first lines

This is my hooker -- you like it? 

Whenever I write anything (be it a short story, a novel, a screenplay or even a blog post) the sentence I pay the most attention to is the first, because that's my best opportunity to grab your attention with a word-hook through your eye, or, if I'm lucky, your heart. I want to engage your curiosity and assure you that I'm a trustworthy guide. I need you to trust that I won't lead you astray, so I usually rewrite the first line multiple -- even dozens of times. When I put together my short story collection, I had twenty-two first lines to slave over, and I thought it would be interesting to write them all down in one place. Ready? Here we go:

IMMORTALITY (and other short stories)

  1. ImmortalityNobody ever blamed me for it, but love can kill you just as quick as anything. He was there, after all, because of me.
  2. HorseflyJono trailed a fork through the remnants of his dinner and hunched a little further into his misery.
  3. LoyaltyAbner Theissen sat on the rough-hewn plank bench, his short legs dangling a few inches above the dirt patch below.
  4. The HuntA black, furred tip twitched above the tall grass, and Kurt knew his instincts had been sound.
  5. EpiphanyEvery rare once in a while, Isaac was actually grateful for the hours he’d wasted on school.
  6. SanctuaryDaniel paused for a moment in the middle of the parking lot and pulled his keys from his pocket, staring into space and jiggling them as though he were trying to remember if he had left something behind.
  7. A Man You Can Count OnI’m not gonna say he was a small boy, because you’ll start thinking Dickens and that’s the last thing I want.
  8. Last DanceI guess you probably figure you already know all about what happened to Bottlecap Billy—and maybe you do.
  9. Into That Good NightGary Barkman bit carefully, incising a sliver of nail from the index finger of his left hand as he shut off the ignition with his right, making sure to reach over and toggle the switch that turned off his headlights.
  10. ConventionalThe little stray’s black, wet nose pushed toward the surface of the pile, and he sniffed tentatively at the air of early evening.
  11. Love, In A TaxiSamuel Lawrence could not have imagined when he stepped into his first taxi that it would also be his last.
  12. Fear: A Love StoryMadeleine Beauregard was afraid, but you would never know it from looking at her.
  13. The ParrotAndrew Miller sat on the molded plastic deck chair and seriously considered f----ng his wife.
  14. A Thinly-Veiled GrayA billow of cold air hit Seth, and with it came the smells of Peruvian cuisine, rich with garlic, cumin, cilantro, and the glories of slow-rotisseried chicken.
  15. The HookupUp until the day the windowless white van came to the Grangers the boy, Joel, hadn’t wanted for a thing.
  16. Red GoldReshin sat on a bare patch on the red clay bank, plucking absently at the stems of long grass that hung mop-like over the edge toward the sluggish, milk-chocolaty expanse of the Amazonian waters below.
  17. 17. The Apple and the OakThere is something infuriating about an Apple tree and it is likely that, given a choice, the old Oak would have ignored her completely.
  18. Thurman Bellweather and the Morning PaperThurman Bellweather stared intently through bleary, world-weary eyes at the concentric rings on the top of his drink.
  19. ControlMarcus wrapped his fingers in the thick waves of Greta’s reddish-brown hair, and there was nothing in the world but her rose-scent, her body, and this bed.
  20. PerspectiveThe familiar creak of saddle leather was lower, slower, and cotton-dull as I looked down, blinking away a little more sweat to focus on the sodden mass of shirt below—once a pale, cotton blue with pearl-snap buttons; now a wet, purple-black.
  21. When Twice Again They DiedThis a love story.
  22. It Has No Future But ItselfUnless you’ve felt the sharp pain of a rock tearing the barely-congealed scab off your knuckle as you slide a seedling down the back of your shovel on the second morning of the season, you won’t know what a hell it is to do industrial tree-planting.

There you have it. Twenty-two first impressions. It's interesting to me that with the obvious exception of the ones written in the first person, most introduce the protagonist by name, and in some way situate them in the world of the story. I also often use the first sentence to introduce the central problem the protagonist is facing. This is troubling, because any time I catch myself doing the same thing in the same way multiple times, I start to grow suspicious. Artists are not supposed to rest on their laurels, repeating the thing that worked before. It is my job as an artist to push boundaries, and that includes my own. Re-inventing the wheel isn't just a dream to which I aspire, it's a prerogative of the job.

Nonetheless, I am happy with these stories and proud of my work on this book as a whole. I'll just need to be careful, because the price of Creative Awesomeness is, as they say, eternal vigilance.

So what do you think? If you haven't yet read the book (and why not?!), do those first lines grab your attention? Do they make you curious? Can you feel their bite, and the tug of my line?


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