Happy New Year!
When I was running Rabbit Rabbit (rabbit) young writers’ group, I used to send the young writers a writing prompt every week. I missed doing it, so I’m going to share a writing prompt as part of my weekly (weekend-ly) blog posts. I’m not Jo Bell, and this isn’t 52, so I’m going to share one a month rather than one a week: the first Sunday of every month.
And because this is January and it’s the first one, I thought I’d share a prompt about beginnings.
If you think about famous novels, there are probably at least a few whose opening lines come to mind. Which makes sense – the beginning of a book is the part that’s supposed to grab us and make us want to read further.
For me, a good opening to a book is one that draws me in. It’s one that raises questions, or suggests a struggle that needs to be resolved. Sometimes it puts us right in the middle of the drama, straight away.
Take these examples – which, because we’re still within the festive season, I’ve done as a quiz (answers at the bottom of the post):
- ‘It was a cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.’
- ‘Marley was dead, to begin with.’
- ‘When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him.’
- ‘He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.’
- ‘People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles.’
- ‘Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening Hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.’
- ‘When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it’s never good news.’
- ‘It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.’
- ‘He was afraid to go to sleep. For three weeks, he had been afraid of going to sleep.’
- ‘The boys, as they talked to the girls from Marcia Blaine School, stood on the far side of their bicycles holding the handlebars, which established a protective fence of bicycle between the sexes, and the impression that at any moment the boys were likely to be away.’
- ‘It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.’
- ‘The boy with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way towards the lagoon.’
- ‘They say it came first from Africa, carried in the screams of the enslaved.’
- ‘In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.’
- ‘Like most people I lived a long time with my mother and father. My father liked to watch the wrestling, my mother liked to wrestle.’
How many did you get? Answers at the bottom of the post…
Writing a gripping first sentence is all very well for the opening of a novel, which sets up plot and conflict and character and story. But what about poetry?
I wonder how many of us think about setting up conflict and character and story in the opening of a poem? I wonder how many of us write opening lines to grip people with the drama of the poem, the way we might in a novel?
So that’s my prompt:
Write an opening line for a poem, which sets up drama and / or mystery, and whose sole purpose is to grip the reader.
Then, and only then, you can try writing the rest of the poem.
Here are a few poems that I think grip the reader really well:
- Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
- A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
- The Road, Cormac McCarthy
- The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemmingway
- Less Than Zero, Bret Easton Ellis
- Northern Lights, Philip Pullman
- Stormbreaker, Anthony Horowitz
- Catch 22, Joseph Heller
- Strange Meeting, Susan Hill
- The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark
- A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
- Lord of the Flies, William Golding
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
- The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
- Oranges are not the Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson