How to Write a Wake-Up Scene


Part One

Note: For those of you who are thinking about publishing, please use this wisely. One of the five openings to avoid is a wake-up scene. Agents usually hate them, however, for those are you who are writing a short story for school or are writing fanfiction, or are writing just for fun, then by all means go ahead and use this. Ultimately, you can do anything you like. So if it feels totally right to you then start with this opening scene.

    1. Unless something happens just as your character wakes, it’s like a showering scene or a getting dressed scene. Readers will presume these things have already taken place… and all the other aspects of being a human which do not contribute to the overall story.

»A. Keep in mind the three MAIN ways to start a wake-up scene:

    I. Begin inside the character’s head as they’re waking up. But avoid getting too deep and end up writing a large dream instead of making the character wake up.



    II. Alarm the character enough to wake them up i.e., a loud noise or an earthquake would be sufficient. Or what about a loud explosion.



    III. Just have the character simply wake up.



Example 1:  BOOM! A loud noise sounded from downstairs. “It sounded like it was coming from the kitchen,” Jim thought out loud. He had jumped out of his bed and landed face-down on the floor. The entire night he was alert; just yesterday someone threatened to murderer his whole family. He didn’t take that person seriously but now Jim was beginning to think he should have.


Part Two

  1. Make the scene portray your character’s personality.

»A. Third POV is great for suspense scenes, because the reader’s view is completely objective. Use it if you want to put a more pronounced accent on the MC’s reactions and inner thoughts.

    I. Have something that makes the protagonist consider the morning not as usual. This opening part should be the focus of dramatic tension.

      i. For example: Maybe the sound of someone singing in the kitchen maybe breakfast is missing. He’s used to waking up to the smell of his favorite food in the morning. But the character assumes the person slept in late. Or the person has been feeling sick, when really it’s something else.


      ii. Or maybe the sound of siblings arguing isn’t there and, even though the character is relieved right now, he is going to wish he checked on them earlier. Maybe someone broke into the house and killed them, that’s why they’re not arguing.



      iii.Finally, after some time, the protagonist realizes that it’s odd that NONE of the usual sounds are there, and the anxiety starts to creep in pretty fast.



      II. Also, depending on the protagonist’s personality, write his reaction. Is he/she worried? Scared? Still half-asleep? Does he/she jump out of bed, rush down the hall to check on their loved one’s or whatever the case may be? Or does the character keep making up excuses.


      III. In addition, he/she could go into denial or try to come up with a calm, rational explanation. Perhaps the character gets more and more frightened/desperate with each action. Exhibit A:


      i. The character checks the clock to see if they woke up too early/late, etc. but nope, that’s not it.

      ii. The protagonist starts thinking his family went out for some reason. And when he/she gets downstairs. There is no signs of activity.

      iii. So the protagonist looks outside. All modes of transportation – skateboard, motorcycle, bicycles, cars, etc. are still there.

      iv. Then, he/she runs back inside to check their rooms. Nothing.

      v. Lastly, before they freak out big time, they look for a notes or messages, etc. Again, zilch, nada, no luck man.


      IV. Be sure the protagonist goes through quickly, logically, and thoroughly every possibility, but have all dead ends to make it dramatic and enticing.


    Example 2:  

    He freaked out when he didn’t hear the sound of his wife singing in the kitchen or when he didn’t smell the pancakes she makes every morning. “Make she went out,” Jim said, trying to reason with himself. “And make that loud explosive noise was just, he driving in to the car door again. Yeah, that’s it.”

    He didn’t want to leave his room yet; what if it was too dangerous. For all he knew either his family was dead and the murderer stood right outside his bedroom door, waiting for him, or his family was perfectly fine and he overreacted.

    Not a minute later after being in deep thought, Jim knew something wasn’t right. The longer he waited, the less of an opportunity he had to save them IF, and only if, they were in real danger. Otherwise, he would go back to sleep.

    Jim, still half asleep, grabbed his robe, paced around his bedroom contemplating if he should walk out or not, and finally, he decided to take the leap of faith and open his room door.

    Before he took a step out the door he check the clock: 10:30 it said. He work up 15 minutes before his alarm went off. “Great,” he thought out loud, “this better not be a sick joke or Imma be mad.”

    He took two steps out the door. Looking left and right, he saw everything in its place. Nothing had been moved or blown up and his he couldn’t see the car in the driveway. He must have guess right… his wife did go out to the store.

    Jim raced downstairs to see if Marla, his wife, left a note like she always did. But nothing. Zilch, nada. “What’s going on?” Jim said, feeling quite nervous. He was beginning to think something went terribly wrong and that explosion was no accident. Not– at– all.


    Part Three

    1. Be mindful of this scene’s purpose. Make a point for your readers to continue reading. Think about length and how necessary it is.

    »Early on, hint at what relevance this scene has and what will be the outcome of it.


      I. Is this wake-up scene meant to foreshadow something towards the end of the story, like a scene where the character dies? Maybe it’s symbolic to the plot somehow. Waking up means a new day, a fresh start, waking up to the unknown, to something predictable or ordinary. How can you incorporate those truths throughout the story? You can have the story’s theme represent a fresh start, thus the reason for the waking up scene.


      You can have the character keep waking up throughout the book because they have prophetic dreams, or have the entire story be a deam (which I wouldn’t recommend) and them waking up in the beginning never really happened.


    Example 3:  

    “Marla,” Jim shouted as he searched for his wife. There, lying in on the kitchen floor behind the counter was his wife, Marla. She had been murder and blood poured out of her body.

    “We meet again,” a voice said, walking from behind.

    “Please, please, don’t kill me. I’ll do whatever you want. I’ll give you all that I have.”

    “Too late,” the killer said with a smirk spread across his face. “It’s your turn to die. Heheheheh…” He pointed the gun at Jim and with a grin…. BANG!

    The gun went off but luckily Jim woke up to the sound of his alarm. “Shit,” he said to himself. “What was that nightmare about? Good thing it was only a dream.” He wiped the sweat off his forehead and sat up in his bed. “I need to stop eating Marla’s cooking right before bed,” he joked to him self. Jim looked over at the clock. The time said 9:50. Then he began to think. “What if that wasn’t a just a dream, but a warning.” For some reason, Jim didn’t take his nightmare lightly. He ran out his room, went downstairs to where is wife was singing and cooking dinner. Outside, he could see his car parked in the driveway.

    “Is everything okay, babe,” Marla said when putting the pancakes on a plate.

    “I need to tell you something,” Jim said. He wasn’t sure how his wife would handle his theory, but he willingly tried to explain himself anyway.

    »Reflect on the day the character is ‘designed’ to have. Emphasis what is to come and promise the reader things that you won’t break your promise.

      I. What is the character’s day going to consist of and is it going to be a long, long day. What are their thoughts as they think about the day and why don’t you insert a short, reflect monologue to introduce the character. If this scene is towards the middle of the book, instead, have a monologue about whatever may be important at the time.


      II. Lastly (you can move this up if you need), are there any struggles when waking up? Does the character wake up to a missing limb? How about inside a closed chamber? What about in a sinking ship and the water is almost going to drown them? Increase the suspension by adding heart-pounding, time-limiting scenarios.

    Example 4:  

    Marla clearly held back the tears. “Are you being serious right now, Jim. I know how you love to joke.”

    “No, I’m not.”

    “Then why didn’t you tell me this before. If someone wanted to murder us we should have fled.”

    “I know, I know.”  Jim lowered his head. “I didn’t believe them at first, but after the nightmare I had I think we shouldn’t risk anything.”

    “How much time do we have?” Marla believed her husband. The look on her face showed pure determination.

    “We haven’t much time. I have the wallet and keys to the car. We need to leave now.”

    “Without packing,” Marla cried, “without eating my pancakes? I put the cherry on top how you like.”

    Jim grabbed his wife and practically dragged her outside. “I can eat it in the car. Look, we don’t have all day. “

    Jim and Marla both knew what the rest of today’s schedule was going to be like. They were on the run from a guy who wanted to kill them. Whether or not the killer really was going to do what he said he was going to do, Jim didn’t want to risk putting his family in danger. He would be forever grateful to the universe for giving him that nightmare, which gave him a total of 45 minutes to save his tail.

    “Babe,” Marla said when they were driving safely on the freeway. “Are we ever going to return?”

    Jim shook his head then grabbed his wife’s hand. “You know we can’t do that. “Five years ago when we agreed to become spies for the government, we knew of the consequence. No kids, no close relatives, and no living in places longer than a few months. We exceeded that limit which is why we are in this predicament.”

    Marla frowned. “I know. But we only stayed two extra weeks. Besides, we should get used to not running around so much. Maybe we should retire.”

    Jim looked over at Marla and shook his head. “What are you talking about?”

    Marla smiled, held up a pregnancy test and said, “Because, Jim, I’m pregnant.”

    Jim swerved the car out of shock, accidentally hitting into a concrete wall on the freeway. Marla screamed, Jim yelled before the collision and soon they both blacked out.  Luckily they survived. The only problem was… well, they ended up inside a dark chamber… their enemy’s dark chamber happened to be following them the whole time on the freeway. Who knows how long they’d have to stay in there? But we can all agree, it would be well past Jim’s bedtime.


    !You might have to scroll down the textbox with your mouse!

Chat Room

6 thoughts on “How to Write a Wake-Up Scene

  1. Wow hi do you think wake up scenes to start a story are bad even if it’s a twist? like someone wakes up and they’re in somewhere completely new?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *