Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts: Favorite Opening Lines

My theme this month is beginnings, all kinds of beginnings related to writers, readers, and books. So I’m sharing some of my favorite opening lines and why I like them.

“Ghosts? Mercy, yes–I can tell you a thing or three about ghosts. As sure as my name’s Josh McBroom a haunt came lurking about our wonderful once-acre farm.”

McBroom’s Ghost by Sid Fleischman

This is the first McBroom book I read as a child, and I loved the voice of the narrator. I didn’t know it then, but unique character voices are what pull me into a story.

“Walking up and down the platform alongside the train in the Pennsylvania Station, having wiped the sweat from my brow, I lit a cigarette with the feeling that after it had calmed my nerves a little I would be prepared to submit bids for a contract to move the Pyramid of Cheops from Egypt to the top of the Empire Stat Building with my bare hands, in a swimming-suit; after what I had just gone through.”

Too Many Cooks by Rex Stout

This novel introduced me to the genius detective Nero Wolfe and his extremely engaging assistant and bodyguard Archie Goodwin. Archie narrates the stories. Many of the mysteries, usually the novellas, are great whodunits, but I keep coming back because it’s so much fun to sit with Archie and let him spin his tale.

“To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman.”

“A Scandal In Bohemia” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

With that sentence, Sir Arthur created a tale that most Sherlock fans can’t get enough of. Because Irene Adler only appeared in this single story, her fascinating character, and Holmes’s reaction to her, has inspired writers for years.

“The sun was dying, and its blood spattered the sky as it crept into a sepulcher behind the hills. The keening winds sent the dry, fallen leaves scurrying towards the west, as though hastening them to the funeral of the sun.”

“The Cloak” by Robert Bloch

One of the best openings of any short story I’ve read and perfect for a tale of Halloween.

“It is along toward four o’clock in the morning, and I am sitting in Mindy’s restaurant on Broadway with Ambrose Hammer, the newspaper scribe, enjoying a sturgeon sandwich, which is wonderful brain food, and listening to Ambrose tell me what is wrong with the world, and I am somewhat discouraged by what he tells me for Ambrose is such a guy as is always very pessimistic about everything.”

“Broadway Complex” by Damon Runyon

I discovered the short stories of Damon Runyon when I was seventeen. Again, it was the voice that caught my attention. The nameless narrator and all the other characters speak in a style invented by Mr. Runyon to sound like the way New Yorkers talked in the 1920’s and ’30’s. The characters use present tense, without contractions, and slang like “Roscoe” for gun, “gendarmes” for police, and “more than somewhat” for an excessive amount. Also the gangsters, showgirls, gamblers, and crooks go by  their nicknames, like Dave the Dude, Regret, Nicely-Nicely, and Asleep.

What are some of your favorite opening lines?

Writing Tip — Writing in Time: Winter Weather as Writing Inspiration

The weather is the villain any writer can take advantage of. It’s even better that a human one. It doesn’t have to have a logical motivation for its nastiness. It can betray a hero at any time, and the author doesn’t have to devise an explanation. If the hero can survive or outwit the weather, he looks even more heroic. Here this puny human has triumphed over all the power nature itself could dish out.

Winter conditions bringer their own unique stamp to villainous weather. I am writing from my experience of living through winters in the Buckeye State. If you decided to write about winters based on your location, be sure to take advantage of any features peculiar to your area.

Treacherous driving conditions — It doesn’t have to be a blizzard to be dangerous. A storm that dumps a lot more snow than predicted can catch your protagonist off guard, challenging her nerves and skills. When my husband and I were dating, he was driving home from a date and got caught on the highway after a layer of ice coated the road. As car after car spun out around him, he realized if he kept a slow pace, 25 mph, and didn’t touch his brakes, he would make it.

That setting would be ideal for a character wrestling with some problem. The experience of driving under those difficult conditions and getting home safely makes her see that she can overcome the problem with steady persistence. In such a story the weather is both a villain and if not a friend, at least an assistant.

Snowstorms —  Stranding a character in a storm can lead to revelations about himself, like the treacherous driving conditions, but how about snowstorm as a humorous villain?

A few weeks before Christmas, my family attended a party hosted by a good friend. It was so icy when we left that night, that I joked my friend might have to let people stay over if they didn’t leave soon. What if that happened?

A couple host a business Christmas party at their house in the country. Some colleagues they like, and others they cannot stand. When icy road conditions force everyone to stay the night, everyone in attendance must learn to tolerate each other. Or not, depending on what humor the author wants to use.

Snow days — This is another situation in which the weather is both villain and friend. As a parent, I love days off from school as much as my kids. That’s one less day to race around. Since I work from home, it’s not as stressful as for two parents who both work outside the home. A humorous story could be written about the juggling two parents do to get to work and take care of their kids on a snow day.

A snow day is a wonderful setting for a middle grade mystery. Because both parents work, the oldest child, a teen, is responsible for watching her siblings on a snow day. The younger brother and sister meet with friends in the neighborhood and solve a mystery by the end of the day.

What other stories have you read or would like to write using winter weather as writing inspiration?

 

Writing Tip — Holiday Folklore as Writing Inspiration

christmas-w3797415_1280If you want to combine Christmas or New Year’s Day with speculative fiction, or to give any story a touch of magic or wonder, researching the folklore surrounding the holidays may provide the spark you need to ignite a story.

Many, many superstitions are attached to these holidays at the end of the year. This is probably because Europeans held on to some pagan beliefs as they converted on Christianity. In Celtic lands, the winter solstice was a time to be on guard against evil spirits, who were said to roam the long nights. Ancient Celts lit bonfires and made noise to scare them away. (Side note: Celts also believed evil spirits were out and about during the fall celebration of Samhain, the holiday from which Halloween derives its origin. I get the impression that it was no picnic to be ancient Celt.)

This fear of evil spirits may have led to the English tradition of telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve. I believe that may have influence Charles Dicken’s decision to use ghosts to haunt Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.

The Christmas Encyclopedia by William D. Crump (the link is to a newer edition than I have) lists many superstitions from various countries. Here are a few.

“A child born a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day will have good fortune.”

“A child born during the twelve nights of Christmas may become a werewolf. (Germany and Poland)”

“From cockcrow until dawn on Christmas Day, trolls roam the land. (Sweden)”

“A windy Christmas Day brings good luck.” Our Christmas Eve was foggy from dawn until Christmas morning. I have not idea what that means.

In my YA mystery, “A Rose from the Ashes”, I refer to the Christmas legend. Early Christmas morning, under an almost full moon in the clear, frozen dark, Rae Riley confronts the three men who are the only candidates to be her father and her mother’s attacker. The moon gilds everything, giving the land and everyone under it a magical appearance. Rae says she believes animals could speak on a night like this.

I couldn’t find a country of origin for the legend, but it states that because the animals in the stable were kind of Jesus at his birth, he granted them the ability to speak at midnight on every Christmas Day since them. I use the legend to underline the wonder Rae feels when she solves the mystery of her mother’s attack and her father’s identity.

A lot of superstitions deal with performing rituals to predict the future.

“On Christmas Eve, if an unmarried woman peels an apple, making sure it remains as a single ribbon, and if she throws it on the floor from above her head, the pattern of the peeling on the floor will disclose her future husband’s initials.”

What if a young woman performs this ritual and doesn’t like the initials she sees because she knows to whom they belong? Or what if such rituals are accurate but can only be performed by trained fortune tellers? In this world, the best fortune tellers run businesses and customers scramble to make appointments with them for New Year’s Eve and Day.

Another way to insure good luck for the coming year was to get the right person to enter the home after midnight on New Year’s Eve. This custom, called first-footing, was popular in Scotland and northern England. A powerful man with dark hair brought the best luck. Agatha Christie uses this superstition to help solve a ten-year-old death in the short story, “The Coming of Mr. Quin” in the book The Mysterious Mr. Quin.

Do you know of any holiday folklore in your community?

Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts: What’s the Christmas Story?

romancew-596094_1280Although Christmas is over, I have one more prompt for the holiday. Romance is the one genre I find the most difficult to get interested in. So if you are inspired by this photo to write a scene for a Christmas romance, especially if you are a seasoned Hallmark Christmas movie fan, please share below.

I can stand romance better if it’s part of another genre, like mystery or scifi. Or how about all three?

The woman in the photo is an alien disguised as a human to conduct Earth research for her doctoral thesis. She’s fallen in love with the man, who has recently discovered during the holiday season that his girlfriend is literally out of this world.

The woman’s professor comes to Earth to oversee her research and is found dead. The aliens send detectives to solve the case, and the woman is the prime suspect.

Merry Christmas!

city-w3891508_1280Here’s the annual posting of my Christmas Eve poem. I won’t be posting again until Monday, Dec. 30. I hope you and your loved ones have a wonderful Christmas and holiday season!

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