, pedi-cab driver, copyeditor, and more. I've written and ghostwritten several published books and articles, but no matter where I've gone or what I've done to earn my living, there's always been literature and learning at the core of my life.

2 Responses and Counting...

  • jeff 09.06.2012

    Do not start a story…

    1) by telling the reader what they can or cannot do.

    2) by telling the reader that you are dead and that the story will inform he/she how you became dead.

    3) with the protagonist waking up as a bug.

    4) with the main character poking fun of the bartender.

  • “4) with the main character poking fun of the bartender.”


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