First lines – a writing activity

I collect first lines…from novels and short stories  – from anything really. I don’t only select first lines from novels I like and read in their entirety, but aim for a broad range of styles, genre, etc. I like the idea of taking these lines out of the context within which they were written and seeing what I can create around them, seeing what writing they inspire within me, once I have forgotten their original context.

To this end, following is a collection of first lines. I have included bibliographical information should you wish to read more of the original writing.

You might like to start your own first line collection to repeat this activity yourself.

Writing activity 1:

Select one of these, either one you feel drawn to or one at random, and write about it for five minutes.

You might choose to continue writing where the line leaves off…consider what might have been written next, or what you think or would like to see written next.

OR the line might simply inspire an idea in you that you write about.

OR you might create a character from the line provided and write about them.

OR you might write a string of dialogue prompted by the line.

Time for you to have a go…

 Writing activity 2:

Select two or more of these, either that you feel drawn to or at random, and combine them into one piece of writing. Write about it for five minutes.

Can you develop this into a more sustained piece of writing?

Time for you to have a go…

 List of first lines:

Almost anyone would have been embarrassed to answer the doorbell wearing buck Rogers pyjamas. Source: Lupoff R. A., ‘Dead of Winter’ in Ashley M. (ed.), The Mammoth Book of Historical Crime Fiction, Constable & Robinson Ltd, London, 2011.

The conspirators slipped out of the house one by one. Source: Morson I., ‘A Fiery Death’ in Ashley M. (ed.), The Mammoth Book of Historical Crime Fiction, Constable & Robinson Ltd, London, 2011.

Sister Fidelma realized that she had taken the wrong turning the moment the track began to ascend at an unusually steep angle. Source: Tremayne P., ‘Night of the snow Wolf’ in Ashley M. (ed.), The Mammoth Book of Historical Crime Fiction, Constable & Robinson Ltd, London, 2011.

School was finally out and I was standing on a picnic table in our backyard getting ready for a great summer vacation when my mother walked up to me and ruined it. Source: Gantos J., Dead End in Norvelt, Random House Children’s Publishers, London, 2012.

I’ve heard that silly remark, that pianists have delicate hands, more often than any other. Source: Fuentes E., The Pianist’s Hands, Arcadia Books Ltd, London, 2008.

Being a court dwarf is no easy task. Source: Marsh K., Jepp, Who Defied the Stars, Hot Key Books, London, 2012.

I was asleep when he died. Source: Smith P., Just Kids, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc., London, 2010.

You might thing he could have made up his mind earlier, and been man enough to tell the others of his decision. Source: Jonasson J., The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, Hesperus Press Ltd, London, 2012.

It is, in itself, an ancient wish: the wish that a mish makes something happen. (Intro) Source: Oxenhandler N., The Wishing Year, Random House Publishing Group, New York, 2008.

I am taking the liberty of sending you this manuscript, which I am hoping may interest you. (pre-letter) Source: Gemmel N., The Bride Stripped Bare, HarperCollins Publishers London, 2003.

A young man, young but not very young, sits in an anteroom somewhere, some wing or other, in the Palace of Versailles. Source: Miller A., Pure, Sceptre, London, 2011.

My brother died last month. Source: Hoffman M., David, Bloomsbury Publishing, London, 2011.

At six forty-five one summer morning, a red London bus was crossing Waterloo Bridge. Source: Winterson J., Tanglewreck, Bloomsbury Publishing, London, 2006.

I gripped the reins tightly in one hand and my practice lance in the other. Source: Jenkins M., The Lady in the Tower, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2009.

When you’re travelling in India – especially through holy sites and Ashrams – you see a lot of people wearing beads around their necks. (intro) Source: Gilbert E., Eat Pray Love, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc., London, 2006.

Oh no, not another ritual! Source: Coelho P., Aleph, HarperCollins Publishers, London, 2011.

The most annoying person in the universe is the one who retains his appetite while his travelling companion is suffering from seasickness. (prologue) Source: Golding J., The Middle Passage, London, 2012.

My father lies with his deep sunken eyes closed. Source: Perry P., ‘The Judge’, in Bolger D. and Carty C., (eds.) The New Hennessy Book of Irish Fiction, New Ireland, Dublin, 2005.

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