I did a writing workshop with the fabulous Kelly Link early this year. If you haven’t read any of her short stories you really should. They are soooooooo yum. I love the one about the Library/’reality’ TV show. Man it made me wish that show was real. It was even better (and weirder) than Buffy.
(Image by Shaun Tan – illustration from Kelly’s book ‘Pretty Monsters’)
One of the exercises she gave us was to write 50 first lines as quick as we could. Just like free-writing (which Kelly called ‘the equivalent of doodling’), with no pausing and thinking, but with a separate, numbered line for each. You can try out using different point-of-views (first, second, third, and everything in-between), tenses and genres.
Then, when you’ve got your 50 first lines/sentences, pick out your ten favourite and go on (in the same doodlin’ frame of mind) to write a paragraph following on from each. So then you’ve got 10 first paragraphs. Now pick out your favourite of these and go on and write a page that flows on from it.
You’ve now got yourself a good start on a new story, and a whole bunch of material to draw upon next time you’re feeling stuck and just need to start somewhere.
Here are some examples of first lines that came out of that workshop for me:
In the waiting-room, there was magpie in a cage.
Beeswax, leather and woodsmoke.
That time I walked on water.
Monks and mermaids have one thing in common.
She smoked cigars and ate blue-vein cheese.
Some other things Kelly suggested:
Write a list of the things you reliably LOVE having in stories. Many people can’t resist a story with a haunted house in it.
For me, a wild, witchy, weird wilderness is always a pleasure. I also love dirt and grit, bitter medicines and difficult healings, straight-talkin’ voices and double-decker buses. What about you? Get particular about it.
When you are totally sick of yourself, try typing out a few paragraphs or pages of the work of someone you deeply admire. It usually won’t take long for your desire to create your own work to come shoving through nice and strong again.
Feel free to leave your favourite first line, or list of favourite story items, or most inspiring, envy-making writer in the comments section.