Opening Lines

May 4, 2014  Prompt #3

Getting Started

For many writers, staring at a blank page or empty screen is daunting. Some wonder, “What should I write about? What will people think of my story?”  Others ask, “How do I begin? How do I shape that all-important first line?”

My advice? 1. Turn off your inner critic and full-time editor. 2. Breathe.

If you are not writing because you are stuck on what to write about or how to craft your story,  simply start writing words. You don’t need full sentences. You can stop in the middle of one thought and start another. As many have said before me, the point is to keep your pen moving on the page.  In my experience, the act of writing, of connecting brain, hand and pen (or brain, fingers and keyboard) releases both ideas on what to write about and reveals the style in which to craft your prose.  Editing, reshaping, and revising can all come later.

framing fun3

The Prompt

Below are nine opening lines. Choose one, write it on the top of a fresh sheet of paper, then write in response to it. Write for 10 minutes.

How This Prompt Can Strengthen Your Writing

  1. It may help you break through writing resistance and start writing. (I suppose all the prompts do that!)
  2. It offers a subject or story line you might not have considered before.
  3. It offers a point-of-view you might not have considered before.


  • Feel free to substitute words for better inspiration. For instance, if  “Your sister is the pretty one” speaks to you more than “Your sister is the smart one,” use that opening line instead.
  • If you can’t decide which opening line to use, choose the one that’s the first number of your area code.
  • Don’t be concerned if your writing strays from the original line or ends up being about something entirely different than what you intended. That happens frequently and is a sign of creativity at play.

Opening Lines

  1. Your sister’s the smart one.
  2. That summer I . . .
  3. “What did you expect?” she said.
  4. If I had another chance, I …
  5. I was only 9 years old, but…
  6. “Before I met your mother, I . . .”
  7. “Better to laugh than cry.”
  8. “Big boys don’t cry”
  9. “No son of mine is going to . . .”

Next Steps for More Writing

  • Still raring to go after ten minutes? Write for 10 or 20 minutes more.
  • As your re-read what you have written, circle a word, phrase, or sentence that jumps out for you. Write it at the top of a new sheet of paper. Now write for ten more minutes in response to that.
  • Choose a different opening line and write in response to it.

Tips and Variations for Writing Groups

  • Write out these prompts on index cards or slips of paper. Each  group member then chooses one (either deliberately or randomly) and writes from there.
  • Give each group member a blank index card and ask them to write an opening line. The mix up the cards and have everyone choose a card for their prompt.

Looking Ahead

For an upcoming prompt, track down sample paint chips in a hardware or home design store. These are usually by the paints, have 3 to 6 colors per sample, and are free. If possible, find paint chips with interesting names for their colors (such as Lost Lake Blue or Summer Time Yellow). Choose 3 or 4 samples and take them home.  If you can’t find paint chips, cut up from a magazine six squares of different colors. Paperclip them together and hold on to them until next week.


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