Last week I started my long-term artist residency at Roosevelt High school, and it has been awesome. The kids are engaged, the teachers are passionate – it’s all you can hope for in a writers residency.
I’m here today. It continues to be awesome.
One of my favorite things to do with a school group is an exercise in writing opening lines – the initial breath of a story that hasn’t been written yet, but that the student themselves would like to read some day. What interests me most in these workshops is to get kids to engage with the kind of stories that hook them individually as readers. Now, I have a selfish ulterior motive in this – I am an omnivoratious reader, and find myself personally grooving on lots and lots of different kinds of stories. One thing I tell my students all the time is the simple fact that writers, in the end, are selfish. We write to entertain ourselves. We read to entertain ourselves. It’s one of the few perks of this lonely, lonely job.
So whatever. I’m super selfish. Sue me.
Anyway, the problem with coming into a classroom to do a writer’s workshop is hesitation. We have a limited amount of time, and the kids are naturally hesitant. Well, of course they are! I’m a complete stranger, after all, and I’m asking them to remove all pretense and self-consciousness and to sit down and write stuff. Madness!
So, we start with first lines. First lines are fun because they shine a light onto the story as it can be while still being a story all on its own. And that’s exciting. And it tricks the kids into engaging their imaginations, their what-if muscles, and it tricks them into writing even when they aren’t writing.
Here’s some of what they came up with:
- I was used to waking up to the smell of burnt bacon.
- I’m only eighteen, and I haven’t seen the world.
- A rush of cool breeze crawled up my arms.
- Not just darkness, but the silent kind.
- She opened the book, and then she disappeared.
- The sun set at the far end of the dusty road.
- He was the child of no one.
- We were happy. That’s when everything changed.
- The wind of the world washed everything away.
- Damn him and his luck.
- I wasn’t anyone worth knowing. That’s what made me special.
- When I woke up, I was already dead. That’s what they told me, anyway.
- I heard a voice whisper in my ear, but when I turned, only the wind was there.
- Night was scary, but I was scarier.
- Don’t believe anything I’m about to say.
- His face was the perfect frame for the bright red outline of my fist.
- I told her to stop, and she didn’t. I told her to run, and she wouldn’t.
- Whatever you do, don’t read to the end.
- Her wedding dress lay on the street, wet and muddy.
- They emerged from the burning tree.
And, of course, my favorite, “Once upon a f***ing time.”