50 First Line Finalists and 2nd Round Rules! Join us!

I have been trying to write this post all day. It’s just been one of those days.

Image by Adam J. Kurtz

For those just tuning in, I am hosting a writing challenge/contest and we have just finished the first round. Anyone can join in the next round, so read on.

First, thanks to the writers who took up the 50 First Lines Challenge (they wrote 50 first lines as fast as possible and submitted their favourite five). Our judges actually had their own challenge, and I had to bring in a tie-breaker to settle things.

Judges included a MG writer/educator, a spec fic publisher and sci fi writer, and an adult fiction writer, so we ran the gamut. One of them exclaimed, “These are so good! It was hard to pick.”

If you did not attempt this exercise, I highly recommend it and I’m sure any of our writers would say the same thing. It’s a fantastic way to inspire yourself.

Without further ado… the top First Lines picked are (in no particular order, mind you, that would have been chaos):

Nothing was tastier than brains, not that he could remember any other flavour.
(by Esther Jones)

Nobody wanted to claim the abandoned baby on the hill. (by 4AM Writer)

There’s no such thing as a good day in Antarctica. (By Annie Cardi)

If you destroy someone’s life, they’re yours forever. (By Annie Cardi)

I blame everything that happened on orange chicken. (By Char)

For each line our judges picked, you receive an entry into the prize drawing.

I think it’s interesting to notice that the top picks were all short and punchy. Perhaps that’s how readers like to be drawn into a story? It’s definitely something to think about.


Generally when I give this exercise to my students, the next stage is to pick 10 First Lines and write 10 First Paragraphs. You are welcome to do that, but I’m only going to ask you to do five. The five you entered, if you entered.

If you did NOT enter the first round, your job is to write 5 First Paragraphs using the WINNING First Lines above. ONLY SUBMIT YOUR TOP THREE.

I ask you to do five to complete the challenge and to give you some choice. But only submit 3 to the comment section. (you are more than welcome to link to the rest if you post them all on your blog)

Again, the idea is to write them fairly fast, not thinking too much, and go from one right to the next. This could be the start of a novel, a short story, or a piece of flash. It doesn’t matter. You can edit them afterwards all you want, just get the first drafts done fast. Maybe even set a timer for 15 – 20 minutes.


Here’s a few samples from my own pile:

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?



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

17 responses to “50 First Line Finalists and 2nd Round Rules! Join us!

  1. I’m going to jump in and play. I’m so excited to find this! I hope I’m posting these in the right place. I missed round one, so the sentences my paragraphs were constructed from are last week’s winners. My top 3 are:

    1. “If you destroy someone’s life, they’re yours forever.” The words bounced around inside Samantha Richmond’s head like rubber balls as the bus trundled down the crumbling highway, heading for the coast. Her forehead banged against the cool window glass in a steady rhythm to its rocking and it was somehow comforting. The large woman sitting beside her had thankfully finally fallen asleep. She had plagued Sam with constant questions the first hour; questions she didn’t want to answer. She didn’t want to talk or think. She didn’t want to remember Rob and what she had done. She didn’t want the image of the stricken look on his face burned forever into her brain when she told him it was over. He hadn’t said a word. That horrible broken expression in his eyes was the only reaction he’d allowed her and it hurt. She wasn’t even allowed the emotional release of an argument. He had just stood there as she picked up her bag and walked away. She squeezed her eyes shut as the tears pressed and burned against them. The woman beside her began to snore dryly and Sam’s misery poured finally poured down her face like bitter rain. She watched the performance in her reflection.

    2. Nobody wanted to claim the baby on the hill. Nothing good came down from that place. Not even the crows and coyotes ventured up there anymore, much less the townsfolk. They all had good reason, as Billy Clements was remembering now. No one had gone up there since the bizarre murders of the Foreman family more than a year ago. The house had been quickly and quietly abandoned as soon as the sheriff finished his investigation. They all wanted to forget but the hill wouldn’t let them. Those strange lights and murmurs where there should be none kept folks turning their eyes away from it. Still, he had no choice. He had to go up there. No one else would. The moon, as if sharing his anxiety, slipped behind a cloud and darkness fell across the road like a dirty pall. Billie took a few steps up the dusty road and the night insects fell silent. The wailing started again, even more eerie in the strange silence. It raised the hairs on the back of his neck and he shivered.

    3. There’s no such thing as a good day in Antartica. For starters, the days either stretch on interminably into white bleakness for months at a time or are nonexistent for much the same. Then there’s the cold. It’s not an “oh gee, we sure are having a cold snap” kind of winter plains cold. No, not at all. This was more like a “the skin on my face is frozen and I’m afraid if I touch it, it’ll shatter” kind of cold. Maybe cold wasn’t even the right word for it. Hell with a broken thermostat was more like it. But, there I was and there was research to do. The reports of fresh tracks had come in just prior to my arrival and it was up to me to determine what made them. Unfortunately, the locals were about as frosty as everything else and cooperation was at a premium.

  2. Cannot wait to see what sparks from these sentences! (Awesome job to Esther, 4AM Writer, and Char.)

    Also kind of craving orange chicken now…

  3. Pingback: Fifty First Lines, Part 2 « Annie Cardi

  4. I think I’ll join in. Annie Cardi linked here from her blog last week for the first part and I was going to submit something, but then homework stepped in (yay college :P). All of these first lines were great!

    My best three were:
    1. Nobody wanted to claim the abandoned baby on the hill. It was bad luck, at least that’s what the legend said. But those long, high-pitched cries tore at my heartstrings as I walked past and down the other side of the hill. I paused halfway down. The wails were getting softer. I sighed and turned to go back up the hill. My wife was going to kill me, I was sure of it. But I just couldn’t let a baby die like that, bad luck or not.

    2. If you destroy someone’s life, they’re yours forever. Melissa would know. She learned the hard way that you don’t cross the homecoming queen of a small high school. There isn’t much space for personal flair with the “in” crowd. To come to school wearing thrift store jeans and curly hair was one of the cardinal sins of the queen bee’s posse and almost qualified to have you shunned (if you showed up wearing those . . . things ever again). To steal her boyfriend while wearing them is a death sentence. Melissa happened to be the unfortunate girl who did both.

    3. Nothing was tastier than brains, not that he could remember any other flavor. If he tried really hard, Carlos could vaguely remember eating salads and cheeseburgers and drinking coffee. What these things actually tasted like, though, had been long forgotten. Replaced by his constant craving for brains. These memories usually found Carlos once he was finished devouring a fresh brain, rather like he was now.

  5. Tamara Walsh

    Alright, the entries I read were really good, but–since I’d already written mine–I figured I’d still enter. So…here goes.

    I blame everything that happened on the orange chicken. Nobody would’ve ever known it was me who spray painted, “Steve Sucks!” across his barn if the dumb chicken hadn’t gotten itself caught in my crossfire. You’d have thought I’d sprayed it with acid instead of paint. The damn thing came at me like a pit-bull on steroids, pecking at clucking and flapping its wings. I couldn’t help but holler. When Steve’s father rushed out of the house to see what all the ruckus was about there I was—still swinging the can of paint, flailing about like a feathered fool in the moonlight. And there was the orange chicken, its claws dug firmly into my hair—still trying to peck my eyes out.

    There’s no such thing as a good day in the Antarctica, but this is shaping up to be a particularly bad one. The wind is relentless, shooting stinging bullets of snow and tearing at my clothes. I huddle against the front of the sled and make my eyes close. The runners jolt over the snowdrifts, threatening to knock me off. My hands are just numb stumps wrapped around the reins. It’s almost impossible to clear my mind, to get down into that dark, quiet spot inside myself I need to be. I force my thoughts down the current of my blood, traveling deeper and deeper into the dark cellar of my mind. And that’s when I find it, like a shining silver wire that connects me to my dog, Storm. A shock of brutal pain rips through me as we’re joined. I can feel the jagged icicles on his muzzles, the blood on his ragged paws, the dragging weight of the sled behind him. I know he’s not going to make it this time. Gathering all my resources, I send some of my strength down the thread. I slump over as it drains from me, but that’s alright. Storm needs it more than I do.

    If you destroy someone’s life they’re yours forever. Or is the saying that if you save someone’s life they’re responsible for you? I suppose it really doesn’t matter. According to Casey, I destroyed her life. I know she saved mine. So how do I convince her that we’re supposed to belong to each other now? She says the lies I told meant that she didn’t fall in love with me; she fell in love with the guy I was pretending to be. The guy who was an honor roll student and loving son. The real me is just a foster kid whose only skills are kicking the crap out of people and surviving on the streets. What Casey doesn’t understand is that I wasn’t trying to lie. It’s just that she made me want to be somebody else—somebody better. And if I lose her now, I lose my only chance to ever become him.

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  7. Here’s mine:
    1. When Jim awoke on the morning of his 50th birthday, he had no idea it was to be his last day on earth. No one ever expects that it is their last day on earth; no one ever thinks that they will be abducted by aliens. Jim had always thought that abductees were just crazies. But then, it happened to him, and his life would never be the same.

    2. Her job sucked her soul dry and killed her ambitions and dreams–but the pay was good. Following your dreams was all very well and good if you didn’t have to eat or pay rent, but she was still mortal.

    3. Opening his eyes, he at first thought it still full night, but he could feel the warmth of the sun upon his face–that witch had struck him blind! Forcing himself to a sitting position, he felt around for his sword, even though he was sure she would have taken that away too. But no; there it was right beside him. She was so sure of herself!

  8. Pingback: 5 First Paragraphs Contest-Round 2 « 4amWriter

  9. 1. Nobody wanted to claim the abandoned baby on the hill. Not a single hunter from the King’s clan and not one farmer from the Queen’s clan knelt in admission. That hill, with its concealed scorpion pits and live landmines, was supposed to keep the two clans divided as part of the War treaty. But the baby had all the markings, proof that the hill had been crossed. He had the silvery eyes of the Kings and the ruddy skin of the Queens. His secret will not last long. In time, the family birthmark will bloom. Announcing to which hunter and which farmer the baby truly belonged. And then the spooks will come after them.

    2. She and the horse eyed each other with suspicion, remembering how one tried to kill the other. Fifteen-year-old Violet circled the mare, hoping to gain some advantage. The darn animal matched her moves, step for step, nostrils flaring. Neither was going to break soon, Violet could see that. But with the Red Hawk Cavalry hot on their trail, they didn’t have time for this foolishness. She shielded her eyes against the Danger Zone. One hour before the gates closed. If they were locked out of Mark 1 they’d be imprisoned again. Together. Violet really wasn’t sure what would be worse. Sleeping in a snake-infested dungeon, or being stuck there with that stupid horse.

    3. Deadly and desirable, that was the heading on my business card. So, why am I surprised when Seven Mendoza, aka Blood God, saunters into my office? His latest tattoo covers his forehead and when I look closer, I see that his eyeballs are inked also. I pretend I’m not repulsed and offer him coffee. He accepts, then slips out a vial of a thick, maroon substance. He pours it into his coffee, smirking at me. Somehow I know it is the remnants of his latest kill. Now I know why I’m surprised with his visit. If he’s still the top marksman of the Huntings, then what does he want with me?

  10. This is great! Looking forward to reading them all. :-0

  11. Pingback: Middle Grade Monday – Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld | The Accidental Novelist (Writes Again)

  12. Here are mine:
    1. It wasn’t what the bottle held that frightened me, but what it didn’t contain anymore. Pulling on some Kevlar gloves, I hesitantly reached out and nudged the glass as if I expected it to come to life and attack me. I chuckled, but it was hollow and empty sounding…like the jar. The small clear container looked the same as all the others on the damp shelf in my jungle lab, except for its void. And that was the mystery…for the lid was still on, the door was secure, and no one had signed into the logbook in the ten minutes I’d been gone. Everything seemed normal–except for this one bottle; but its emptiness made me shudder, knowing nothing would ever be normal again.

    2. I blame everything that happened on orange chicken. Seriously! If scientists can link the weather in North America to a tiny butterfly flapping its wings in China, then theoretically, that sweet, sticky chicken and rice is easily responsible for altering my life and putting me here now. It’s the little choices that throw life out of balance, not the big ones. A gentle breeze blows hair in your eyes, making you slightly change direction, and BAM!..you arrive at a whole new destination. Orange chicken did that to me. It looks like an ordinary dish, but when worn, not eaten, it changes life in extraordinary ways.

    3. Waves rolled in, one after another, slowly erasing the bloody evidence. A lone seagull swooped above the breakers, curious about the swirling red in the pounding surf. Not far away, an old man in a parked BMW watched stone-faced as the last traces of his obsession were claimed by the sea. He sat motionless for another quarter of an hour, staring down at the log-strewn beach which, just an hour before, had been the scene of grisly violence. Turning the key in the ignition, a smile crept up his face as he reveled in what he had done. Avra would be so proud.

  13. Pingback: Round Two Winners and Round Three Rules: The 50 First Lines Challenge | The Accidental Novelist (Writes Again)

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