The First Sentence

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How important is the first sentence? A Writers Path had a recent post on the importance of the first sentence setting the tone for the entire story. That blog also had a similar post on The Importance of a Great Literary First Impression.

Aeryn Rudel of Rejectomancy had a post as well where he analyzed the first lines from his stories that were published last year. And The Write, Already! blog recently had a series of posts promoting John Brueckner’s “892 Opening Lines” book. There’s even a publication dedicated to the first sentence called, not so coincidentally, The First Line. I’ve posted previously about that publication.

I also recall an editor of Asimov’s or Analog year’s ago discussing how important the first sentence was. What I recall, whether I remember correctly or not, essentially was if the first sentence didn’t grip him, it had little chance of being purchased.

Clearly, this is on a lot of people’s minds. So have I practiced this philosophy? I’ve certainly tried with varying amounts of success. I’ve also tried to vary my approach. Sometimes the first line is dialogue. Other times it’s the narrator speaking.

To date my favorite is from a story I’m still shopping around. Indeed, I hope to use it as the lead story in my short story collection submitted to the C. Michael Curtis Short Story Book Prize. (I wrote about this contest here.) The line is: “The naked man ran screaming from the room.” Don’t you want to read on to know why he is both naked and screaming? I thought so; I haven’t gotten an editor to bite yet though.

Do you try to nail that first line before proceeding with a story, or do you not worry about it? Do you have any first lines you’re especially proud of? Let me know in the comments.

 

Flash Fiction Workshop

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My Writers Club hosted an excellent flash fiction workshop last week. We invited local author, editor, and teacher Tara Campbell to lead the workshop. Another club member and I had attended a writing salon she taught at the National Gallery of Art. Space is limited for those, but if you’re in the DC area, I recommend attending. I left with most of a flash story drafted. Though I’m still shopping that piece around, I’m proud of the outcome.

This time, Tara led a shorter workshop focusing on three types of flash stories. The first task was to produce a story about an ordinary, everyday ceremony but with a twist. The second was to write something autobiographical about a time in our life when we experienced anxiety. The final story was to be something procedural, like a recipe or some other set of instructions but embedding a story therein.

We were given 10 minutes to write each time. And darned if I didn’t come up with ideas for each immediately and get most of a story for each on the screen in that time. The next day I finished all three and polished them a little, but most of the stories were there already. I’d count that as a productive workshop, and if you need inspiration, I recommend using the same three scenarios as the basis of for three stories.

In the interest of full disclosure, these stories are not long. They aren’t even typical flash length. Two are 200 words and the third is 300. However, I think each is a complete, self-contained story. I don’t have any plans to flesh them out further. I like them the way they are.

I intend to shop them around to the flash fiction markets. I haven’t had a flash piece accepted yet. Maybe one or more of these will break that logjam.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve attended a flash fiction workshop and whether you were pleased with the results. Did you get one or more stories out of it? Did you have any success in getting those stories published?

Post #52 – Writing Prompts

12/20/18

Do you use them? Do you shun them?

According to Amazon and a perusal of my local Barnes & Nobel, there are numerous books full of writing prompts. How many would you like? There are books with 300, 400, 642 (oddly specific), and 1000. Or, if you want to go big (because there is no reason to go home), how about a box set of 5000! There are books devoted to just science fiction prompts.  Too limiting? There are books for science fiction and fantasy prompts. Not your thing? There are books with prompts for westerns. Too broad? There is a book with prompts for western romances. Clearly, there is something for everyone.

Don’t want to buy? Searching “writing prompts” in Google returned 183 million hits.  Have at it!

Earlier this year, I came across an interesting take on the writing prompt phenomenon.  A literary publication, The First Line, provides authors with a writing prompt in the form of the first line for every story. As the website puts it, “[e]ach issue contains short stories that stem from a common first line.”

I have mixed feelings about prompts. Part of me feels I shouldn’t need them. I can come up with story ideas on my own, can’t I? That’s ego speaking though. I take story ideas from lots of sources, so why is it cheating to use a supplied prompt?

The other part of me is scared to even look at them for fear I’ll come up with a story idea and feel the pressure to write it. For example, I received an email from The First Line with its list of lines for 2019. Instead of one line per quarter, for the journal’s 20th anniversary, they offer several first lines from past issues for each quarter next year. I made the mistake of clicking through to look at the available prompts. I couldn’t even get through those for the first quarter. After reading almost every first line, a story began to form in my head. I couldn’t take it. I had to look away. I didn’t want all these new stories bouncing around in my head while I’m at work, for starters, and also while I’m still plugging away at the WIP novel.

If I had more time, I might consider going for it and attempt to come up with a story for each first line. Even if several went nowhere, there likely still would be numerous ideas worth fleshing out. Right now, I have plenty to keep me busy. I hope I recall correctly Mike Resnick saying he wrote down story ideas on little pieces of paper, which littered his office. Over the years he accumulated so many, he had no hope of ever writing them all. That’s how I would feel if I attempted this.

I actually wrote a nonfiction piece for The First Line. The market accepts essays discussing the first lines of novels. As soon as I read that, I knew I had to write about the first line in Stephen King’s The Gunslinger. So I did. The essay wasn’t accepted by The First Line, but I was pleased when Page & Spine accepted it. You can read it here. Maybe prompts aren’t so bad after all.

Let me know in the comments how you feel about writing prompts. Love ’em or hate ’em?

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