Steal an Opening Line | StoryADay 2024 Day 28

If it’s good enough for Shakespeare…

The Prompt

Take an opening line from a book you love and rewrite it to create a similar, but different opening for your story

Things To Consider

Getting started can be a huge obstacle to overcome. Faced with the prospect of having to start a new story every day we can start second-guessing our ideas, our style, our ability…All of this makes getting started even harder.

So let’s cheat.

• Go to your bookshelf

• Pull down a book you admire.

• Look at the first paragraph. How does it start? Is it a description of a place? Does something dramatic happen? Does someone talk?

• Look at the structure of the opening and use it for your own stories (this is how apprentices have always learned, they copy their masters’ work, and gradually find their own style). Copy your master-writer’s structure, but insert your own details.

For example, I pulled Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea off the shelf.

Its opening sentence is,

The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-wracked North-East sea, is a land famous for wizards.

(Isn’t that a great sentence?)

My story might begin,

The Arcologie Sando, a huge fractured semi-dome that rose up from the rock-strewn desert floor, was famous for producing arcolonists.

OK, hers is still better, but borrowing from the master, gave me a way in to my story.

Go to your bookshelf and steal an opening line from the best. Make it your own, and see where it leads you.

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!

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19 thoughts on “Steal an Opening Line | StoryADay 2024 Day 28”

  1. I took the opening line from Hanya Yanagihara’s “A Little Life”, and her idea of two roommates looking for a new place, and combined it with a couple of features inspired by memories and conversations.

    A little confection, but it felt good to be writing!

  2. Just read the prompt – in the office just now so will grab it and do it tonight (Note I’ll be doing two prompts tonight as my 28th was yesterday.

  3. I’m not feeling well today, so I was happy to do a short thing. I opened a few books without getting excited about their openings before landing on The Odyssey. I updated the language, but also made it an email. And made the war a sports tournament, because literally destroying an entire city doesn’t go over well these days. So the only thing I really kept was a request to be told about someone, but here you go…

    Translation of the Original:
    Tell me, O Muse, of that ingenious hero who travelled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy. Many cities did he visit, and many were the nations with whose manners and customs he was acquainted; moreover he suffered much by sea while trying to save his own life and bring his men safely home; but do what he might he could not save his men, for they perished through their own sheer folly in eating the cattle of the Sun-god Hyperion; so the god prevented them from ever reaching home. Tell me, too, about all these things, oh daughter of Jove, from whatsoever source you may know them.

    TO: Muse d’Jove (muse.d.jove@olympus.mount)
    FROM: Homer Syggrafeas (brokegreekstoryteller@freemail.mortalrealm)
    SUBJECT: Continuing our conversation from yesterday

    Hey, Muse!

    What can you tell me about that guy we were talking about? The one who played for the Heroes and then went missing for so long after they demolished Troy in the championships? He seems to have gone all over the place, visiting exotic places and getting to know the people there while on the run from some mobster who felt his teammates partied a bit too hard when they crashed a BBQ at his house. Supposedly a bunch of them wound up dying.

    Anything you could tell me about all that or any of the other shenanigans he got up to would be appreciated. I’ll take anything any of your sources can give me.

    This is going to make a great screenplay!

    Your pal,

    1. I loved your idea of translating a part of Homer’s “Odyssey”, Andrew. I worked for a magazine for a year or so as a Sub-Editor in the late 1980s. In that capacity, I had to translate many literary pieces from English into Bengali, my mother tongue. So, I know how very tedious and hard it can be at times.
      Anyway, I also loved your idea of writing it in an email form. The thought of changing the war into a sports tournament also appealed to me.
      But the best thing about such a heroic undertaking was your lucid and easy-on-the-eye language.
      You know, Andrew, when I was trying to major in English, (and mind you I was never a bright student) even understanding a poem like Tennyson’s “Ulysses” proved a herculean task for me, let alone daring to read any English translation of The Greek Poet’s masterpiece on my own!
      How I wish there were easy-to-understand translatory works of The Odyssey and some other Classics available then!
      And finally, emailer (?) Homer’s idea of translating Ulysses’s journey of over 20 years for a screenplay, in keeping with the changing times, is simply wonderful and thought-provoking.
      Best wishes for all your future endeavours. Keep shining and smiling.

      1. Thank you for your kind words, Rathin.

        Andy is short for Andora, though, not Andrew. Our Andrew is a different human. 🙂

  4. I used the first two sentences (first paragraph) from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. I didn’t feel that only using the first sentence would give me enough of an idea to write a story, but two did. Here’s the original from Huxley:
    A squat grey building of only thirty-four floors. Over the main entrance the words, CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTER, and, in a shield, the World State’s motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY.
    *Here’s my take:
    The most modern of buildings only 175 stories high. Across the front, a lit sign reading SEATTLE AI BRAIN DEVICES, and its motto, FREEDOM, HOPE, SUCCESS.
    *I’m still working on the story. When I finish writing it, I’m going to change the first paragraph so it doesn’t scream blatant perjury. Right now my story’s proceeding along with the main character going in to try and peruse brain surgery which he can’t qualify for. He’s trying to figure out a way. AI implants are so popular these days, and not just for people who are paralyzed.

    1. Good luck, Valerie. From the sign and especially the motto of your story, it’s clear that it is going to be an interesting one.
      How do I get to read your story once StoryADay concludes? Anyway, I’ll be eagerly looking forward to reading it.
      Stay blessed.

  5. I’m a huge Blake Pierce fan. (For those who aren’t familiar she writes FBI novels).
    She’s my inspiration for a novel I’m writing.

    I borrowed the first paragraph of the first story I read from her for this prompt.

    Title of the book is The Perfect Wife (Book 1).

    Not going to post today because I might use this as an opening for another story.

  6. I used the opening speech from Richard III (“Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this sun of York; / And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house / In the deep bosom of the ocean buried”)

    I ended up writing a science fiction piece about a superhero named Sun Boy who cleans up a global-scale industrial accident, much to the horror of the villainous main character. Not sure about the plot at all, but I loved playing with high contrast imagery.

    1. Elizabeth, your story sounds so great. That was also a great idea to use some Shakespeare as your author to play off of.

  7. Here is a piece I thought was pretty clever by the original author “Janet Evanovich.”

    “Nice dress. Take it off. I want to see what’s under the outer wrapping,” my boyfriend, Carl, watched me without blinking.

    “I bought this dress just for you,” I was blushing at his open admiration as I peeled the dress over my head leaving me in my lacy lingerie, also bought just for him.

    Just then, my mother and father walked in the door without knocking. I grabbed the dress and ran for our bedroom. I can’t even seduce my boyfriend in my own house without my parents interrupting.


  8. I wrote two openings. Like Rathin, I based them on the entire first paragraphs of the books I selected. I did not go on to write a full story for either of them, though I may at some time in the future, if I decide either of them has potential.

    The first was based on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, with the Liddell sisters on the riverbank changed to two brothers in the back seat of a car. For that, I went with contemporary realism. The second was based on the incomparable opening paragraph of The Hobbit, transposed into science fiction.

    I was struck by how similar the narrative voices are in the two originals, despite the great differences between the authors. Of course they are in the same literary tradition, but it still seems remarkable to me.

  9. I pulled down a book I read recently, The Prospects by KT Hoffman. Wrote out the first paragraph, and then used it to write a little back story of my character from Rounding for Home.

    The original:

    Gene Ionescu has always loved every detail of baseball, but none quite so much as its near-complete indifference to the body. In few other sports can a five-foot, two inch sprinter appear on the same roster as a six-foot, five-inch pitcher. Size — muscle, height, maybe a few extra inches of reach or long running legs — helps. But baseball also rewards the patient, the crafty, and, perhaps most of all, the optimistic.

    Caleb Throckmorton never loved anything more than baseball. The sport didn’t care where you came from, when you first picked up a bat. If you were shut out of it for four years because you weren’t born with a dick. 
    Tall, short, power hitters, base stealers. They were all on the same team. You could win with a short pitcher and a tall catcher, just as much as if you were loaded with homerun hitters. It was a game of just as much luck as skill. And patience. So much patience. 
    And he loved every minute of it. 
    He’d been patient. His high school hadn’t let him play, insisting he needed to be on the girl’s softball team instead. That was not what he’d wanted, though. And his family stood behind him as he quietly fought the system. 
    He’d worked on his skills. Every free moment, he’d been at the batting cages, on the field with his sister, Trish, running the bases. He’d worked with his gym teacher, a former minor leaguer, to improve his stance and his throwing skills. 
    And he’d gotten lucky. His teacher knew the baseball coach for the Marble Hills University team. They’d given him a chance, and he used his skill and luck every day to prove they hadn’t gone wrong with that. 
    And when he heard “The Philadelphia Sirens pick Caleb Throckmorton” he knew it had all been worth it. He was going to be the first professional transgender baseball player.
    And he was going to prove to them all that he belonged. 

    *I kept MLB team cities the same in the story, but I changed actual names, and most of the actual takes place on AAA teams, which have fictional cities and teams.

    1. It’s so nicely written, Andrew. What cuts out a great writer from the good ones is her ability not to lose track of the unfolding events that are integral parts of the plot.
      Like the expert that you are, you introduced Caleb in the opening paragraph. The last line of the paragraph hinted at what was to transpire in their life afterwards. He was asked to join the girls’ team, showed remarkable patience and worked on furthering his skills and when Caleb was picked as ‘the first professional transgender baseball player’, we delighted equally in their triumph.
      Baseball is a game I know nothing of. I have heard of terms like pinch-hitters, picher and homer-run but that didn’t impede my understanding of the story. The fast-paced story dealing with a serious issue has been delineated masterfully.
      Keep writing, my friend for there is a dearth of great writers today. Stay happy.

  10. I simply don’t know how Somerset Maugham became Naugham in my writing!
    God forgive me.

  11. 28.5.24
    (I borrowed not the opening line but the whole paragraph from Naugham’s “Of Human Bandage”, an opening that has me mesmerized till date.Let me also tell you, in this connection, that this is a first in my life as anything copied or stolen from another writer’s works is tantamount to plagiarism in my opinion.)
    Mrs. Chatterjee’s Son
    The day broke gray and dull. The clouds hung heavily, and there was a rawness in the air that suggested snow. A woman servant came into a room in which a child was sleeping and drew the curtains.
    “Get up, Leo. We’ve got to flee before they come.”
    There was a tremor in her voice as she walked across to the window and looked out. It’s snowing heavily now. Within minutes there was snow lying all over The Chatterjee Vila. Even snow or flakes of it were dripping down the rooftop and the window panes.

    And they – the enemies of Master Chatterjee- were not very far. How long would they take to get to the villa? Half hour, one hour at the most? Then she saw a head, but for the pair of eyes, fully covered with what looked like a black, heavy woolen muffler, staring at her from the distance before deciding on ducking behind the mapple outside the main gate.

    God! The enemies were nearer than she thought! She felt number for a moment. In the absence of Leo’s parents or even if they were around, the onus of saving him rested solely on her shoulders. She wouldn’t, couldn’t let any harm come his way!

    How she wished then that at least some domestic helps were there. But there was no time for engaging in silly wistful thoughts now. Leo had to be saved at any cost and reached safely to the helipad of The Chatterjees. Wangyel was waiting for him there. That reliable fellow would ensure young Master Leo’s safety and fly him out of danger to reunite with his family.

    As she hurriedly drew the curtain together, a bullet flew over her head, making a hole in the window, missing it barely by a whisker!

    Sonam dashed to the bed. The sound of the bullet had woken Leo up. But there was no time for him to be dressed properly. The enemies must have jumped over the wooden fencing and been out in the gardens by now.
    She lifted him from the bed, looking wide-eyed and groggy, up to her chest and scampered down the spiralling iron staircase at the back.

    She had been fleeing breathlessly for how long, she didn’t know, clutching Master Leo to her chest with her left hand. With the steel ski stick in her right, she was sliding through the thickened snow.
    How far was the helipad?
    Oh, God! Have mercy on us. Let me reach Master L to Wangyel safely at any cost.
    It was only then she noticed Wangyel, thickly dressed, waving his hands frantically from the cabin 200 meters or so below.

    She held her nerves as what looked like a shining instrument missed her head, flew over and struck the stem of a willow. As it fell off, a sticky liquid oozed out of the deep cut in the tree where the sword had hit it.
    Had it hit her, she wouldn’t be alive by now.

    Run, Sonam, run. Remember the promise you made to the elder Master?
    She could visualise Linton‘s handsome face even in the freezing cold outside, with panic gnawing at her intestines!

    “The life of my son lies in your hands. You know why we can’t take him with us, don’t you? I’ve full faith in you. I love you dearly.”

    Then he had kissed her lightly on the lips, sending shivers down her youthful body and setting it on fire.

    She could see Wangyel clearly in the pilot’s seat now, some ten yards or so away, egging her on to join him.

    Then there was a searing pain just around her right arm. She knew what it was as the stick flung out her hand and blood started gushing down.

    Even then she didn’t slacken her speed and kept running. Later, Wangyel was to tell Mrs. Chatterjee how Sonam was almost flying in the air after being hit by that vicious bullet. How he had to bend down from his seat to snatch Master Leo up from her upraised hand, with her face contorted by the unbearable pain. He would also tell Master later how as he picked young Master with a few drops of her blood sprinkled over the wrapper and placed him across to the seat next to the pilot’s, there came a thundering typhoon.

    Wangyel had marshaled the helicopter further up and out of the danger zone by then. The fireballs that were parts of Sonam even a minute or so ago, were flown into bits and pieces all over the helipad.
    That was the last he had seen of that brave lass.

    More than her inexpressible love for Linton, Sonam had sacrificed herself for the son that was never to be hers officially!
    The end

    1. Rathin, the way you wrote this made it easy to visualize the scene. Some great descriptions here.

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