Practice Sessions

Story Starters

I’ve been around quite a few Authors who perform little drills to ‘get the juices flowing’ so they are primed and ready to write. You won’t necessarily do this right before every writing session; you may simply want to try your hand at it once every so often. The objective is to do a sort of stream-of-consciousness opening set of sentences or a full paragraph that could be the lead-in to an entire story.

After all, you want to hook your Readers right at the beginning. Think about some of the best stories you’ve ever read. Did the first sentence or the first paragraph or the first page suck you into the events and make you want to read the whole book? Yeah, kind of like what a fisherman does with his bait, that’s what you want to do with your next amazing tale to lure your Readers in. Make it appealing, give it some flash, tease your Readers with just enough detail to make them want more.

Some storytellers build up a lot of detail straight out of the chute, providing history, backstory, character descriptions, a full rendering of the setting. That will appeal to a certain type of Reader. Other storytellers use minimalism, depending on brevity and succinct phrasing to conjure images in a loose framework that lets the Reader flesh out the minutiae of a scene. No matter which way you do this–or, perhaps, find a middle ground between the two–your introduction to the story should be compelling. Again, you liked it when an Author did it, and drew you in; you should practice doing the same for your Readers.

Just like you’ve got to do math equations to get good at the process, just like you need to memorize scripture so you can recall it at a moment’s notice for the appropriate situation, just like you need to work on muscle memory so athletic movements are autonomic. You also need to practice writing to make the words flow naturally and captivate the imagination.

Here are a slew of Starters that I did over several days, considering a variety of genres, and what opening scenes might work. Browse through them and check their descriptiveness, their flow, their cadence, their dialogue, their imagery, and their open-endedness to whet the appetite of the voracious Reader. If you like any of them, feel free to write “the rest of the story” for that particular Starter. Send it to me. I’d be interested to see how you handle it.

Alright, enough jawing from me. It’s time for you to practice.

“You wanna put down that pistol so no one gets hurt?” I’m thinking my question might just seem like pointless rhetoric to the young girl holding the .45, its barrel wavering between my chest and my groin.

“My name is Brandi Shires. You raped my mother and now you’re going to know what that feels like.” She cupped her other hand under the pistol grip to steady her aim, and I realize she’s had some training.

“Seriously, kid, I don’t know what you’re talking ab—” Bang! And a metal slug catches me in the thigh, pitching me hard against the dumpster, sending me sprawling head-first into the rain-soaked garbage.

“If you push that button, this universe will implode.” His words were matter-of-fact, without a trace of emotion. I don’t suppose Krith’Ganna are prone to emotions, and I doubt a human would recognize it on what passes for a face on them, anyway.

“Does it mean I would end up killing you in the process?” I spat blood where he’d loosened a tooth with his Kick-Stick. I tried to move the greasy tangle of my hair out of the way with my good hand, so I could watch for my opportunity.

“Doubtless it would. But I will not give you the ch—”

I lunged forward as the nictitating membrane slid down over his eyes momentarily.

The protective circle broke down, the ancient writing on the floor turning to scorch marks, as the demons started flowing outward.

“No! The ward was supposed to hold them at bay!” I shouted over the unearthly screeching of those other-worldly creatures.

“Do something, you idiot! Cast another incantation before they—”

A beast resembling a multi-armed invertebrate lashed out and caught Jarrod by his torso, yanked him like a rag doll to its gaping maw, and bit off his head.

“Stop shooting long enough to hear me out, damn it!” Vinson yells up into the sky, as he hunkers down behind the Jersey barrier. In answer, three more shots crack the air, taking divots out of the cement and raining chaff onto his shoulders. “Nick was already dead when I got there… stabbed. I don’t do knives. I do pistols!” All goes quiet as the cold upright pylons of the overpass echo the hissing drizzle.

I held her hand and implored her with my eyes. “You do know I love you, don’t you?”

“I do, Michael. But you know I can’t have any kind of relationship with you. My family wouldn’t allow it.” She looked down between us, past me, at the coarse grass and gorse bushes near the stream where we had met.

“Then let’s go to someplace where they don’t have that kind of say-so over us. Let’s elope to Mexico.”

Thick grey swirls of mist rolled out of the open door of the crypt. The stench was incredible, laced with eons of dust and decay, rotting loam, putrid flesh. We almost gagged.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Sam was nervous, beads of sweat trickling down his temples, and we hadn’t even engaged our enemy yet.

“Do you see any other way around this? If we don’t kill them—permanently this time—they’ll just keep coming back to suck the life out of every last person in this town.”

“You know, in a movie or animated feature a character once quipped something like ‘no capes’ as part of a superhero uniform. Tongue-in-cheek, but it’s true. Check out this rope burn.”

“You’re so full of yourself, Barry,” groused Vikki. She swept her hand around to indicate the half-dozen friends meeting in the abandoned building. “I don’t know what these powers are, exactly, or where they’ve come from, but we sure as hell aren’t ‘superheroes.’”

Everything but his pants. That was Tony’s wicked sense of humor in “full swing.” He walked into the holiday costume party in a fireman’s outfit. He wore the flame retardant thick jacket with the reflective stripes, a mock oxygen tank strapped to his back, a clear face mask draped over one shoulder, a cut-off section of firehose with a nozzle draped over the other and dragging behind him, and a pair of insulated rubber boots that came up to his calves. But no pants. Typical Tony.

“Ya ain’t makin’ this easy on yerself, Rocko.” Geno’s normally congenial smile, one he’d come to appreciate over the years, was twisted into a skewed crescent of pathos.

“How many times do I gotta tell ya, I don’t know what happened to the money! It was in the cases in the back of the car. After the wreck, the cases were gone.” I had a feeling the injuries from the crash were about to get some companions, inflicted by my former friend. He raised the 5-pound sledge over his head, aiming for my trigger hand.

The door blew off its hinges and skittered into the corner of the room as plaster and concrete pelted us. A woman dressed in black close-fitting garb stepped through the billowing dust and started shooting each of my captors in rapid succession.

“Die kommen zuwieder, Kapitän!”

The barrage of depth charges began almost immediately, starting from the starboard stern and marching across to the port bow. Each concussion blossomed from a muffled ‘whump’ into a steel-rattling earthquake within the U-boat. The deck beneath their feet bucked, rivets and seams groaned, and the reverberating echo of it beat at their ears in the confines of the boat.

“Weapons, you have all six ready?” The commander gritted his teeth as he said it.

“Jawhol, Kapitän!”

“Send them all up their ass,” he timed it in his head, “in three…two…one…FIRE!”

Jafir let the smoke from the hookah stream around his head, then puffed out three concentric rings that followed each other and intertwined in swirling vines. He took another, larger pull on the hookah, filling his lungs. He suddenly felt the need to cough, yet different. He forced himself to expel all the air and smoke, and it continued to flow out of his mouth and nose much longer than he expected. Instead of dissipating into little cirrus clouds, the smoke grew and resolved itself into a human figure standing before him.

“You called, Master? What is your bidding?”

Espinoza stood over my shoulder as I decoded the last of the cipher. “Are you sure you translated that correctly?”

“Yeah, I’m sure,” I said, stretching my legs under the table and running my fingers through my hair. “It’s another damn riddle.”

“How the hell are we supposed to protect the artifact if we can’t even find the damn thing!”

“Have you considered the people who hid it were trying to protect it from everyone else…including us?”

“Is it that powerful?”

“It may be…”

The young girl spurred her horse, driving it to gallop faster among saguaro and tumbleweeds. The men tracking her were closing in and she needed to find a way to outfox them. She spurred her horse to follow the remains of an arroyo, then cut left to head into a cleft through a low set of hills. As they dodged between the rising bluffs, she noticed a man in a dark coat and equally black hat take aim with his rifle.

“Duck!” he yelled in a voice mixed with authority and detachment. She would have done so anyway—out of instinct—and hugged her steed’s neck.

A shot rang out, toppling the first of the riders chasing her.

Eena launched herself from the bough of the tree on the edge of the large floating island. She spread the skin below her long lithe arms, the parasail necessary to float to the island half a kilmer away. If she timed it right and gauged the updrafts correctly, she could make it to the other chunk of land hanging in the cloudscape. Her broad flat tail doubled as a rudimentary rudder, helping her steer to the other landmass. She was almost there when her feline ears twitched and she heard it above her: CloudShrike! Her hearts began to hammer in her breast.

The doors of the dōjō splintered, then fell inward with a dull thud. Dust rolled in like a miniature storm, washing over the first few rows of warriors standing ready in defiance.

“Where…is…the…Sensei?” Each word was distinct and battered everyone in the open chamber, spoken by the behemoth of a Samurai striding forward, brandishing a massive blade.

In stark contrast, the quiet reply did not echo, though it filled the consciousness of all present. “I am here.”

The thin man behind the phalanx of protectors rose up to eye level with the gargantuan warrior who had invaded the sanctum of the KaribichiKan, which was odd, since he was still seated, floating above the heads of his warriors.

The panther was the hunter. It crept through the foliage, ducking beneath the fronds, barely rustling the tall grass in its wake. The huge black cat picked its course carefully, down-wind, out of sight, constantly scanning its surroundings while staying mindful of its target. It would be easy enough to cull one of the apes out of the tribe.

The man in the loincloth had closed the distance, the spoor becoming tracks becoming the fluid moving shape of the feline he was tracking. The panther was the hunted.

The torchlight caused their shadows to waver in unnerving patterns all around them in the cavern. The rock outcroppings reflected the guttering flames, sending out glints of rainbow hues.

“The map says it should be in this location, somewhere in this cavern.” Dormund scratched his beard as he turned the weathered page first one way, then another.

“Did you hear that?” asked Fellimir. “Are there dragons, or goblins, or wraiths in these parts?” He pointed to a large gnarled rock formation in the center of the chamber. “I thought it came from over…”

His mouth hung open as the pile of stones rose upward. The figure had eyes of glowing embers imbedded in a craggy face, a mouth filled with stalactites and stalagmites, arms of clustered rocks that rippled and ground together, and legs of stone stanchions that shook the floor as it walked toward us.

“Set the pitons solidly!” Gerard yelled to the top of his lungs, but he wasn’t certain Ingvar had heard him over the howling gale. He motioned with his free hand, pointing to the line of stakes the ropes passed through. “If they come loose—any one of them—we risk the whole party falling to their deaths.” Ingvar clung to his rappelling line, pointed to his ears, and shook his head.

Above them, a deep-seated rumbling gathered momentum. Small chunks of ice shivered free of the cliff face; a cloud of loose snow flowed out and over the ledge farther up the frozen wall.

“Set in! Hold tight! Avalanche!”

‘It was a dark and stormy night’ doesn’t do justice to the force of the tempest that pummeled the mansion overlooking the seacoast. The chaos of the weather was commensurate with the state of affairs within the opulent home. The dozen personal guests who had come to attend the unveiling of billionaire Jonathan Endersol’s latest project were in a quandary. Pandemonium reigned as they all accused one another of killing him. My job was to unsnarl the multiple threads of deceit and disinformation to find out who had done it, before someone else got hurt in the process.

The gargoyle statues along the ledge of the old high-rise made me feel right at home. I leaned out into the open space between the buildings, scanning the streets below, checking the rooftops, gazing into the shadowed recesses of alleys.

“Where the hell are you?” I tossed the question into the chill night air.

“Where you least expect.” Alyse collided with me from behind and we both tumbled through the air, wings flailing, claws slashing, each of us trying to rend the other before we hit the ground.

On the Roof

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