1. Arathald
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    Arathald Contributing Member

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    Active Story Openings Exercise

    Discussion in 'Writing Prompts' started by Arathald, May 6, 2011.

    As an offshoot from the thread on story openings, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to just write a bunch of story openings. First, a couple of hints on story openings:

    A good opening will often start in the middle of the action. To quote myself:
    Now the rules:
    • Write a short (100-500 words) opening based on the situation that the person above you gives. Try to make it active; make something happen right away. In the spirit of the challenge, try to use new characters and settings, instead of simply recycling the ones you're already familiar with.
    • Follow your opening by a suggestion for the next person's opening. To make this a bit of a challenge, don't post something that's easy to make active, or that's inherently interesting, like a car chase -- make it something a bit more mundane that will take some more work to make interesting
    • Feel free to comment on other people's openings, but don't write a full review of it. It's a first draft of an exercise, and this isn't a review thread.


    Since I'm the first one here, I'll give myself a topic, and I'll choose it from the examples I gave above. My topic is going to be the woman whose credit card is declined in a fashion mall. To make it more interesting and challenging to myself, I'm going to write it in 1st person from the perspective of the woman:

    "I'm sorry, ma'am, it looks like your card is being declined." The cashier didn't break his annoyingly cheery facade. "Do you have another card you'd like to try?"

    My mouth went dry. I had found the perfect cerulean dress, on sale, and it was the last size four left. "C-can you try running it again?"

    "Of course." He swiped the card through the cash register again, the judgmental smile still plastered on his face. The register beeped loudly. "I'm terribly sorry, it's not working."

    My face grew hot as I clawed through my purse looking for something, anything that would let me walk out of that store with my head high and the dress in a fancy paper bag that screamed to the world that I was one of the elite. "I think I have another... no, it's not here. Dammit, where is it?"

    "There are other customers waiting, but we'll be glad to hold the dress for you for twenty-four hours." He handed the worthless chunk of plastic back to me.

    I needed that dress. "No, you don't understand... I have this important party... the dress... I need it tonight!"

    His expression hadn't changed at all, but it somehow looked so much more condescending. "We're open till six tonight. Can I help the next person in line?" What a jerk.

    As I turned away from the counter, I kept my eyes fixed on the floor so I wouldn't have to meet anyone's gaze. I stuffed the card as deep as I could in my purse without so much as glancing at it.

    I felt my eyes moisten, and the edges of my vision blurred. This was my last chance, and I had blown it. I ran out the side door and to my car as quickly as I could. I climbed into the driver's seat, slammed the door shut, and put my head down on the steering wheel, letting the tears flow freely in the dark.​

    Topic for the next person:
    As a man sits in a chair, it breaks, and he falls to the floor.
     
  2. TinyDancer
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    TinyDancer New Member

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    in a bubble that will not pop.
    The tiny lecture theater was filling fast. He stared anxiously from behind the edge of the curtain, a wondering why he took the job in the first place. he was not good at speaking in public, but he could never say no- that was his problem. He looked on until the theater was full, full of animated and boisterous students like the ones that used to bully him . He had never gotten over that, but he couldn't be afraid, they were only children after all. When the students had settled, he strode up from behind the curtain and began, 'err..hello!' he said nervously. The students ignored him, they kept laughing and talking as if he was not there. He cleared his voice and yelled, 'HI THERE', the students heard him then. They were all staring at him now, as if he'd done something wrong, as if he were wrong to interrupt them from their idle talks. 'Hi, I'm Professor Thomas, my colleagues and I have been doing some work on genes for the past three years, today I will share with you some of our findings and how we got to where we are today, to begin I would like to show you a video briefly explaining the genetic make-up of a cow, this will be vital for our discussions afterward' He put the CD in the player, hoping that it would work and expecting it not to. He hadn't wanted to show them the movie it in the first place, but the teachers had asked him to, saying it would be 'too heavy' otherwise. It worked. A student brought a a chair down for him. Grateful, he sat down. It broke. Everybody laughed.
     
  3. HotfireLegend
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    HotfireLegend Member

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    No topic to base on so will make up own.

    A car chase xD

    ----

    Screech!*
    The asphalt was almost burnt as the rubber wheels scraped across it. The vehicle was sent into a spinning frenzy, having just been slammed head-on by a heavily modified and strengthened Mercedes.
    The driver slammed his rough hands on the wheel, yelling and trying to get his spinning car under his control again. His efforts were futile as the car smacked with a loud crunch against the side of the bridge. The stone that had been holding the bridge together started to crumble away from the sheer force of the blow.
    The other car's driver calmly braked, opened his car door and whipped out a pistol from his Jeans. He held it up high, pointing it at the unfortunate man who was fiddling with his seatbelt, trying to save himself - to get out of the car - before it was sent over the edge.
    "I wouldn't move if I were you!" He shouted, shaking the pistol. The man in the vehicle looked up, stunned. He opened his mouth to scream but nothing came out. The vehicle creaked as more rocks tumbled from the structure into the raging river below...
    "You can go over! You'll be out of my life!" The madman bared his fangs, standing still with his pistol still held high.
    "But then you won't have the satisfaction of killing me!" The driver shouted back through the smashed driver's seat window. "Why don't you just kill me here and now?"
    "I want to see you die. If I pull this trigger, I'm wasting a bullet. You'll fall over the side anyway!" The gunman replied.
    "Not if you aim carefully. Come closer and you can take the shot." The driver spoke back, as calmly as he could. However, he could hear the sounds of the crumbling bridge and the raging waters below...
    "Fine." The gunman agreed, stepping close enough so that he was on the bridge. He lowered the gun to the driver's height and...
    Smack!
    He was struck from behind by a trumphant-faced policeman with his baton. The policeman had considered the whole situation carefully enough so that when the man fell, the policeman was able to grab him and lay him on the ground. He yanked open the car door for the driver, undoing the seatbelt with haste.
    Crash!
    The bridge fell away!
    All that was left on the bridge was the driver, hanging onto the policeman's arm as he leant over the side of the bridge, breathing a heavy sigh of relief.


    -----

    A birthday party with a forgotten present
     
  4. Leatherworth Featherfist
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    Leatherworth Featherfist Member

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    "Where's the ****ing hotwheels I asked for," said Anders. Anders' mother spoke up, "Honey that's not how we thank our..." "Shut up," he interrupted. "I specifically asked for some mother ****ing hotwheels, and all I get are these stupid baby toys!" "Now Anders, you know that's inappropriate behavior for a four-year-old," said his father. "I know dad. I'm sorry... But these people are a bunch of pus..." "Anders you stop that right now," yelled his mother as she began to cry. Anders' father went to console his wife. "It'll be alright honey..." "I just don't know where he gets it," she said. "I mean we put food on the ****ing table, we keep a mother ****ing roof over his head, and this is how he repays us." Anders' father looked at his wife with a tear in his eye, "I know honey it's ****ed up."


    An egg eating contest.
     
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  5. Arathald
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    Arathald Contributing Member

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    Leatherworth: Interesting direction :p
    TinyDancer: Keep in mind the point of the exercise is to *start* with the action. You provided a lot of thought and background, and the action didn't come in until the very end.
     
  6. Earlychop
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    Earlychop Member

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    I sat cross-legged in the sand facing the hills of the Nevada desert and waited for the sun to birth over the horizon. This early in the morning the ground was a dark purple - its true colour sleeping in the absence of sunlight. I thought for a moment about mom and how she would react to my disappearance. She'd probably called the school by now, but that would do no good. I had little or no personal relationships there and they were just as clueless as she. Then, she would have contacted the police, but - to my understanding, it would take a while for that news to leave my home state, and so I had some time on my hands. She wasn't going to find me all the time I didn't want to be found.
    I watched as sun as it began to bring life to the desert, brightening every Yucca, cacti and wilted grass - one by one. I was safer here. Safer in the absence of other people. I couldn't know for sure, but at least if I was on my own only the objects around me could be destroyed, and they didn't matter.
    I missed dad. I missed the rides in his police cruiser, and playing the the sirens and lights. Mom would miss him too and this was what picked at my determination to leave - to run away. Dad had already left, and now I was doing to same.

    I hadn't left many people of importance behind, just mom, but leaving her was enough. The guilt from that felt like a magnetic pull, a weight tied to my feet. It had ached with every step I had taken away from her. I had to take those steps. I had to find out why I am the way I am.
     
  7. Earlychop
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    Earlychop Member

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    omg I just realised how **** that sounds lol
     
  8. Leatherworth Featherfist
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    Leatherworth Featherfist Member

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    That's certainly an interesting egg eating contest. I guess that's how they do it these days.
     
  9. Arathald
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    Arathald Contributing Member

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    I guess this is what passes for active nowadays...

    The whole point of the exercise is to take something that seems rather mundane and make it active and exciting. It's an important skill to have as an author. I'm sorry to say, but your openings are as mundane as the situations they stem from (with the exception of the car chase, which was my example of what not to do -- it doesn't take a lot of effort to make that active or interesting).

    Find a reason that the situation is important to your character, why it's interesting, inject some action, and run with it.

    Note that starting with action isn't the only way to write an opening, but it's a great way to get out of the habit of losing your reader by writing pages and pages of background before anything happens, and it's the point of this thread.

    The egg eating contest:


    "Thirty seconds!"

    Alex looked up at the scoreboard. Thirty eggs, to Mark's thirty-two. He wasn't about to let his brother beat him at yet another contest. Stuffing another hard-boiled egg into his mouth, he yelled, "You're going down, Mark!" Only it came out as, "yah gyaweh jah maa!"

    "Twenty seconds!"

    Mark shot Alex the same confident smirk he had seen countless times before his inevitable humiliation. This smirk just happened to be a little eggier than usual.

    Alex would not concede this time. He crammed two more eggs in his mouth and looked at the count. Thirty-three to thirty-five. He wasn't gaining any ground.

    "Fifteen seconds!"

    Another egg. Alex froze. He couldn't breathe. His heart began to race even faster. He felt like he was at the far end of a long tunnel, seeing and hearing everything around him through that little hole at the end.

    "Ten seconds!"

    "Oh my God, he's choking!"

    The hole at the end of the tunnel shrunk down to a pinpoint, then disappeared entirely.

    Alex felt a rock sticking in his back. He drew in a long, cool breath. Air had never tasted so good.

    "He's breathing! He's gonna be alright!"

    "Thank God!"

    He blinked open his eyes and found himself staring into his brother's grinning face.

    "Hey, gave us quite a scare there. Glad you're alright." Mark's smile widened. "Well, looks like you lost again. Better luck next time, bud."

    Next topic: Two young people are out on a date, hiking in the woods. One of them loses a shoe.
     
  10. Earlychop
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    Earlychop Member

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    I didn't read the first post fully, that is why I had no egg eating contest lol.
     
  11. Lilithmoon
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    Lilithmoon Member

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    The date was going perfectly. The sun was warm, the breeze was cool and the river was inviting. Tom was falling in love and Kelli was already head over heels. She was beyond beautiful in her cut-off shorts, tank top and teen-age innocence. Tom watched her like a dying man watches a sunrise. Grateful for every second they were together.

    He had spent most of his young life exploring Spring River--alone, but now sharing it with her made it even more special. Plus, it afforded them the gift of some of, the most scenic make-out points in the area. One such secluded spot was coming up right after the low water dam. Tom could not wait to negotiate the moss covered, little spillway with Kelli. It gave him the chivalrous excuse to put his hands on the more curvaceous parts of her anatomy.

    “Okay babe, do you want me to go first and you hold onto me or you to go first and I hold onto you?” Tom knew which way he preferred.

    Kelli thought about it a second and shrugged.

    “It doesn’t really matter because if I go down, I’m taking you with me.” She smiled sweetly, put his hands firmly on her tiny waist and gave a provocative, hips-don’t-lie shake.

    The fast running current pouring over the lush, green, muddy moss made the little, stone dam a very, treacherous structure to cross. They both knew there was a better than average chance they would end up taking a ride on the slippery, concrete water slide.

    The moment of truth, Kelli stepped out onto the causeway. The water was colder than she anticipated and she gasped in surprise. Tom’s grip tightened. Her old river-runners filled with muck when her foot sunk into the murky undergrowth. The muddy sludge closed around her shoe like pudding around a spoon. Her immediate reaction was to lift her foot in alarm. She knew right away that was mistake. She could feel the powerful suction. The mud created a vacuum, pulling the shoe off her foot. Kelli watched horrified as the swift moving water grabbed the shoe, carried it over the edge, down the river and out of sight.


    Tom sprang into action. No way he was going to miss an opportunity to play the hero to his damsel in distress.

    “Oh baby, it’s okay. I’ll get it. You just sit right here a minute.”

    Tom dashed down the embankment, traversing the rocky terrain with the sure-footedness of a mountain goat. He followed the rush of the river, disappearing behind a bend, of tall grass, before Kelli could even start her protest. He scanned the water like a kid on an Easter egg hunt. Then he saw it--partially submerged, caught on a low hanging branch.

    “I see it!” He yelled.

    Envisioning the lavish hugs and kisses, he would soon receive brought a smile to the young man’s lips. He found a length of branch, snaked it through one of the shoe’s laces and carefully drug it within reach. He bent down and snatched the wayward footwear from the water, surprised by the heft. It must really be waterlogged to be so heavy. The smile fled his face as he realized it was not the water that gave the shoe its added weight.

    It was the foot still inside.


    Next topic: A student listening to a lecture.
     
  12. Arathald
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    Arathald Contributing Member

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    This is the active opening I was looking for. You buried it 250 words down. Your opening isn't bad, but if you want to use the active approach, you should start with this, and weave the absolutely necessary parts of the 250 words before it into the active section. (Not all of these 250 words are necessary, you can get away with a lot less than that if you're weaving it into the action).

    Your current opening is slower and is more of a setting-a-scene kind of opening. If you are going to spend time describing before getting into the story, the way you approached it is fairly good, and 250 words generally won't lose a reader's interest.

    (Again, as this isn't a review thread, I'll refrain from commenting on anything else in your story. If you want to get it reviewed, make sure you're eligible, then post it in the reviews section. I'd be happy to give my comments at that time.)
     
  13. Lilithmoon
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    Lilithmoon Member

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    I see what you mean. Nothing really happens until 250 words in so it is not really an active opening. I had envisioned it being an opening for a much longer story. I just should have lead with the action though. Thanks for clearing that up for me Arathald. I found this exercise very helpful. What other types of openings are there? I will experiment with all of them. :)
     
  14. Arathald
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    Arathald Contributing Member

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    Go read books to see what kinds of openings authors use, and see how effective they are. The Kindle lets you sample the first chapter or many, many books for free, and even without the device, they have free software for Windows and Mac. . . Seems like as good a way as any to explore some story openings.
     
  15. HotfireLegend
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    Student listening to lecture:

    Thundering footsteps.
    "We're late, come on!"
    "If only you'd checked your alarm clock last night!"
    The door to the lecture theature banged open, almost flying off its hinges as the two students barged into the room, almost falling on top of each other. All eyes in the room turned upon them, some with menacing glares.
    "Ah, so you've finally come to listen to my little lecture about the Biological Sciences of Mammals?" Spoke a harsh voice from the centre of the room. The students looked over to him, worried expressions on their faces. They had never seen him like this. He was standing in such a way that he could've been reaching for a chair to trap the students like Lions. It was quite a menacing posture. His facial expression didn't help much.
    "Urm, yes... Yes sir..." One of the students managed to blurt out as she fixed her long, untidy hair. The other grabbed her lightly by the shoulder and whispered into her ear.
    "...I think we're in the wrong room."
    "That doesn't matter." Came the reply. "We've already embarassed ourselves enough, we may as well listen to what this guy has to say." She tied her hair up into a pony tail, beckoning for her friend to follow as she stepped slowly and quietly up the stairs toward the seats. She chose her spot at the back and sat down. Her friend joined her, waving back her auburn hair from her face.
    "Hmm." The lecturer continued, clearing his throat.
    One of the students frowned. "This is going to be fun..."*

    ----

    Buying a pet (hamster?)
     

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