A Writer’s Notebook: First-line found story (rough draft)

This is going to be a two-part exercise: this week, I present a rough draft, and next week I will share a revision.

This rough draft won’t make a lot of sense at first, but I’ll explain what’s going on below.

No one was going to believe her, but the dog would not stop barking. She was the only woman he had ever met who wore sensible shoes and a g-string. Margot got the idea from an article she read in a women’s magazine. It was an island on no map. Had he just winked at her? The man at the store had said it was easy.

It started snowing at midnight that Christmas Eve. This New Year’s Eve was going to be different. It did not look anything like the photograph. Dave was wrong again. Except for that time when he was ten and had found a dead bird, Luke had never seen a dead body, until now. It was annoying but Susan had to admit her mother was right. The carnival came to town once every year. Josh had been walking towards the hill on the horizon all morning. It was hard to believe there could be more than one. Rachel could not stop laughing.

The piece of paper fluttered slowly down and landed on the sidewalk in front of Erica. Frank stood on the subway platform waiting for the train to arrive. Monique had not been here for a long time. Spring bloomed suddenly that year, catching even the optimists by surprise. It was exhausting to even think about.

The dog sat with his head cocked, staring at the still figure of his master. The sad gap left by the felled tree surprised William every time he looked out the window. Chris had always hated the color green, everyone knew that. The night it happened there was a thunderstorm. It was inevitable that they would meet.

This is a strange amalgamation, not only of words but also of exercises.  What I’ve done is essentially combine the idea of “found poetry’ with the first-line story exercise: I’ve pieced together a story from the first lines suggested on Lori Ann Bloomfield’s First Line blog.  It happened by accident, as most found art does.  I was going through that blog and recording, in a file on my computer, all the first lines.  I wanted a resource for future use should I ever need a first line to get the writing started.  But as I wrote them down, in order, starting way back on Week 1 in November 2008, I noticed that a story was unfolding all by itself.  The first line fit very neatly with the second line (or rather, with the second first line).  The third line kept the female character but introduced an idea just different enough to generate interest: what does the dog thing have to do with the clothes thing (let alone a g-string!)?  But that line fits quite neatly with the fourth, and then another odd turn — this time bringing the “he” of the story into more direct play — and so on….

The resulting “found story” isn’t perfect.  There are too many questions too soon, I think, and the story veers off track in ways that are not just interesting, they’re potentially distracting.  And of course there are way too many characters bouncing around in this thing, so one of the first changes I’ll probably make is to consolidate characters.  A handful should be plenty.

But that’s the plan for next week: I’m going to take this “found story” as the rough draft and work with it to see if a clearer, more functional story might emerge.  And I’ll post that next week as a revision exercise.

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

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