Mastering The Magic of Opening Lines

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Opening lines are hard to write because they have to do so much:

Ask the story question; establish the voice; set the tone of the story; establish the scene

What Opening Lines Must Do:

  • Set up the main question the reader is going to be asking all the way through
  • Establish the voice of the protagonist/narrator
  • Set the tone
  • Ground the reader in a time or place

That’s why I advocate writing the first lines last—or at least tweaking them after you’ve finished the story, when you know what it’s about.

So, how do you make your first line reflect all these things?

Let’s look at some examples.  Continue reading “Mastering The Magic of Opening Lines”

[Reading Room] – Heart of a Champion by T. C. Boyle

“Heart of a Champion” takes the reader from the opening credits to the close of an old (fictional) Lassie serial.

It is fascinating tutorial for those of us who have absorbed most of our ‘short stories’ in the form of TV shows or webisodes or through other visual media. It demonstrates quite nimbly, how to move from a visual image to the written word. It’d be worth reading for that alone, even if it wasn’t beautifully written and laugh-out-loud funny, too.

Another great feature of this story is that it parodies a much-loved show but goes beyond simple goofing around with the predictability of the TV show. The author thinks hard about the question of ‘what if it didn’t have to end the way it always had to end?’. He comments, subtly on what the show said about the characters who sleep-walked their way through it and the society that it was created by and that it reflected.

If you are heavily influenced by movies or TV shows, read this story, then write a story that contains similarly cinematic images.

If you are attempting a parody, take a close look at what this story does to do more than simply turn into a ‘skit’ and instead become a whole, novel piece of art.

[Writing Prompt] Affectionate Spoofing

The Write On Wednesday story prompts are designed to prompt quickly-written stories that you can share in the comments. It’s a warm-up exercise, to loosen up your creativity muscles. Come back every Wednesday to see a new prompt or subscribe.

Lassie, July 29, 2006

“What’s that girl? Timmy’s stuck in the old well?”

We all have TV shows that we love even though they are formulaic, populated by ‘character types’ rather than characters, and a real guilty pleasure. And we keep watching them, even if we don’t always admit our deep, abiding love for them to our more sophisticated friends.

So why do we watch? Because on some level they satisfy a need for escapism, heroism, humour, idealism. They may even have moments of brilliance that keep us coming back for more.

(For me, it’s Star Trek, Murder She Wrote and almost anything featuring Robin Hood or King Arthur).

We know the hero is (almost) always going to win. We know none of the major recurring characters are going to die. We know the bad guy will get what he deserves — even if it’s only the frowning disapproval of the hero.


Write An Affectionate Parody/Spoof of Your Favourite Formulaic Show


*If you need inspiration, track down a copy of “Heart of A Champion” by T. C. Boyle, a wonderful parody of the Lassie stories.
*Don’t be lazy. Don’t just reach for inappropriate romance or make the characters stupid. (Check out Jon Scalzi’s “Redshirts” as an example. It starts as a fairly unimaginative parody of the action scenes in “Star Trek” (you know, the ones where the no-name ensign in a red shirt goes on an away mission and gets eaten by pink slime to prove that the landing party faces some peril) but moves on to a more thoughtful and affectionate examination of science fiction tropes.


The Rules:

  • You should use the prompt in your story (however tenuous the connection).
  • You must write the story in one 24 hr period – the faster the better.
  • Post the story in the comments — if you’re brave enough.
  • Find something nice to say about someone else’s story and leave a comment. Everybody needs a little support!

Optional Extras:

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Some tweets/updates you might use:

Don’t miss my short story: Affectionate Spoofing #WriteOnWed #storyaday

This week’s #WriteOnWed short story prompt is Affectionate Spoofing! #storyaday

Come and write with us! #WriteOnWed #storyaday

See my story – and write your own, today: Affectionate Spoof at #WriteOnWed #storyaday

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