Friday, August 26, 2011

First Line Challenge with a Twist

In times past, we used the “First Line Challenge” to jump-start our creativity. Normally, a moderator would post the first sentence or passage of a famous novel and then ask each of us to create a paragraph that was totally unique, hoping to generate several different perspectives from one beginning.

Although some writers enjoyed the exercise, it wasn't a terribly popular venture, so I thought that perhaps we could try something a little different – hence, the so-called “First Line Challenge with a Twist.” What I propose is that we use the initial sentence of a famous novel to spark a group story instead of just a series of flash-fiction paragraphs.

So, let's see how far – and how crazy – we can take it! To get this party rolling, I'm offering this relatively famous first line as the start of our story:

When Mr. Hiram B. Otis, the American Minister, bought Canterville Chase, every one told him he was doing a very foolish thing, as there was no doubt at all that the place was haunted...

30 comments:

Christine Hardy said...

But Hiram considered that since he served the Lord, any ghosts in the vicinity would flee the moment he crossed the threshold. "Resist the devil and he will flee from you."

Hiram had every intention of resisting. In fact, he made a big show of moving in and even threw an open house for his neighbors to show off the fine old place.

Jesse Littleton said...

But, unfortunately, Hiram had grossly miscalculated the situation. As he and his neighbors soon found out, the ghosts of Canterville Chase had no intention of vacating the premises - religion or no religion.

Jil said...

It all began on his second night there when on his way along the draughty corridor to his bedroom he felt his way blocked by something like a cold, but solid, clammy mist.
"Good God!" Hiram gasped, and as soon as the last "d" fell from his lips whatever it was that stopped him gave way with such suddenness that he fell flat on his face sending one lower tooth bloodily through his lip.Unearthly laughter followed, echoing until he was wrapped in chains of horror.

Jesse Littleton said...

At first, poor Hiram was too shocked to feel any pain, but as reality set in, he suddenly became aware of his throbbing lip and cheekbone - not to mention the rest of his aching body. What manner of spirits haunted his new home - and why did they hold such contempt for him?

Laura Martone said...

(Excuse the interruption, folks, but something must be said... Okay, I admit it - even with a so-called twist, it seems that the First Line Challenge is no longer a draw for authors and characters. Too bad - I kinda liked it. Oh, well, no worries. The message has been received - loud and clear. Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.)

Christine Hardy said...

I think the difficulty lies in that no other characters have been introduced yet. I was kind of trying to lead into that.

Christine Hardy said...

Besides the ghost, I should say, which Jil did very well!

This goes into something Betsy and I have discovered on the story threads: it's a heck of a lot easier to write comments for characters you already know than to make up totally new ones.

It also illustrates the need for action in a story. Poor Hiram is musing on the floor... But what will he do?

Laura Martone said...

I think you're right on all counts, Christine. One scared dude on the floor is not much of a story, though I commend Jil for adding some riveting (albeit painful) action. I should've taken your lead and elaborated on the neighbors, but as you said, it's much easier to write about characters we already know. I guess I was just hoping that the regulars would make an appearance, but even my Olivia's been silent. Anyway, as I said, no worries.

Jil said...

Too bad! I find them great fun and not at all time consuming. You'd think writers would enjoy a momentary frolic of the imagination! Thanks for trying,anyway, Laura.

Olivia Harper said...

You rang, dear author? I'm sorry - I've been busy with a never-ending art project that's kicking my butt, but I certainly don't want to let you down. So, here's my contribution to the ghost story...

...As I lay in bed, dreaming of something I can't quite remember, an inexplicable commotion suddenly yanked me from sleep. Amid the sounds of rattling chains and muffled cries, I could hear maniacal laughter emanating from the mansion two doors down. Instinctively, I glanced at the clock on the nightstand. Not surprisingly, it read 3:33 a.m.

"Not again," I groaned. "Every time a new neighbor moves in, the ghosts go crazy. When will people learn?"

"Huh?" Michael shifted on his pillow. "What's wrong, honey?"

"Oh, nothing. Just Canterville Chase acting up again."

"Well, I tried to warn him..."

Another round of cackling could be heard through the open window.

Suddenly, I tossed the covers off my legs and slipped on my sandals. "That's it. I've had it. I'm going over there."

Michael opened his eyes. "Wait, what are you going to do?!"

"I said... I'm going over there."

"Are you insane? People have tried everything over there - exorcisms, paranormal investigations, you name it. What the heck can you do about it?"

"I haven't figured that out yet."

Fully awake now, he bolted upright. "Fine. But I'm coming, too."

sex scenes at starbucks, said...

Sorry guys, I dislike these sorts of exercises. It's not you. I rarely do exercises in classes either. And Aidan would just come in and screw it all up...

Laura Martone said...

(Thanks, Jil. I kinda like them, too - a momentary frolic of imagination is good for the soul.)

Laura Martone said...

(No worries, Betsy. I know you're not a fan of these - I just thought I'd try something a little different. I was getting kind of bored.)

sex scenes at starbucks, said...

I do read them though...

Laura Martone said...

That's cool, Betsy. And, for the record, I think Aidan's presence in such stories would be a good thing. He doesn't screw things up - just keeps it interesting.

Christine Hardy said...

Hiram's daughter Petunia had had enough, too. She took the bottle of water her father had brought back from the Holy Land in '28 and sprinkled some on the ghost. It paled as only something without flesh can and retreated inside the corner cupboard.

"Get up, Father."

Hiram got up. She sprinkled some more on the cupboard to keep the ghost inside for the time being.

Someone knocked at the door. Hiram jumped.

"Sit down, Father."

Hiram sat down. She went to the door.

"Oh, hello, Dr. Harper. Please come in. Would you mind terribly having a look at father? He's had a bit of a shock and his heart is weak. Mrs. Harper, may I offer you some tea?"

Petunia was plain and she knew it, but she tried to make up for it with good manners.

Michael Harper said...

As soon as Petunia opened the door and welcomed us inside Canterville Chase, I knew that it was worse than I'd feared. Her father looked absolutely wretched. He was bleeding profusely from his mouth, bruises were already beginning to form, and he seemed to be cradling one of his arms. I was grateful that I'd thought to bring along my medical bag - even in the midst of my concern for Olivia... and her impulsive errand.

"Of course, Petunia. I'm happy to help." I moved quickly towards Hiram's hunched figure. "While I tend to your father, perhaps you can tell me what's going on around here. I have an idea, but it seems your resident ghost is behaving even worse than usual."

Olivia Harper said...

"Oh, Petunia, you poor thing. What an ordeal this must be for you. Of course, I'd love some tea, but under the circumstances, I think I should make it." I inched toward the kitchen. "Why don't you sit down and tell Michael what happened? I'll be back soon."

Petunia said...

"I don't really know," said Petunia. "I heard horrible laughter and found him lying in the hall with a ghost. I chased it away with Holy Water. It's in that cupboard."

Michael Harper said...

Despite my medical training - and my normally scientific mind - I found myself nervously glancing toward the cupboard. The funny thing was that Liv and I were both atheists - and yet the idea that holy water could keep a restless spirit at bay was beginning to seem less fantastical the more I stayed in that infernal place.

Of course, the holy water only worked for a while. Not long after I started treating Hiram's facial injuries, the cupboard doors started trembling, and soon, the entity inside began laughing again, first as a low guffaw and gradually becoming a high-pitched cackle. At precisely the same moment, I heard the teakettle whistling in the kitchen.

"Jesus!" I shouted, involuntarily jumping in my seat.

"Ow!" Hiram responded.

Apparently, my hand had inadvertently shifted, hitting Hiram's poor nose. "Sorry."

Olivia darted into the parlor, apparently ignoring the still-whistling kettle. "What the heck's going on? Is that the ghost?"

Just then, the cupboard doors seemed to explode, and a strange vaporous entity rushed toward the ceiling, screeching as it went.

Petunia said...

Well, it seems to have made like a steam whistle and blown.

Shall we have tea then?

Olivia Harper said...

I was stunned. Petunia was handling this situation far better than I would have. It was one thing, after all, to live down the street from a supposedly haunted house - it was another thing entirely to live inside the damn thing.

"Tea?" I hesitantly asked. Suddenly, I remembered the teakettle, still whistling in the kitchen. "Uh, okay. I'll go get it. But, in the meantime, what are we going to do with that darn ghost?"

Petunia said...

Frankly, Olivia, I don't care what the ghost does. It seems to me that the more fuss people make, the more power it has over us.

Perhaps if we ignore it, it will just go away. (shrugs) After all, isn't that how atheists treat God? And He seems to leave them alone.

Hiram said...

(turns beet red) Petunia! That's blasphemy.

Petunia said...

I'm merely making an observation, father.

You seem to have gotten your color back, at any rate.

Olivia Harper said...

I smiled in spite of the situation.

"Well, Petunia," I said. "As an atheist, I suppose I can see your point. I don't believe in God as most of the world does - and frankly, I'm not sorry about it. So many terrible things have been done in the name of religion - and even if that weren't the case, I'm a happy, good-hearted person despite being an atheist.

"Of course, I'm not certain if belief in ghosts is the same as belief in God. Like your father, many religious people would in fact be pretty upset by your analogy."

I glanced around the room, making sure the ghost hadn't returned. "Anyway, it looks like the ghost is gone for now. We can try ignoring him and see what happens... though I have my doubts that he's gone for good. He seems fairly ticked off."

I passed Petunia a mug. "So, how do you take your tea?"

Petunia said...

Well, perhaps he's a happy, good-hearted person in spite of being a ghost.

(grins at Olivia)

Hiram said...

(growls) Petunia!

Don't you mind her, Olivia. She's just being ornery on purpose to spite us both. And to try to take our minds off the resident upstairs.

I'll take some whiskey in mine if you don't mind.

Petunia said...

Well, Olivia, you're just not being logical. Look at the Democratic Party, for example. A lot of evil things are done in its name, too. Take the Klan for instance. But that doesn't make President Roosevelt evil, or cease to exist, now does it?

Olivia Harper said...

"Oh, I'm not sure about that, Petunia," I said with a grin. "And of course, Hiram, one tea with whiskey coming up."