Terrible First Lines From Short Stories That I Will Never, Ever Finish
Hi there. I’m a writer. And as a writer, I fail all the time. But then again, as the great artist Samuel Beckett said — well, he said the following: “Try. Fail. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” And as for the poet T.S. Eliot — well, he said this: “Trying is the only thing that matters.”
Of course, those jerks could say things like this. They were, for instance, famous writers who had won the Noble Prize. For the rest of us, failing just means that we suck. (Unless history redeems us and later on we also win the Nobel Prize — but really, who has the patience to wait around for that?) For me, though, failure has a more personal consequence, as I went heavily into debt in order to go to a prestigious school in order to get a Master’s Degree in fiction. But I’ve never published any fiction. Sure; yes, I’ve written non-fiction for money, but does that even count?
The sickening stench of failure weighs heavily on my mind, because these days, I have to field automated calls from Sallie Mae Student Loan Services, Inc. This joke has been made before by others, but though “Sallie Mae” sounds like a pleasantly bumpkin-ish hillbilly girl, in fact, she is a heartless bitch with a chunk of cold iron where her living, beating heart should be.
When I call the Sallie Mae loan services line, the robot voice automatically kicks in with the total amount of money that I owe her. (Yes, I think of Sallie as being “her.”) “Olii-ver… Mill-er. As of… JANUARY 29TH, 2011, you owe…. one hundred sixty-two thousand dollars, and thirty-five… cents.” It is at this point in the phone call when I start pressing every button on the keypad, including the “star” and the “pound” button, in an effort to get this recording to stop. But it never does. …Listen, Sallie Mae, I only ever want to know how to get another deferment on my loans. I do not ever want to know how much money I owe you in total. I don’t want to know this.
In real life, Sallie Mae doesn’t seem like a pleasant hillbilly bumpkin. In real life, she probably dresses in black spandex like “Trinity” from the Matrix. If you met her, while walking down a dark alleyway, she would jump in the air, karate-kick you in the face five times before you even had time to hit the ground, and then wrench the gold fillings from your mouth. And then she’d still remind you that you still owed her one hundred and sixty-one thousand dollars. Sallie Mae is a heartless bitch! There. I said it.
So ANY-way. Here, in the spirit of all of that, are the terrible first lines from short stories that I started in MFA writing school, but which I will never ever finish. One of the few pieces of writing advice that I ever received in grad school was to never, ever start a story with a line of dialogue. So naturally, I started about half of these with lines of dialogue. Go figure. And taste the horribleness:
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“Andrew Brewster had it all, or so it would seem.”
“She said, ‘New York is like a room within a room within a room.’”
“The news that he was big in Japan came as a particularly unpleasant surprise to Donny Jordan.”
“It was a foggy night in Dover, Delaware, the kind of night that makes you stop and think to yourself, I’m in Dover? Dover fucking Delaware?”
“I woke up, groggy and sweat-stained, to find an enormous hole in the center of my black T-shirt, like I had came out on the losing end of a battle against Mothra.”
“The metro station in Prague smelled strongly of urine.”
“And at the end of it all, I packed my stuff, and drove north.”
The day that the killer butterflies came to town was a warn one.”
She said, ‘Accents are a trick that we play on ourselves.’”
“Nights like this, you just don’t know.”
“They met in a bar.”
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I think the urine one has a lot of potential! Don’t you? And the “Andrew Brewster had it all” sentence; I mean, talk about setting up audience expectations! And, naaaah, I could never fool you guys. They all suck.
But hey! Feel free to borrow these first lines to start your own short stories, though, if you like. Or, just use them as lines to “break the ice” at your latest wedding, family reunion, Tea Party gathering, or cult-ish mass suicide. It’ll be fun times all around, I guarantee it! And remember; if you ever despair while writing your own fiction, here’s another piece of non-useful advice – a writer writes, always. Yes, we all persist always. Even when he/me/she/you is writing absolute… shit. Oh well.
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