Begin a story with a “given” first line (writing exercise #4)

It’s another “ways to begin a story” exercise!

Page 18 in the book.

This is a pretty simple exercise – to simply start a story with a “given” first line such as one of these:

  • Where were you last night?
  • The neighbors were at it again.
  • “One more thing before you go.”
  • This is a story I’ve been avoiding for a long time.

And my own personal favorite I’m adding here:

  • It was a dark and stormy night.

(Side note: I remember writing a short story when I was 11, starting with “It was a dark and stormy night.” It was about a Siamese cat who was kidnapped from his owner by a man pretending to be a vacuum cleaner salesman. The person he sold the cat to turned out to be the brother of the the cat’s owner, so they were reunited. Wish I could find that story – maybe I should rewrite it!)

“The exercise: Begin a story with this line: Where you were you last night?

“The objective: The objective is to once more start the story in medias res – in the middle of things. Notice how this question begins in the middle of a situation. For example, ‘last night,’ the subject of the question, has already happened. If one character asks another this question there are already two people ‘on stage.’ And the question will probably produce a conflict. But don’t get hung up on making it a line of dialogue – it can be used many different ways.”

Student example they give:

  • Where were you last night was the one thing she couldn’t ask him anymore, so they talked about the death of Huey Newton. They were in the kitchen having breakfast, Marcy was eating Special K and Tom, Shredded Wheat. As usual, he had bought two copies of the Times and they each came upon the story at the time time. Twenty-three years had gone by since they had met and fallen in love during the height of the demonstrations at Berkeley and now Huey Newton was as dead as their marriage. – Lynda Sturner

Here’s mine:

  • Where were you last night? was a question I did not have to ask my cheating husband when he came in at seven that morning as I usually do. I knew where he’d been – lying in a cold, unfamiliar bed with electrodes and colorful wires attached to him; he had done a sleep study. A sleep study! Of course he isn’t sleeping, he’s out banging half of New York City every night. As I placed his pancakes in front of him – butter, no syrup – I realized that this could be just one more thing he was lying to me about, and I may in fact have to confer with the doctors who were supposedly keeping eye on him for me last night.