|Photo Credit – Alex Dunn – April 2013
First Lines deserve special attention, particularly in a short story. Openings can draw readers in to know more, or if poorly constructed, cause readers to move on to something more interesting to read. Good first lines show movement, tension and people with lives unfolding on the page. Opening lines introduce readers to the set up and give a glimpse of potential trouble. First lines shape expectations and hold the reader who wants to know more. It’s important to make a first and lasting impression in opening lines.
|Photo Credit – Jan Bowman – May 2012
|Writers can benefit from close readings of good solid openings that promise and deliver an interesting story. Here are some first lines and opening paragraphs from the first five stories in – The Best American Short Stories of 2012, edited by Tom Perrotta.
“ALL RIGHT. HERE we go.
Darlyn teeters high on a swayback wooden ladder she has dragged in from her mother’s garage. From here she can reach around blindly on top of the kitchen cabinets. She has struck pay dirt – a tidy arrangement of small, flat bottles. She doesn’t have to look to know they will all be pints of Five O’Clock Vodka.” — “The Last Speaker of the Language” by Carol Anshaw from New Ohio Review.
“By Thursday I still hadn’t said word one about the accident. My roommate Rand would be the guy, and this would be the moment: he and I sitting on our narrow balcony, legs shot through the railings, nighttime, glittery San Francisco laid out below us, September 22, 1999. “Know what Hardar Jumpiche says about giving away good feelings?” he asked.” –“Pilgrim Life” by Taylor Antrim from American Short Fiction.
“THEY’RE IN OUR HOUSE maybe ten minutes and already Mark’s lecturing us on the Israeli occupation. Mark and Lauren live in Jerusalem, and people from there think it gives them the right.” — “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank” by Nathan Englander from The New Yorker.
“MY SON, DOUGLAS, loves to play with toy guns. He is thirteen. He loves video games in which people get killed. He loves violence on TV, especially if it’s funny. How did this happen? The way everything does, of course. One thing follows another, naturally.”— “The Other Place” by Mary Gaitskill from The New Yorker.
“I HAVE MOVED to the edge of the world for two years. If I am not careful, I will fall. After my first department meeting, my new colleagues encourage me to join them on a scenic cruise to meet more locals. The Peninsular Star will travel through the Portage Canal, up to Copper Harbor, and then out onto Lake Superior. I am handed a glossy brochure with bright pictures of blue skies and calm lake waters. “You’ll be able to enjoy the foliage,” they tell me, shining with enthusiasm for the Upper Peninsula. “Do you know how to swim?” they ask.
— “North Country” by Roxane Gay from Hobart.
These stories are typical of excellent stories. They promise much in the opening and they deliver a thought-provoking experience for readers. Doesn’t looking at these openings cause you, as a reader and perhaps – as a writer, to want to run right out and get a copy of the collection?
Don’t you want to know more?
Jan Bowman’s fiction has appeared in numerous publications including, Roanoke Review, Big Muddy, The Broadkill Review, Third Wednesday, Minimus, Buffalo Spree (97), Folio, The Potomac Review and others. Glimmer Train named a recent story as Honorable Mention in the November 2012 Short Story Awards for New Writers.Another story won the 2011 Roanoke Review Fiction Award, and her stories have been nominated for Pushcart Prizes, Best American Short Stories, Pen/O’Henry Awards and a recent story was a finalist in Phoebe Fiction Contest and another in the “So To Speak” Fiction Contest. She is working on two collections of short stories while shopping for a publisher for a completed story collection. Learn more at www.janbowmanwriter.com or visit blog: http://janbowmanwriter.blogspot.com