First Lines (again)

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.”


Give me a pencil, and I will build you a world.

Today’s the day!

I’ll be at Nokomis library from 2-4, teaching a world-building workshop for young writers (ages 8-12). I shall arm them with markers, crayons, pencils and paper. We will map cities, coastlines and mountain ranges, invent religions, build governments, analyze environments, and then shatter them all to pieces. We will discover the undiscovered country and hold whole civilizations in the cup of our hands. Every world has its skin, its muscle, its sinew and its bone. Every world has lifeblood pumping through it. And we’ll come to know the lot of it. And it’ll be awesome.

There are six spots left. You can sign up here. And if you can’t come, you should stop by and say hi. I’ll be the lady pacing the stacks prior, fretting. I’ll also be the lady rehashing the class afterward. Fretting.

Because, yanno. I fret.

In the meantime – happy writing, happy reading, and happy adventures to you all!

Villainous Villains

We’ve been writing about heroes and villains in class this week, and, as was expected, the villains devised by my fourth graders are deliciously macabre and delightfully full of evil. Here are some examples:

A sinister police officer made entirely of boogers.

A sinister assistant principal with a necklace made of fingernails.

A mean old man down the road.

A very large chicken.

Octo-Man: part octopus, part man, all evil.

RubberMan: bullets bounce off of him; he cannot be punched; wants to bounce so high he cracks the world in half.

A diamond thief named Clive.

The Mathematician: because numbers are scary.

The Writer: a dreadful villain who discovers that every thing that he writes comes true. Naturally, he uses this ability to rule the world.

Mr. Gump: hooves for hands, and a general bad attitude.

The Meanest Pig: ’nuff said.

The Worm: A giant worm. It eats whole towns. It is not to be messed with.

The Zylons: sinister alien race. They eat children.

Bob: kid at school. Freckles, untied shoes, arsenal in the locker.

The Fairy Princess: as beautiful as she is sly; her tinkling laugh is a cover for nefarious schemes.

Giant ants.

Giant cockroaches.

Giant bees.

Giant Killer bees.

Dr. No-Good. Presumably up to no good.

The Teacher: turning students into minions. (Actually, this happens all the time.)

The Conductor: runs an amusement park that is also a portal to a forced labor colony. Cannot be stopped…..or can he?

The Butterfly: captured people and put them in cocoons, thereby turning them into butterflies.

Actually, now that I think about it, there are several people I can think of whose personalities and effects on the world would be greatly improved if they were transformed into butterflies. So I guess I’m Team Butterfly. How about you?