Tag Archives: writers

It was a dark and stormy night…?

I love working on the first line of a story, especially a novel. The first sentence sets the tone for the whole book. It’s the first impression and if it’s off, it can sour the rest of the book for the reader. The first sentence will always be more memorable than the 100th sentence, so it has to be better.

So, what’s important to say in the first sentence? Many writers introduce their characters, since they are central to the story. Some introduce the landscape. A commonly held no-no is to start with the weather because usually the weather is trivial. One of my novel’s first lines is: “The air in the room felt close, like a cave, and the darkness smelled like baby powder and diaper rash cream.” There, I was trying to introduce the setting, but also set the mood and also give foreshadowing for the story to come, since it’s about babies and darkness. Another, where I introduce the character right away is: “Jonah liked being a hunter.” That also is trying to give a setting for the whole story, since the whole story in one way or another, is about hunting.

Here are some books that I have in my house and their first lines:

“The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring cleaning his little home.” (The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame). This introduces the character and gives a tone for the rest of the book. It’s a domestic story about domestic problems, and also about animals.

“A mile above Oz, the Witch balanced on the wind’s forward edge, as if she were a green fleck of the land itself, flung up and sent wheeling away by the turbulent air.” (Wicked, by Gregory Maguire). Another character introduction. This is actually in the prologue of the story, I think. It introduces the Witch as solitary and disconnected with the rest of the world, a problem she has through the whole story.

“Marley was dead: to begin with.” (A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens). Dickens was wonderful at first lines. This just grabs you and throws you into the story.

“Coraline discovered the door a little while after they moved into the house.” (Coraline, by Neil Gaiman). This first sentence introduces the character and also shows right away what is important in the story by saying “the door” instead of “a door” as if we should already know about it.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” (Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen). I think this is another of those classic first lines that lays out the whole book in a single sentence.

And then, the first line that I read and just laughed and laughed. Good or bad is for you to decide, but it definitely grabs you: “It was a long day, the day Axis tried to kill Azhure, then married her.” (Starman, by Sara Douglass).

Do you have any favorite first lines from novels? What are some of your own? Let me know. 🙂


How to Mess Around with Another Writer’s Story

Have you ever wanted to mess around with another writer’s story? Well, here is your chance. Introducing Open Prompts. Post some aspect of a short story in the comments and I will be sure to include it in my next story, to be posted on Friday, September 7.

Some examples are:

– the title

– the genre (fantasy, mystery, horror, etc.)

– the tone (dark, humorous , serious, absurd, etc.)

– characters’ names or other details about them

– plot elements (e.g. a silver dagger, a rainstorm, identical twins, etc.)

– the length (something between 50 and 1500 words)

– the setting

– anything else you feel like.

It’s pretty much open. I am planning on doing this on a regular basis, although this first one is a test. Every time, I will suggest one element and then take the first 5 suggestions I get in the comments, for a total of six elements per story. Please though, nothing obscene or sexually explicit. I’ll post the names of the story element contributors in the story. First come, first serve!

This isn’t just for me, of course. Feel free to join me in this: we all use the same story elements and then compare stories. Just post a link to your story somewhere so I can read it.

So, here is the first prompt:

1. There is a character name Kermit, who is a horrible klutz


Three Writers on a Bus

A group of friends, Mike, Tom, and Kelsey were traveling to a writers’ meeting when there was an accident. Here are their accounts of the incident.

Mike’s Account

It was raining—not a happy little drizzle, but a carwash set to Super Premium, hold the hot wax. We were traveling down a lonely highway halfway between Nowhere and Who Cares City and had been for over two hours now.

I was doing a crossword puzzle and failing miserably at it. Who the hell knew a 7-letter word for domicile goatee anyway? The broad across the aisle had been giving me the sweet-eye for an hour now and I kept giving it right back. She had legs like the Amazon River: long, with lots of curves.

I glanced out the window and saw a car was coming up on us, like it wanted to make our acquaintance in a hurry. The passenger side window went down a crack and the barrel of a snub-nosed Luger told me they didn’t want to chat. The bus driver—O’Malley, by his nametag—saw it too and threw the wheel to the left, trying to give the other vehicle the old cold-steel shoulder. The car swerved but O’Malley kept right with him. The front fenders scraped with a shriek of steel like the devil’s nails going down Hell’s blackboard.

There was a boom as the Luger fired, hitting our front wheel. O’Malley did his damndest to pull it back under control, but the bus tipped and started to roll. The Amazon across the aisle fell into my lap. I put an arm around her waist and held on as passengers and baggage got thrown hither and yon. I knew I was probably going to die, but what a way to go.

Tom’s Account

The Imperion-class space frigate, Reyhoun, rocketed down the warp-path towards the Orion nebula. Captain Dax Harflux piloted the 800-ton frigate with cool confidence that came with eight years of experience in the Galactic Commonwealth. This was his last trip of the cycle, transporting dignitaries and Fagullian wine to the nebula colonies.

A beeping sounded from his instrument panel. Holy meteors! A Narullion pirate craft had been detected 40km behind them and coming up fast. He had to evade it, but how? He was locked into following the warp-path until he hit the nebula jump-gate. He accelerated, sending sparks of anti-matter shooting from his proton-powered nacelles.

The Narullion pirate was approaching rapidly on his port side, firing crackling beams of scarlet energy. Captain Dax strengthened the shields but they had already lost half their power. Another beam hit and the ship lurched to one side. The pirates had gotten the gravity generators and inertial dampeners! The whole ship started to roll and with a burst of white light, they flew off the warp-path. With his last burst of energy, Captain Dax hit the emergency distress button. He might die with his ship, but the pirates could never get their filthy hands on the dignitaries or his cargo of Fagullian wine!

Kelsey’s Account

I sat listlessly by the window and watched the rain glisten down the glass. Today was the one-year anniversary of my beloved being killed in action but my heart still yearned for his gentle touch and the feel of his strong arms around me. Life had been drained of color since I had watched him leave for basic training in a bus much like this one.

There was a flash of yellow next to the bus and I saw a convertible pull up next to the bus and stay there. I was seated directly behind the bus driver and I saw him slow to let the slick sports car pass, but still it stayed with us.

Then to my astonishment, the convertible’s roof began to retract and a man stood up in the passenger’s seat. He was wearing a battered Army uniform but his head was bare and the rain soaked his soft brown locks in seconds. I let out a gasp as I saw that it looked like my beloved.

He smiled and I knew it was him. That smile, even seen through a rainy bus window going 50 miles an hour, still filled me with chills. I did not know how, but it was he, back from the dead. I flung open the bus window and leaned out, heedless of the rain and extreme danger.

“My dearest love!” he cried, “I have come back for you. Not even death can keep me from your side!”

“But how?” I shouted back in wonder and joy. “They told me you had been killed at Dieppe. I received a telegram.”

“A clerical error!” he shouted joyfully again.

I let out a sigh. Clerical error. From then on, those two simple words would be the happiest words in the English language for me.

He pulled a box out of his pocket and opened it, proffering the contents. “Would you do the honor of marrying me?” he shouted.

I fear that I fainted at that point and, it seems, collapsed onto the bus driver. With my last sensation, I felt the bus swerve and then I was thrown into weightlessness, like an angel settling gently to Earth.

I woke up in the hospital, with my beloved sitting next to me, a diamond ring on my finger. Oh, but I was the happiest woman in the world!

Bergerville Herald, June 20, 2012

A Greyhound bus traveling westward on highway 16 side-swiped a car, hit the curb and rolled once. The cause of the crash is said to be mechanical. Nine people were treated for minor injuries at the Bergerville Central Hospital.

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