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First Line Exercise

Updated on June 15, 2011
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I was tidying my living room this morning, sorting through many large piles of papers (mostly my eldest son's work - at the age of seven, he is already a very prolific artist, and if he continues at this pace for the next ten years we will need another house to accommodate all of his masterpieces) and I found a notebook with one sentence hastily scribbled at the top of each page. The book was not full (they rarely are - I begin many, but fill few), and I have set it aside to use when the need arises.

Each sentence in the book was a first line. A first line to what, you ask? Well, a first line to whatever you like ... a play, a novel, a short story, a poem, a stream of consciousness. For me, it was an attempt to find out if I had any imagination, a quick go at an exercise that I had read about in a 'how to write...' book. At the time of writing these first lines I must admit that I had only ideas for novels in mind; but you will see that any of them could be used for short stories, certainly plays, and, probably for those very clever people among you who see lines of poetry floating on the very air, with a little tweaking they could be made to have rhythm and transformed into poetry. And I suppose, in a similar way, they might even become lyrics, had you the inclination and aptitude to be able to set them to music. I can't see poetry in them, but that's because I can only do limericks so far.

So I thought I would share them with you. And then I thought that it might be nice to invite you to add to the list of first lines. And then I thought a little more, and wondered whether it might be interesting to invite you to write something using one of the first lines as a ... er, first line. What I thought might be very interesting would be to see how two minds might interpret the same first line differently.

Anyway, here are the lines I came up with:

I'll never forget the first time I saw a dead body.

'Well, I've been Freddie Watson, you've been fantastic, g'night!'

I can't stand this any more, I've got to get away.

At No. 42 there used to be a cupboard under the stairs, and Linda would climb into it when her mum and dad were shouting at each other.

'Price check on haemorrhoid cream please,' the assistant shouted over the tannoy; I could, seriously, have died of shame.

I can remember the face and name of every child I have ever taught.

'Leve me alown, I dont want 2 c u eva agen.'

'If you keep doing that the pixies'll get you,' was what my granddad would say whenever I did something he didn't like.

Nina felt a small hand slip into hers, and then the tears began to roll down her cheeks.

'Champagne, Mrs Winters?'

'Hello, yes ... erm, I've got an appointment with Dr Medhurst, my name's Felicity Stone.'

Although she knew that she was going to do it, she let out a little gasp of surprise as she let the vase drop over the edge.

I find it astonishing that some people can be so self-obsessed, and yet so lacking in self-awareness.

It all started when Bob said that Geoff's wife was as ugly as sin, and Geoff took a swing at Bob, but missed and caught John's wife Tina square on the jaw.

A sharp intake of breath, a short little cough, and just like that, I was dead.

'Who's that knocking at this time of night?'

I witnessed a bloody murder.

'Yes, I'll do it,' I said decidedly, 'and I want a proper contract made up, but I don't want to be paid.'

So there are my first lines. You can do whatever you like with them; ignore them, change them, use them as they are, steal them from me (though it's not stealing, because I've given them freely), make up your own. As an exercise this is probably of no use at all if you are in the middle of a big project and have no time to spare for new ideas; it is excellent for generating ideas though, and for making you feel as though you've been productive when you're fighting a block. I did use one of these first lines about eight months ago - I turned it into the complete first draft of a novel, twenty-six chapters long! So it can be an incredibly useful exercise. As with any exercise, I suppose it depends on the amount of effort you put into it.

If nothing else, this exercise is quite good fun.

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    • Lady Wordsmith profile image
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      Linda Rawlinson 6 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      Hello baygirl, thanks for reading this, and yes, do use any of my first lines. It's pretty easy to make up your own once you've done a couple though, and I now have a 'first lines' notebook, and add to it often. First lines start cropping up all the time, once you know how to look for them :)

      Linda.

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image
      Author

      Linda Rawlinson 6 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      Hello baygirl, thanks for reading this, and yes, do use any of my first lines. It's pretty easy to make up your own once you've done a couple though, and I now have a 'first lines' notebook, and add to it often. First lines start cropping up all the time, once you know how to look for them :)

      Linda.

    • profile image

      baygirl33 6 years ago

      Lady,thanks for your brain children!I will bookmark for when I need inspiration (which is all the time).When you have the first sentence .It's a foundation on which to build the rest.

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image
      Author

      Linda Rawlinson 6 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      Oh, thank you so much Epi :) My eldest son, Thomas, certainly is taking after the creative side of my family - he's like my mum, very much. I wish that school could appreciate his creative genius, but they're only concerned with his maths test scores - fools!!! Education in this country has really gone wrong in a lot of ways, and kids like my son are slipping under the radar because they're not ticking the right boxes. I feel for those who have parents who don't notice - at least I can arrogantly think my son lucky that he has me and his dad to look out for him!

      Hmm - I think there's a hub in there somewhere!

      Thanks Epi, for that little therapy session :D

      Linda.

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 6 years ago

      ...well here comes the kind of hyperbole again - lol lol - but also one of sincerity and justification in saying that I am so very proud of both you and your son - this writing thing must belong in the family - I have long since admired your writing - and like I say - that's your trademark too - you CAN WRITE ABOUT ANYTHING - and you can always count on the Epi-man to come along for the ride!

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image
      Author

      Linda Rawlinson 6 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      Ian, are you drunk?! He he he!

    • Twilight Lawns profile image

      Twilight Lawns 6 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

      Soory. I think Imade one ro too misstakestheir.

      Nai

    • Twilight Lawns profile image

      Twilight Lawns 6 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

      That sounds reel fare asfar as Im conserned (Just a little practice... er... practise... er... practice).

      Enyway that willl giveyou a chanec to goover whatyew hav lernd.

      Ina

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image
      Author

      Linda Rawlinson 6 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      Take your pick Keith, no worries :) Hope it helps you produce something epic!

      Well Ian, I'd like to do the coast to coast cycle what is not a euphemism (actually coast to coast to coast, cuz it's there and back again - 340 miles in two days!!! Yipes, indeed!) but I really don't think I can get me fitness up to what it orter be in only six months. I'm going to try though :0S Certainly be something to hub about.

      We'll go for Morecambe and Bridlington for the epic collaborated novel then? You write it, and I'll proofread it ... that sound fair?

    • Twilight Lawns profile image

      Twilight Lawns 6 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

      Are you really doing a coast to coast on a cycle? Yipes!

      Or is that a euphemism? Still yipes.

      I think Morcombe and Bridlington sounds better than Lancaster and York. Sounds a bit more classy, dontcherknow?

    • attemptedhumour profile image

      attemptedhumour 6 years ago from Australia

      Trying to think of a new project is the eternal challenge for creative writers. Leni Sands posted a few challenges that bore fruit and your 'first line' has a similar flavour. So i'm going to choose one and see where it takes me. Cheers.

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image
      Author

      Linda Rawlinson 6 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      I've one more suggestion, as to the title. I'm thinking that you could call it 'A Story About Two Towns: Morecambe and Bridlington'. Lancaster and York would be nice, but I think it's been done.

      I would absolutely love to collaborate on this project, but I'm just swamped with hubs and proofreading! Ask me again, when you're ready to write the second part.

      I can take the Morecambe photos for you. And I'm thinking of doing a coast to coast cycle, so I could get the Bridlington photos in about six months - would that be too late? Of course, if you want to stick with Lancaster and York, that's fine too - the coast to coast cycle passes through both!

    • Twilight Lawns profile image

      Twilight Lawns 6 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

      Brilliant idea, Linda. Two minds with but a single thought. Now, all we have to do is choose the characters and the name of the cities. I thought Lancaster and York, wotcha fink?

      I suppose it would be too much to ask you to cooperate with me on the writing of it... But I do appreciate your advice on that first sentence.

      I had a thought. If we publish it on Hub Pages, we don't even need much more than the first sentence, and a few pics... Most people on HubPages can't read more than a few hundred words. I'm going for it.

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image
      Author

      Linda Rawlinson 6 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      workingmon, Mo2Chi, Will, thanks for the comments. Glad you liked this little off-the-cuff hub enough to take the time to stay a while :)

      Chris, that would be lovely, to post links to this if you do write something. I look forward to seeing what your brilliant brain comes up with!

      chs too, thanks for stopping by, and I look forward to reading something excellent soon :)

      Ian! Now that is a first line and a half, that is. Actually, I think it's only half a first line - I've just been mulling over it, and I think that it would benefit from a bit more, if you wouldn't mind me making a little suggestion? How about sticking this bit on the end: 'we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only'? I think that finishes it off nicely, don't you agree?

      I get a very strange feeling of deja vu from your first line though Ian, and I just can't think why. Hmm, guess I'm just tired...

      Linda.

    • Twilight Lawns profile image

      Twilight Lawns 6 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

      What a brilliant inspiration you are Linda. I was sitting here reading your hub, and as I have just finished a hub and don't want to go back to what I was writing earlier, I thought and I thought and I thought... and I came up with this idea.

      I'm thinking of writing an historical novel, perhaps about a couple of well known towns of cities and the people who interact in those places. One could be a foreign city... Berlin or Rome perhaps. I haven't thought of the other one yet... maybe Milton Keynese.

      It will take place in the late eighteenth century.

      I even thought of the first sentence. When you've read it, tell me what you think and if you think it has any mileage.

      Here's how the first sentence leads one into the story:

      "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair"

      What do you think???

    • chspublish profile image

      chspublish 6 years ago from Ireland

      It's a great idea. I'll be back to you shortly with sumthin'. Thanks for the inspiration and ready availability of your lines.

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Thanks for that. I can see how a few stories might flow from those evocative first lines.

      I look forward to trying my hand at one later.

      Do you want us to post links to our efforts in your comments?

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      I agree. A great first line usually makes a great story.

    • profile image

      Motown2Chitown 6 years ago

      Love this, Linda. I've also bookmarked it for use a bit later...I love the idea and I admire the generosity. Being writers, we are often very possessive of OUR words. I appreciate that you are so giving of yours. :) I'll definitely take another look at these when I'm ready to get out another hub (that I'm not already thinking on, of course). Thank you again!

    • workingmomwm profile image

      Mishael Austin Witty 6 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      Thanks for this. I've bookmarked it for later use. Writing exercises are a lot of fun, aren't they? :-)