What is the Most Cliché Way to Start a Novel?
This was written as a response to the titular prompt--in fact, to a question on Quora. Several of the already existing answers had already covered the most cliché way to begin any kind of novel in general--the main character wakes up in bed--which left me with talking about the weather and massive expositional infodumps. If this piece seems absolutely terrible, ponder all the ways in which it could be much, much worse.
It was a miserable, chilly, windy day, as it had been since three days ago when the weathermage prophesied that the stationary front would be parked above the city for an entire week. The cold air was supplied by a polar continental air mass from the northern reaches of the Empire of Dzarbälak (pronounced “jahr-BAHL-ək”) while a warm tropical maritime airmass had brought enough moisture for months from below the archipelagic Kingdom of Æquēnurgyz (pronounced “EYE-geen-UR-goyz”).
Dzarbälak had been famous for millennia for its infamous ice dragons, and many of the commonfolk blamed the snow that began falling each night at sundown before slowly ebbing into sleet at sunup on their ancient influence. However, the wizened philosopher mages at the Academy loved to smugly remind their petitioners that no such beings existed at present—indeed, no sort of dragon at all—as, had they even ever existed at all—and there was no evidence to be found that they had—they had surely gone extinct long ago. Nonetheless, myths about their exploits still abounded among the commoners, and many farmers and workmen often found themselves daydreaming about what it might be like to encounter one. Indeed, one such personage was engaged in one such contemplation at the present moment, head upturned to the endless white expanse, imagining a dragon swooping in to drive off the cold air mass in enormous gouts of flame, allowing the warm, humid air from the south to give the people a few days of respite from the cold.
At times like this, daydreams often included pontifications on how pleasant it must be to live in a warm, tropical zone like the people of the Æquēnurgyz archipelago. The people of the city of Flarndarqxs (pronounced “FLARNCH”), a minor outlying city of the realm of Zdaing (pronounced “ZDAING”), where the story is currently set, had no inkling of such phenomena as tropical storms or hurricanes or monsoons or great waves or divine winds, landlocked as they were at the center of a vast continent. Other than the lords and merchants, most had never encountered a body of water larger than the irrigation pond maintained just beyond the city wall behind the levees of the river Urgh.
Nor could they encounter such a body of water by buying passage on a river merchantman. Not three hundred miles upstream, near the Dzarbälak border, it was joined by its largest tributary, and was navigable no further north in either direction than could be achieved by anything larger than a fishing skiff. Nor would it be worth trying in the current state of relations with that empire, what with the warrior knights constantly patrolling the border. To the south and mostly to the west, the river continued for no less than a thousand miles entirely within the realm’s borders before gradually petering out to nothing in the midst of the Great Fog Desert, never encountering so much as a whiff of a sea breeze—the warm air masses like the one that had brought this front mostly avoided crossing that great waste, and when they did, they had typically lost all desire to do anything like being “breezy” once encountering its rocky, stagnant environs.
And so, the people of Flarndarqxs, when not fogged by daydreams, could currently be found huddled together inside shops and taverns—any place that had a fire on and preferably a hot tea to sip beside it—complaining about the miserable, nasty, no-good, sleeting, foggy weather that beset the city. And those that weren’t were either working—and cursing their miserable lot at having to work in such weather—or bundled up and moving quickly to a place where they could engage in such gregarious misery, gathering complaints like burrs with each step. Search the whole city for people stood idle in the icy, sleet-washed mud streets of the city and you wouldn’t even be able to count two of them—but you would be able to count one. One who stood stock-still, staring blithely at the sky, chilling rain in eyes, envisioning a dragon.
This is not to say that every other person in the city was made miserable by the weather. There were a few—ensconced cozily in the libraries and labratories of the Academy—that saw it as a great boon to their workings. And up in the Teryain Keep, the Baron was quite pleased as he gazed down from his study window, having just ordered another bucket of coal tossed in the brazier. The cloud cover would provide cover for his pigeons—for his communications were certainly being watched—and keep his other operations from being easily observed.
Baron Chuin Transeuyv, you see, was not happy with the way his family—a family older than the realm by far—had been treated by the royals. For the last ten generations, since the fall of the last mage-king of Estvallidian, the King of the realm, seated in the capital city of Jansht, had always been a lord of House Cruxelle. That seat had been gained in a crushing defeat by the King Treance Cruxelle the First (now called the Great) of the baron’s own great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Rubirt Transeuyv, who had been permitted to live only as the lowest and most demeaned of vassals, with the boundaries of his holdings vastly decreased. His elder sons were forced into the monasteries of Jansht and kept from his side. His youngest son, Jaizen, was raised as the king’s own adopted son, brainwashed, as Chuin saw it, to obey the king in all ways. And yet, he was the only heir allowed to return to the Transeuyv barony.
This tradition had continued for the next two hundred years—until just twenty years ago, when young Chuin Transeuyv, then only ten years old, had been given the chance to depart from the care of the current King Devonn Cruxelle the Gentle to train as a mage. While there, he not only received instruction in the Arcane Arts, but also a very different sort of historical and political education than he would have otherwise. Different enough that he could clearly see that his family had been abused for far too long, and that the time had come to bring an end to the Cruxelle dynasty. And he wasn’t the only one who thought so.
The corruption and trickery implied by these thoughts of devilish machinations were far from the mind of the young man in the street who, even now, stood unmoving, as if bound, spellbound even, gazing at the sky, not noticing that his fingers were edging in hue from pink to vaguely purple, nor that he was beginning to shiver. He did not realize, perhaps to his fortune, that his story, which would come to be very interesting and fantastic indeed, could not possibly be understood in full without an encyclopedic knowledge of the world in which he was born and nearly its entire history to date. He had not a care in the world that his story, as yet unbeknownst even to him, would one day need to be supplemented by a fifty page epilogue, a glossary, and a dozen pages of end notes, plus an entire additional volume of lore. He was beginning to be worried, just a tiny bit, about how long—measured in minutes or in paragraphs—he had been standing in this precise position, and whether he would be allowed to end his reverie and continue with whatever adventure fate had in store for him. Ever the understanding gentleman of a protagonist, he felt that it might be important that those who would follow his adventure someday should know what his name was, but was nonetheless perfectly willing to allow those lucky souls an opportunity to have a comprehensive understanding of the state of the weather at the moment his story began.