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Looking in a mirror

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littlelostalien

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So, I have read many times that one should not start one's novel by having the MC look into a mirror, not least in this helpful article by Vicki Le Feuvre:

http://darleyandersonblog.com/2013/04/26/11-ways-not-to-start-your-novel/

I have also just started writing a new novel, and found myself having my MC look into a mirror on my second page  :gaah

It isn't just gratuitous mirror gazing.  My character has just woken up with amnesia - he can't remember what he looks like, and is surprised by what he sees in the mirror.  What he looks like is also important to the plot.  Does this sound like a good enough excuse?
#1 - July 18, 2013, 02:45 AM

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As long as it works and is essential to the plot (which, from the description, seems to be the case).

In writing you can break a lot of rules, except for maybe grammar and punctuation. In the end it's all about the execution.
#2 - July 18, 2013, 04:03 AM
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Sounds like a good enough excuse to me. I find that half the problem with writers using the looking-in-the-mirror thing is that the actual description is then cliched, so if it's well-written and original that also makes a difference. Good luck!
#3 - July 18, 2013, 05:39 AM
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Yes, those sound like good reasons. :)
#4 - July 18, 2013, 07:38 AM
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Agreed. When I first saw the title of this post, I thought, "cliche!" But then after I read it, I thought, "oooh, interesting, what does he look like?" Go for it!
#5 - July 18, 2013, 08:20 AM

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I think the main pitfall is having a character look in the mirror and describe himself/herself as an awkward device to tell the reader what the m.c. looks like...because, like, who in real life gazes into the mirror and thinks, "I contemplated my frizzy brown hair, deep blue eyes, and that pensive expression I always wore..." Barf! But yours is intriguing. (And if you just started this project it's probably not worth losing momentum by editing the beginning too much at this time. That's what revisions are for!)
#6 - July 18, 2013, 10:48 AM

littlelostalien

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Thanks everyone!  :thankyou

 I will leave it in for the moment and reassess when it comes to revisions, if I get that far.  :snail

#7 - July 18, 2013, 02:07 PM

Your book sounds interesting!

In my first YA and the first version years ago, I had my MC wake up and then look in the mirror!  :oi :lmao

Of course, maybe there weren't as many writers then so it wasn't quite a cliche yet. That's what I tell myself. It's like movies -- they all seem to begin with someone driving a car and/or monologues. Check it out.
#8 - July 19, 2013, 11:07 AM
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I agree that it really depends on how you as a writer present things. But I've also heard that starting with a character waking up is cliché as well as characters with amnesia. Here's a good article: http://www.writersdigest.com/tip-of-the-day/12-cliches-to-avoid-when-beginning-your-story
#9 - July 19, 2013, 05:56 PM
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littlelostalien

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So I have three cliches within 2 pages!  Alas and woe.  Why do they come so naturally?

Still, I will leave it for now.  I want to keep writing for a bit.

I know of quite a lot of amnesia stories in adult fiction, and especially in film and TV, but fewer in kid lit.  I think False Memory and The Maze Runner include it.  They are on my list of things to read.  Did you have any other books in mind, Christy? 

#10 - July 20, 2013, 07:10 AM

They come so naturally because they are familiar to us.  Think about ways to make either the story or the execution different from what has come before. 
#11 - July 20, 2013, 07:45 AM
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There was a post not too long ago at STACKED about the mini-trend of amnesia in YA that included lots of current examples. Here's a link:

http://www.stackedbooks.org/2013/05/mini-trend-amnesia-in-ya.html
#12 - July 20, 2013, 10:07 AM

littlelostalien

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Wow, there're so many!  Thank you Christine.  I hadn't picked up on this trend at all; I hadn't even heard of those books before.  I'm aiming for an MG story, rather than a YA one, and I think it will be very different, given the impression I get from the descriptions on that website. 

A general question: if you want to use a trope, like amnesia, do you think it's a good idea to read lots of books that use the same trope and set out to do things differently from the beginning?  Or is it better to write the story you have in you, and look at what else is out there after the first draft?
#13 - July 20, 2013, 11:50 AM

I didn't know amnesia was a mini-trend, either.  :2brickwall on your behalf.

Can you start with another situation where him not knowing who he was would be shocking and/or funny? (not sure your general approach) Or someone could say I like your haircut or where'd you get that black eye? That would give him an excuse to look in the mirror.
#14 - July 20, 2013, 01:07 PM
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littlelostalien

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Thanks Elizabeth.  I think I need to start when he wakes up (although I might change my mind later), but I can take out the mirror scene without too much damage, so I think I will do that.
#15 - July 22, 2013, 01:43 AM

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Christine- I hadn't seen that link. Very interesting! I had actually heard about the amnesia and mirror thing from pet peeves from agents.

littlelostalien- I understand not wanting to let go of something that you love, especially an idea or concept. And you should write what you love. That is more important than anything, even more important than seeing your work being printed in book form.

Yet, it's also important to understand what editors and agents are looking, and what has been overdone. Otherwise you will spend a year writing a book that will never be picked up by an agent or an subsequently by an editor. As long as you have a very unique reason for amnesia, then you should be fine. I think what the key is to not use the amnesia as a crutch in your plotting but rather as a unique element in the plot scheme.

Have you read The False Prince? It's not an amnesia story but it has those elements in it and it's so brilliantly done.
#16 - July 22, 2013, 07:25 AM
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I think I have to disagree with like, everyone. LOL.

There are so many ways to describe characters without using mirrors. For instance, if there's a relative around, the MC can compare themselves to said relative. If the character is a girl, she could throw some clothes on and then braid her hair to the side. And if you're writing third person omniscient, you can just have the narrator briefly describe them. Alternatively, in the case of you ms, you could have a supporting character crack a joke about their features.

I find waking up cliched too. If the characters has amnesia, he/she doesn't necessarily need to have woken up to realize it. They could do some mundane task and say, forgot what they were doing. For example, when you walk into a room and forgot why you went in there to begin with. In my ms, it starts out with the MC having gone into his room to get something, but forgetting what and why (later on it's revealed that his magician father has been making him forget).

So yeah. Get creative!
#17 - July 22, 2013, 07:00 PM

littlelostalien

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The mirror scene is now gone, and good riddance  ::-)  I will keep the beginning, with him waking up, for now, but have made a note to reconsider in revisions.

The amnesia definitely has to stay.  It's disheartening to hear about the trend, but I really want to write this story, and I think I am doing the things you suggest, Christy.  Also, thank you for the recommendation!  'The False Prince' looks great, and I will read it as soon as I can.
#18 - July 26, 2013, 09:24 AM

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littlelostalien- It's really hard isn't it to write what you love and yet make sure it's marketable. I'm glad that you are writing what you love and honestly, that is the most important thing. Good luck with your project!
#19 - July 26, 2013, 12:57 PM
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Here's another bit of info on amnesia plotting... E. Lockhart references it in during her episode of The Narrative Breakdown podcast. Apparently her 2014 YA release must have an amnesiac plot line...?

Here's the link:

http://www.narrativebreakdown.com
#20 - July 27, 2013, 09:06 AM

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