Tuesday, 13 October 2015

using first lines: a writing exercise

Today's exercise is similar to previous exercises I've set out, in that you take six starting points, and use a dice to decide which one to run with. Today though, they are literally (and literary) staring points. The first lines of books you have to hand. 

The first line of a story is very important. You need to grab your reader, and make them want to keep going. So using something from a book you've already deemed worth reading has to be handy, right?


Here are the six I had to hand (references at the bottom of the post if you're interested, although it might be best if you ignore them just now):


1. They found blood on the trail on the seventh day, five spots, red against the grey of old snow.


2. Even though the temperature had not risen above freezing in nine months, the bear carcass was not frozen.


3. The lady of the castle huddled with her children in the shattered tower.


4. The prophet was drowning men on Great Wyk when they came to tell him that the king was dead.


5. He came one late, wet spring, and brought the wide world back to my doorstep.


6. It was hot as the six shades of Hell even this late in the evening, and I'd had a busy day at work.



Now, roll your dice to choose which first line you'll use. You might use that as your own first line for a poem, a story, or whatever floats your boat. Or you're welcome to use something from it instead, if that's what works for you.


I rolled a '1', and here's what I wrote:
They found blood on the trail on the seventh day, five spots, red against the grey of old snow.
     No-one knew how she'd got this far, but here was evidence that she might be weakening, although where the blood had come from they weren't sure.
     "Women bleed." One of the Brethren had reminded Brother Sand, and he had nodded, although he doubted it was that.
     He looked around him. The path followed a boundary line between sparse woods - sparser on the side of the mountains. Clearly well travelled by those heading from their farms and small settlements into the nearby Seat of Learning. With the mountains at his back he could see plenty of the valley below him, even so far as the river, and no sign of her there, and yet the blood was still red. She could not be far away. No dout somewhere in the woods ahead. Perhaps they would find her today.
     He signalled the men to move on, receiving grumbles from Brother Sun, who'd been busy pissing on his tree and had splashed his feet when he'd been disturbed. They slowed him down, these seven men, aye, and meant he'd likely not be able to give Sister Stone te 'accident' she deserved. Stll, he did as he was bid, following the Path he was given, as stealthily as he might with this herd of buffalo beside him.
     "Brother," said young Sister Shoot.
     She was stupidly named, thought Brother Sand. She'd have to earn her name fast or look a foolish old woman. She clearly wasn't going to move on with this thought by herself. "What?"
     "It could be blood from someone else. Something else perhaps. It might not be her."
     Brother Sand wondered if Sister Shoot rather hoped it was not Sister Stone's blood. If she had qualms about hunting down a fellow Sister of the Brethren. He wrapped his travelling cloak around himself to fend off the idiots. "We follow the Path, Sister." He reminded her.
     "Aye Brother."
I so can't draw men. That beard is rubbish, it looks like a veil that's slipped. But there you go, it provides a picture!

What did you come up with?


Here's my sources:

1. JV Jones - A Fortress of Grey Ice; Orbit 2002, p17 (1st line of Chapter 1)
2. JV Jones - Watcher of the Dead; Orbit 2010, p1 (1st line of prologue)
3. Storm Constantine - Sea Dragon Heir; Gollancz 2000 (first line of prologue)
4. George RR Martin - A Feast for Crows; Voyager (Harper Collins) 2005
5. Robin Hobb - Fools Errand; BCA by arrangement with Voyager 2001
6. Charlaine Harris - Deadlocked; Gollancz 2012