Daily Archives: March 5, 2012


When I’m washing the dishes, I think of first lines of novels. The one that keeps coming up is, “One day a dog sat on my face.”

This is a very good line for many reasons:

A. It could work in many genres. Romance, Mystery, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Memoir, etc. etc.

B. It immediately introduces a problem.

C. We already know the MC has some personal problems.

We have talked a lot on this blog about the importance of first lines. Tonight, as my kids run around naked after their bath, I am going to discuss why I think this is especially important for this week’s contest. First of all, you have very few words to do a lot of things. As usual, you have to create a complex, interesting character. Second, you have to have a conflict that we care about. And then, as per the contest, you have to set the whole thing in a world where all is not right. Your first line can be a great friend for doing all this.

The first line is it sets the mood. Like this one from FEED:

We went to to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.

Here we have a problem. We have a voice. We have a character. And we have the moon.

Not all dystopian novels start out with such a blatant setting cue, but you don’t have a lot of room for this contest. You have to do your work and do it quickly. What are some of your favorite dystopian novels? Do you remember any first lines?

I’m not going to lie, like Carol said, dystopian is very very hard for me. I’ve tried it and I’ve failed. Miserably. I’m in awe of people who do it well. For that reason I am very excited to see this week’s entries. Good luck and happy writing!

OH and lest I forget, the winner this week of the P@H is A. Muse or in other words, Ms. Renae Salisbury. Yay!


Filed under First Line, giveaways

John Bennion Chooses Winner!

John Bennion writes novels, essays, and short fiction about the western Utah desert and the people who inhabit that forbidding country. He has published a collection of short fiction, Breeding Leah and Other Stories (Signature Books, 1991) and a novel, Falling Toward Heaven (Signature Books, 2000). He has published short work in Ascent, AWP Chronicle, English Journal, Utah Holiday, Journal of Experiential Education, Sunstone Magazine, Best of the West II, Black American Literature Forum, Journal of Mormon History, The Hardy Society Journal, and others. He has written two historical mystery novels (not yet published), Avenging Saint and Ezekiel’s Third Wife. He is currently working on a young adult mystery, The Hidden Splendor Mine. An associate professor at Brigham Young University, Bennion teaches creative writing and the British novel. He has made a special study of the late Victorian and Modern writer, Thomas Hardy. As a teacher, he specializes in experiential writing and literature programs, including Wilderness Writing, a class in which students backpack and then write personal narratives about their experiences; and England and Literature, a study abroad program during which students study Romantic and Victorian writers and hike through the landscapes where those writers lived. A documentary The Christian Eye: An Essay across England covers his 2007 tour.


I was supposed to choose the short essays that moved me. Easy peasy: they all did. Then Carol put on her dictator hat and told me I had to choose fewer. I tried to find those that did something to my gut, enacted some drama with the words, and did it with grace and clarity. I still had too many. I tore my hair out and chose three that bore reading four times.

Statements I’ve gleaned from the entrants that we could all put above our computers for when we need inspiration:
Like [Dylan] Thomas, I am searching for light. Maybe, on the way, I can give it to others like it was given to me.
I want my readers to know they are not alone and that there is light within the darkness.
[W]riting . . . gradually filled all the spaces in my restlessness
I keep writing for the hope of discoveries to come.
I write because putting thoughts into words makes my dreams more real than any other artistic medium I’ve ever tried.

And isn’t that what writers do? Make something wonderful materialize out of nothing?
So thank you for sharing a bit of your souls.

First Place: Eight Stars
I used to be able to do the splits.
Not when I was really little, because flexibility didn’t come natural to me. In ballet class, I remember being embarrassed by how ungraceful my stretching looked. I wanted to be like the beautiful dancers, with perfect balance and control. I could barely touch my toes. I quit taking ballet when I was seven—just after my mom died. I didn’t feel much like dancing after that.
Still, I always wanted to do the splits. So I stretched every day and every night, until I could kick straight up to the ceiling. I grew up, got married and had kids, but I still exercised and I stayed flexible. I could do the splits when I was thirty-five—just last year.
But I can’t do it anymore.
I remember a December long ago; it might have been Mom’s last one, or maybe the second to last. All I know is that she walked slowly and painfully. The cancer spread into her bones in the end too. Just like me. A few weeks before Christmas we decorated sugar cookies for the neighbors: my mom, my brother and me. I tried not to deform the little stars and bells, but my little fingers weren’t that steady. My favorite cookie cutter was a gingerbread bear. Mom cut out one of those bears, so carefully, and put it on the cookie sheet. With the tips of her fingers, she gently moved the little bear arms up and then one of the legs.
The bear looked like it was jumping.
“I wish I could that,” she said.
I try to focus on all the things cancer hasn’t taken from me yet: my hair, my mind, my life. But, I wish I could do the splits.

I like how this doesn’t tell me how to feel and it doesn’t tell me how she feels, but it makes me feel what she is feeling through the details of the two, parallel stories. She evokes a situation and a past situation. She shares with me honestly the details of her life that make her feel the way she does. So she doesn’t have to translate or tell or preach anything to me.

Honorable mention: Madeleine Dillard
I like this because it reveals two stories about her life. She does tell me some concerning how she feels and what she thinks, and it is done with precise, graceful language.

All Mixed Up, move on over to the Play at Home side.
Kiss kiss.


Work carefully because we are losing two of our Project Writeway Players.

Here you go–please write a scene–400 words or less–from your own damned dystopian novel.
(If this story doesn’t cause you pain, well, you aren’t suffering enough! You must suffer like Ann Dee and I have suffered while writing OUR books!
You may complain in the comment section.
Though you won’t have as much time to complain as Ann Dee and I have!)
Remember,every word you use, counts.
You are developing a new world, so watch sense of place.
Description, dialog, character development and problem must shine.

Use a new name, and don’t tell anyone that name until after the judging is over.
The contest closes at five (5) pm on Wednesday, March 7.

You may vote for two (2) people.
Judging will be on Thursday and Friday and will close midnight.

Are you suffering yet?

On your marks, get sets, go!


Filed under Project Writeway