From bestselling author and former writing professor Dave Farland:
Many years ago, Damon Knight, a fine writer and editor, wrote a book on how to write short fiction. Damon talked a bit about avoiding clichés, and in his book he mentioned the problem of stories that open with people “wondering who they are,” “where they are,” and so on. Damon taught a lot of workshops, and his counsel to new writers soon spread far and wide.
Back when I began working as first reader for the Writers of the Future Contest in 1991, I didn’t see a lot of those cliché openings. But Damon passed away ten years ago, and his counsel has been forgotten. In this past quarter, I came upon nine stories in a row where characters were opening their eyes and wondering where they were, who they were, and in some cases what they were. The tenth story skipped, and then I got four more.
Unfortunately for the authors, I probably didn’t give those stories a fair shake. Literally, I saw a hundred of those openings in one quarter. In the same way, if you wrote a story about teens taking a journey to the center of the earth, that probably didn’t get you far, either.
Other clichés: the story where a ship’s captain is startled from slumber by warning sirens or claxons; the vampire lover meeting the man of her dreams (tall, dark, handsome, and O+); the human counselor meeting an alien for the first time; a person vomiting; someone getting a really cool tattoo; and the kid who gets picked on in school just because he’s a zombie.
One of the biggest clichés is the fantasy story that starts with what I will call “wandering.” A person is riding a horse down a road and thinking.
Link to the rest at David Farland