Weekend Workout: End-of-Year Short Story Challenge! (or 50 First Lines Redux!)

I’ve been jumping up and down in my mind (I do that) to use some material from the 50 first lines exercise I started months ago. I used this exercise, another of my favourites, for a writing contest back in February and the results were terrific.

The whole 50 First Lines exercise is a blast and it works. I’ve proven to myself over and over again that it works, and now I have an excuse to use some of my results.

There’s an open call for a short story anthology I’m interested in submitting to and the deadline is Dec 31st, so it’s perfect timing. If you’d like to join me and submit to this anthology (or to any other anthology or magazine or just want to finish a short story by the end of the year), you can play along. You can play along regardless of anything, but having a goal and a deadline is a great motivator.

If you did not participate in February and want to catch up, or start over again, here’s the whole exercise:

STEP ONE: Write 50 first lines. Seriously. This is not as difficult as it sounds. I recommend doing it in one 30 minute sitting. Just crank them out off the cuff. Don’t think too hard or you’ll crush the gems.

For inspiration, here are the winners from the first round of the contest last Feb.

STEP TWO: Pick your Top 10. Here were mine:

It was the colour of vomit… probably because it was vomit.

The clown nose was the last straw.

The idea was half-baked – – but then again, she liked things a little raw.

The horse was her neighbour’s and they were both studs.

Green, blue, red . . . what mattered the colour of his blood when his heart was a broken hinge?

It was a perfect morning for picking mushrooms.

I was taking a short cut through the cemetery when I spotted it. Him. It.

If he had told her about his origami-folding autistic idiot-savant brother in the first place, they wouldn’t be in this jam.

“I think it can be reattached,” he said.

It wasn’t the first time she had been arrested for bar-fighting, and the other time wasn’t her fault either.

STEP THREE: Write 10 first paragraphs.

After you’ve chosen your Top 10 first lines, write the first paragraph for each. Again, just crank them out as quickly as possible in one sitting. Don’t edit, don’t over think, just write.

Here are the winning paragraphs from the contest.

STEP FOUR: pick 3-5 of your own that you like

Here were my 5 favourite paragraphs:

Green, red, blue . . . what mattered the colour of his blood when his heart was a broken hinge? He lay his head back down on the institutional hospital pillow. The nurses didn’t know what to do with him. He had red blood spurting from a gash in his arm and green blood coming from his nose. He reached up and touched it. His nose. Where Karmen had punched him.

 ~ ~ ~

It was a perfect morning for picking mushrooms. Green and misty in that way that spring teases. If she could identify them, she’s pick them now. They had sprouted up overnight, literally overnight, on the median across from the bus stop. But she couldn’t tell the difference between the poisonous and nonpoisonous ones. Nor did she know how much of the poisonous ones to add into a tincture, so that it would be just this side of magic, and not lethal.

 ~ ~ ~

I was taking a short cut through the cemetery when I spotted it. Him. It. The limping coyote. I had always assumed it was a he. I hadn’t seen him in weeks and I was glad he was safe, although not glad it was almost dark and that I was alone. I shifted my grocery bag to my left arm. Was I supposed to make myself big or small in the face of a coyote? Run towards him, back away, play dead?

 ~ ~ ~

If he had told her about his origami-folding autistic idiot-savant brother in the first place, they wouldn’t be in this jam. Instead he had told her to “wait” outside the non-descript building while he went inside. When he reemerged, sheepishly introducing Simon to her, almost apologetic, she was pale as a ghost. Unresponsive, even when he waved his hand in front of her face. He had no idea what had happened in the 20 minutes she had been sitting there on the bench. He was spooked, but Simon seemed to be all right. His brother placed his paper crane in Marion’s lap and she snapped out of her trance.

 ~ ~ ~

“I think it can be reattached,” he said.  He examined the finger more closely.  The wires had fried, but the finger itself seemed functional. “Here,” he said, handing the finger to ROY, “hold onto that until we can get back to the garage. I’m going to collect some more conch shells from the beach.”

 ~ ~ ~

STEP FIVE: Pick the paragraph that “clicks” for you, ignites the proverbial light bulb, and write a draft of that story by NEXT FRIDAY (Dec 21). That’s one week for a short story (2,000-5,000 words). You can do it. That still leaves 10 days to edit it for submission.

If you’re having trouble choosing from among your brilliant 5 paragraphs, try working on each one a little and see what happens. Since the anthology I’m submitting to is themed (it’s about heroes coming home) it helped in my selection. I looked for the “hero coming home” in each one. I started three different possible stories until one took off.

You’ll know when it does.

NEXT WEEKEND WORKOUT: We’ll edit and polish them by the end of the month.

Have a great weekend!

P.S. Someone just told me writer couple Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch suggested starting a short story each Monday, finishing it during the week, and submitting it that Friday. Now that sounds like a great challenge, and with 50 first lines, you’ve already got a year of stories waiting for you. (Hmmm, I smell a 2013 writing challenge for me)


  1. 4amWriter
    Dec 17, 2012

    Good for you, Danika. I remember your examples from the contest. I’m so glad you have found inspiration to push them along further. Good luck!

  2. Danika Dinsmore
    Dec 17, 2012

    Thanks, having a good time. At least it’s practical procrastination. 🙂 One of these days, perhaps in the spring again, I want to hold another 50 First Lines contest. Just thinking about how to make things more interesting.


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