Opening Line

We’ve all heard how important the first line of any story is. We’ve written them and then rewritten them a hundred, no, a thousand times and still wonder if it’s good enough.

Here are a few thoughts about opening lines:

  1. Does it create a sense of intrigue or peak the readers’ interest? If not, what can you do to make it so?
  2. Doe it truly reflect what the story is about or does it create a false impression? That first line should “fit” with the story, not just be a lead to grab attention.
  3. Does it allow for an escalation of tension? If not, what needs to change to make it function in that way?
  4. Does it introduce the protagonist? Or does it present the conflict? In some way it has to do these things. If not, the reader will not be interested.
  5. And, as we all know, does it hook the reader and make the reader want to keep going? But…the hook cannot be a false premise.

Your task is to write five different opening lines for a story that’s tumbling about in your head. After this is done, apply the above five thoughts to each of the lines.

Select the strongest line and write.

Try to get past the first page, then stop and reflect on that first line. Is it working? If not, what can you change so that it does?

Have fun with this one.

 

Escape Plans

We’ve all found ourselves in uncomfortable situations. When we do, we have to find a way to extricate ourselves and get away, far away, as fast as possible.

For example, networking in a bar. A young man approaches. He wears jerk across his forehead. He oozes a feeling of superiority. He smirks, winks, opens with a stupid pick-up line. How do you get away?

What if you’re stuck in traffic with only fifteen minutes to go before an important meeting begins? How do you avoid the congestion?

When you are young, being in a classroom can be stifling. You are stuck in a desk for at least an hour, no escape possible until the bell rings. You hate the subject but know you have to do well enough to graduate. How do you stay focused without dreaming about what you’re going to do during break?

Your task is to make a list of possible situations for your character. Each must be appropriate for the character’s age and personality. Try to come up with at least three different ones.

Choose the one that you think you can incorporate into a story. Next make a list of things that your character can do to escape. Again, each must be a viable option.

Once you have narrowed the escape options down to one, then begin writing. When you are finished, reread to make sure that both the situation and the escape plan are realistic.

Have fun with this one.

 

Cultural Background

Often we identify with a specific culture. This impacts how we speak, think, eat and pray.

For example, if you are Hispanic, you might eat a lot of traditional foods, speak Spanish, think in Spanish and attend church services in Spanish.

Then there are people like me that don’t identify with a specific culture. For example, there are relatives in my distant past who came from Germany, Ireland and Prussia, but I don’t consider myself any of those. You could say that I am white European, and I suppose that it does impact a good part of what I do, but I cannot point to any specific activities that define me as European.

When you create a character, you should take cultural background into consideration. It does not have to be a defining characterization and need not be mentioned in the story, but it could be.

Your task is to think of some aspect of yourself that defines you in terms of cultural background. Write about a time when culture influenced an activity in your life.

Have fun with this one.

Things They Hate

Everyone hates something or someone.

Think about it for a moment: In the world, there is an endless variety of things that cause us to cringe. For some it might be going to the dentist. For others it might be a particular food.

Some of us hate narcissists who only speak/care for themselves. Some of us hate people in our office who have jumped ahead of us on the corporate ladder.

Because it is natural to hate, your character must have strong dislikes.

Your task is to make a list of things that annoy your character. Come up with at least five different categories. Then narrow it down to the one that you can incorporate into a scene.

Choose the one that makes you the most passionate. Your feelings will impact your character’s reactions, so this is why it’s important to select one that really irks you.

After you’ve established that which your character hates, write the scene in which the hated object appears. Be sure to include sensory markers. We need to feel the character’s anguish through sight, smell, taste, touch, sound.

When you are finished, reread to see if the hate comes forth. If it does, then you have accomplished the task. If it doesn’t, then what do you need to do to strengthen the emotional response?

This will not be an easy task.

Have fun with it anyway!

Wild Weather

The skies are gray and the wind is howling. Torrential rain/snow/sleet/hail is expected to fall. Trees might topple. Power lines will be downed. Roads will close.

But your character has to go somewhere. It could be to work, to the mall, to an appointment. What does she do? Does she cancel/call in/change plans? Sit at home with a cup of coffee and a good book? Or does she go outside and risk being caught in the storm?

Taking off work might not be an option. Many people do not get days off due to wild weather. They have to risk the elements or possibly lose their job. Is your character one of them?

Your task is to write a weather-related scene in which your protagonist is forced into making serious decisions. It would make a great story if the character goes outside and is subjected to the weather. Think of all the possible things that might happen! The list is endless.

Have fun with this one.

Making New from Old

You have to admit that the old stories are great. Think how many Disney has turned into marvelous cartoons that intrigue young and old.

Those classic fairy tales hold our interest as average people battle monsters, overcome obstacles, fall in love with beasts who turn out to be wealthy men, prick their fingers on thorns and try to climb the tower to get to the beautiful blonde.

The musical Into the Woods combined together as many fairy tales as possible into one rollicking story.

Imagine taking your favorite story of all time and retelling it. Change the characters names. Change the setting. Maybe add a twist to the story by making the male protagonist female and the evil witch a terrifying wizard.

Your task is to do just that.

Begin by making a list of five fairy tales that you know well enough to rewrite. If you can’t think of any, visit the local library and read a few.

Narrow your list down to the one that you think you could have the most fun with.

Remember to incorporate those issues that society still cares about: poverty, war, race, gender. Also update the story by giving it a contemporary setting with those things that are so important in our lives: technology, politics, and the ways that those two consume our attention.

Don’t forget the key elements of relationships, mood and theme.

Have fun with this one.

The Dating Ritual

Do you remember your first date? How old were you? Where did you go?

What was your reaction when you were asked out? Did your heart palpitate? Your breathing increase? Your cheeks flush?

Think about the process of dating. First looks. First impressions. Making contact. Deciding whether or not there is potential for a relationship. Repeated dates and encounters. Still deciding.

Just as real people go through the ritual, so must your character, especially if he is single. He searches for a possible mate. He finds one, woos her, asks her out.

In today’s world, women can also be the pursuers. She can make contact, initiate communication, make decisions. Make the first moves.

Your task is actually quite simple. Write a scene in which your protagonist is searching for love. First of all, decide where this search will take place. In a bar? Nightclub? Office?

Then decide what the person looks like, acts like, sounds like. What is the attraction? Be clear about that. The other cannot be dressed like a slob, stagger around drunk and burp loudly sending alcoholic fumes everywhere. Instead, what characteristics appeal to the seeker?

In your scene they will make contact, which means writing dialogue. Make it realistic. What would two strangers say to each other in order to sound appealing?

As the dialogue develops, allow the two to find interest in each other. How is that displayed? How does that alter dialogue?

Finally, write the end of the scene, when they part. What happens? Is there a hug or handshake? An exchanging of contact information? A kiss? A slow dance before the night ends?

Have fun with this one.