Weekend Workout: Paragraphs to Stories

I had a superb time writing first paragraphs from my first lines last week. Again, I didn’t think too much about what I was writing, I just wrote. I didn’t plan anything out, I just went where the line took me. I did it all in one sitting.

I think the “not thinking” and “all in one sitting” are important to the exercise. Timing yourself could help, too, so that you don’t get stuck staring at the first line and trying to THINK something out of it. Go with your gut!

The really fascinating thing is that this exercise works, really works, some incredible magic. From nothing but a quick thought  springs an idea you didn’t even know was there.

This exercise can take an intimidating process – the act of sitting down to write without any ideas – and make something amazing and fresh.

Again, from my original 50 first lines I picked the 10 I liked the best. Then I sat down and wrote 10 paragraphs from those first lines. Here are my FIVE favourite opening paragraphs from those first lines:

Green, red, blue . . . what mattered the colour of his blood when his heart was a broken hinge? He lay his head back down on the institutional hospital pillow. The nurses didn’t know what to do with him. He had red blood spurting from a gash in his arm and green blood coming from his nose. He reached up and touched it. His nose. Where Karmen had punched him.

It was a perfect morning for picking mushrooms. Green and misty in that way that spring teases. If she could identify them, she’d pick them now. They had sprouted up overnight, literally overnight, on the median across from the bus stop. But she couldn’t tell the difference between the poisonous and nonpoisonous ones. Nor did she know how much of the poisonous ones to add into a tincture, so that it would be just this side of magic, and not lethal.

I was taking a short cut through the cemetery when I spotted it. Him. It. The limping coyote. I had always assumed it was a he. I hadn’t seen him in weeks and I was glad he was safe, although not glad it was almost dark and that I was alone. I shifted my grocery bag to my left arm. Was I supposed to make myself big or small in the face of a coyote? Run towards him, back away, play dead?

If he had told her about his origami-folding autistic idiot-savant brother in the first place, they wouldn’t be in this jam. Instead he had told her to “wait” outside the non-descript building while he went inside. When he reemerged, sheepishly introducing Simon to her, almost apologetic, she was pale as a ghost. Unresponsive, even when he waved his hand in front of her face. He had no idea what had happened in the 20 minutes she had been sitting there on the bench. He was spooked, but Simon seemed to be all right. His brother placed his paper crane in Marion’s lap and she snapped out of her trance.

It wasn’t the first time she had been arrested for bar-fighting, and the other time wasn’t her fault either. What was it about her eyes that made people want to punch her? Looking at someone wasn’t a crime. . . but looking into someone could make them act out. Make them strange.

Interestingly, four out of my five favourite paragraphs are all a bit paranormal. I didn’t plan that, but I’m going to run with it.

This weekend I’m going to flush one of these out further. I’m guessing the mushroom one – there’s something about that one I like.

If you don’t like any of your first paragraphs, do another 10 from your original 50 and keep going until you do. With 50 first lines, you’re bound to strike gold at some point.

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Filed under 50 First Lines, prose, weekend workout, writing exercises

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