Second sentences as different paths (writing exercise #2)

As promised, I am continuing on in my writing exercises from the book What If?. The first exercise is here, and this is basically a continuation of the first one.

Feel free to comment with your own work and join in!

In the first exercise, we wrote ten opening lines for potential stories – now we’re adding several different second sentence possibilities to  one of our first lines. We will be able to see how just one line can easily take the entire story in a different direction.

Exercise Number 2 – Second sentences as different paths

Page 12 in the book

“Use one of your first sentences from the first exercise and take it to entirely different stories by adding five or seven or ten second sentences. Consider how your story will change when you do the following: change the setting; add a line of dialogue; move to the future; make your main character think of someone else who matters to the story; add a loved/hated pet.

“And here are some other possibilities for second sentences: make your main character think of a popular song that takes him/her back to an important memory; add an accident; bring the police to the scene; make someone arrive with a mysterious or alarming message. Think of some of your own paths for second sentences. Then, choose the path you want to follow – a sentence at a time.

“The objective: To learn that you don’t have to know where a story is going when you begin. All you need is a first sentence with possibilities. Then you can build stories one sentence at a time.”

I chose out of my first lines this one: Some late night guards get to carry firearms on the job, while others get their own company car – hell, I would have settled for a walkie talkie at this point.

And here are my second sentence examples, with what I changed about each second sentence in italics at the beginning (as they do with their examples in the book):

1. Change the setting: Some late night guards get to carry firearms on the job, while others get their own company car – hell, I would have settled for a walkie talkie at this point. An hour away at the Stevenson household I can easily picture my wife in front of the television, coffee in one hand, a Sudoku puzzle in the other, wishing instead that I were home and we were playing scrabble together with the moon peeking into the kitchen window beside us.

2. Add a line of dialogue: Some late night guards get to carry firearms on the job, while others get their own company car – hell, I would have settled for a walkie talkie at this point. “Jim, get the hell down here we have a situation! Jim – can you hear me?!”

3. Add a loved/hated pet: Some late night guards get to carry firearms on the job, while others get their own company car – hell, I would have settled for a walkie talkie at this point. In fact, in lieu of my getting passed up for a raise – again – by God I am going to ask Lou next time he graces the facility with his presence  if I can bring Buckie, my doberman, with me while I’m on watch; there has got to be some kind of job perk to keep me here.

(Note: Loved/hated pets are explored further in the book.)

4. Have the main character suffer a severe physical injury: Some late night guards get to carry firearms on the job, while others get their own company car – hell, I would have settled for a walkie talkie at this point. One would think after last year’s accident put me in a wheelchair that they would be doing more to keep me happy, to keep me hanging around.

5. The character discovers someone close to them is a criminal: Some late night guards get to carry firearms on the job, while others get their own company car – hell, I would have settled for a walkie talkie at this point. If Bob expects me to keep the fraudulent underbelly of the Tarrymen Mall a secret he had better start thinking about schmoozing me for a change, instead of the other way around.

6. Someone arrives with an alarming message. Some late night guards get to carry firearms on the job, while others get their own company car – hell, I would have settled for a walkie talkie at this point. I was jolted out of my boredom by the site of Macy sprinting toward me in her towering high heels; I instinctively knew that for the very first time since I’d become a security guard I was about to experience a welcome but undoubtedly troubling break in routine.

7. Move to the future: Some late night guards get to carry firearms on the job, while others get their own company car – hell, I would have settled for a walkie talkie at this point. Decades from now, when I’m an old man with four grandchildren, I will look back on these days of entitlement and unhappiness with an ironic smirk.