Saturday, January 15, 2011

The first line, by Ashlyn Chase

I give a humor workshop, and I begin at the beginning. The first line.
You all know you have to hook the reader as quickly as possible. Some feel the first paragraph or even the first page is soon enough. I want to do it in the very first sentence! Today, consider me your workshop leader, and have fun.

To free up our inner children and get into a playful mood, I usually start off with an exercise. Do you remember “Mad Libs” from your childhood? They’ve been around for decades. In case you grew up in a cave, I’ll summarize the game.

An innocent-looking one-page story has had certain words (the boring ones) deleted from each sentence. The players call out whatever the current reader asks for…a noun, verb, adverb, adjective, etc. That person fills in the blanks with these random words, and then reads it back to the players. The results are usually hilarious.

I ask workshop participants to try a slightly different version of this game. I’ll throw out some seemingly normal sentences, and you’ll fill in words to give the sentence some ‘zing’ while making it into a possible opening hook. Because the fastest way to immerse your readers in the story and characters is to begin with a line of dialogue, that’s what we are writing.

If you write suspense or dark paranormals, just set that aside for now and enjoy the moment. You can pick and choose the sentence(s) you want to use for the exercise. Brownie points will be given if you attempt more than one. Don’t sweat the small stuff. You can use as many words per blank as you want. You can toss in an adjective or adverb if you think it adds to the hook. Free your inner child-author, don’t think too hard, and have fun with it! can do this too.

Day One: Exercise One.

How the ___________ did you get your ____________ stuck in the ___________?

Put that __________ down and __________ me! I’m not ____________, you know.

I love your _____________! How did you get the ___________ to ___________?

I don’t think ___________ is the best way to get ___________ for ____________.

How am I supposed to ____________ with you and ____________ at the same time?

Was that fun or what? Thank you for not saying, “Or what?”

Now, as a reward, I’ll treat you to a couple of my story’s opening lines. By the way, when I say “story” I’m not referring to any particular length. An epic novel is a story. My mission is to try to prevent that epic novel from becoming an endlessly boring story!

From Oh My God:

“Hello, everyone. I can’t remember my name, but I think I’m an alcoholic.”

From Death by Delilah:

“If Delilah hears that song one more time, she’s going to strangle Tom Jones with her thong!”

Let’s talk about the uber-important first-sentence hook in a blurb or query letter.
By the way, I don't make editors wade through the boring stuff to get to my story idea. I start right off with a bang...the blurb. Chances are it won’t be dialogue, so here’s a chance to write a catchy narrative opening.

Here are a couple of mine:
From Demolishing Mr. Perfect.
Even though she’s a nurse at a sperm bank, meeting young, virile medical students every day, Natalie Watson’s relationships always seem to suffer from stress fractures.

From Heaving Bosoms:
What do tattooed butts, the Mafia and a medical student have in common?

And Now...first lines from my latest work, release date Feb 1st, but at Amazon now:
The Werewolf Upstairs

"Here are your keys, dear. Thanks for coming upstairs to get them. Now don't let your neighbor across the hall scare you."

Okay…now that you’re all warmed up and raring to go, get to work on that next story!


  1. Ash, I love Mad Libs. Haven't picked one up in years though.

    How the __hell__ did you get your __hair__ stuck in the __window__?

    Great first lines too!

  2. Put that __damn cowboy hat________ down and __kiss________ me! I’m not __drunk_, you know!

    Loved the post ... what fun!!!

  3. LOL! Great first lines Tracey and Carolyn. I'd totally keep reading!


  4. Love, love, loved this blog!! What a fun way to start off my weekend. Thanks for the grin!

  5. Homework on a Saturday? Well, since it's a fun assignment, I'll forgive you. And I will try to keep it rated PG-13, but that first one is really pushing my X-rated buttons. (big surprise!)

    How the _hell___ did you get your _tongue___ stuck in the _wine bottle____?

    Put that _taser__ down and __cuff__ me! I’m not _resisting arrest__, you know.

    I love your _lasagna_! How did you get the _sauce_ to _turn so vividly blue_?

    I don’t think _mooning the clerk__ is the best way to get __diapers_ for __your baby__.

    How am I supposed to _make out___ with you and __watch football___ at the same time?

    That last one is probably too realistic to be funny.

    Fun post, Ashlyn.

  6. Great exercise. Awesome post.

    How am I supposed to____ want to do the horizontal mambo___ with you and__ think you're an asshole__at the same time?

  7. Great post!
    Here's the first sentence to what I'm sure will be a NYT best seller hehe

    How the heck did you get your butt stuck in the washing machine?

  8. What fun! Here's one I actually said to my daughter: How the _heckola_ did you get your _hair_ stuck in the the _zsu zsu pet_?

  9. Olivia, those were wonderful! And I'm sure anyone reading the last one would still read on!


  10. Sara,

    That's terrific! Very romance novel like.


  11. JoAnne!

    I don't see why that couldn't be a bestseller! I'd buy it.


  12. Oh, Amanda,

    That sounds like it needs to be continued! LOL


  13. Hi Ash - sorry to post late, life got in the way.

    Wonderful post with some great answers!

  14. Hi, Ash, wanted to do this, but had to work yesterday, and today we've had storms, so Internet has been up and down, but wanted to play too!!!

    How the hell did you get your tail stuck in the door?

    Put that claymore down and unhand me! I’m not so fragile I can't protect myself, you know.

    I love your wolf coat! How did you get the fur to look so fluffy?

    I don’t think shifting into the wolf is the best way to get out of the mess you got us in at least for the time being.

    How am I supposed to shift into the wolf with you and not be seen by all the folks milling about town at the same time?

  15. I love your opening lines, Ashlyn...just fabulous! And thinking about them with Mad Libs in mind is a brilliant idea for inspiration! Thanks so much for sharing.