The Dream Cafe One-Sentence World Building Challenge (CLOSED)

I have a thing for first sentences.  I just kinda love them.  I have a file where I store them as they come to me, and sometimes that first sentence will generate a second, and a third, and once in a while turn into a book.  Yesterday, I came up with one that I’m going to do something different with: I’m using it to issue a challenge.

Here’s how it works.  Write the opening sentence of a story.  Make it the kind of sentence that will cause the reader to continue reading, but, more than that, and here’s the kicker: see how much of the world, the setting, the characters, the story you can imply–and note that word imply–in just that one sentence.  The contest will run a week (closing 6pm central, 4/18/15), and I’ll judge the entries myself.  The winner gets an autographed copy of the next Incrementalist novel by Skyler White and me, which should be out in something like a year.  I’ll disqualify anyone I think is angle-shooting, whether by writing an absurdly long sentence or by some means I haven’t thought of yet.  I encourage talking about the entries–you know, arguing or speculating about what is or isn’t implied.  I also encourage everyone to then take his or her sentence (or someone else’s, with permission) and turn it into a story.

Please preface each entry by saying Entry: as per the example below.  Enter as many times as you want.

Special note to those who are tuning in from Facebook or Twitter: only entries here, on my blog, will count.

Here is my sentence, to get you going:

Entry: I always come together at bed time, and spend a few minutes before I fall asleep just lying there and finding out what the rest of me has been up to.

Think you can do better? Go!


ETA: I’ll start judging soon.  God help me.

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160 thoughts on “The Dream Cafe One-Sentence World Building Challenge (CLOSED)”

  1. Ooooh, that’s evocative. Hope that one germinates into a book.

    I’m going to cheat, and give the opening for my WIP. Hopefully fishing for free critique doesn’t count as angle-shooting.

    Entry: Mostly what she remembers is radio static, hissing like bedsheets sliding over flayed skin.

  2. “One day,” Dare thought, “One day that damned Sun won’t show up four hours late and I’ll get to eat breakfast without worrying about burning the house down.”

  3. Angle-shooting is an interesting term. I’m assuming that includes a disingenuous use of semi-colons; and other such ways of pushing the judges buttons; like starting a sentence talking about an assassin.

    Entry: I finished explaining the problem as I saw it, when my monitor beeped to let her know I was lying.

  4. Entry: The King demanded that Daven Chandler use the magic in his hands–the magic that would demand the priests kill him, if the didn’t destroy himself first.

  5. ENTRY It wasn’t until I was hanging by my bootheels listening to the raspy laughing of two Guido’s that I understood my Uncle Frank telling me never get caught dead in a situation.

  6. Holy shit, people. Y’all are GOOD. I don’t envy the poor bastard who has to judge this, ha ha ha…oh, wait.

  7. Steve, David Brin actually wrote a novel, _Kiln People_, that could have had your “entry” as a first sentence.

  8. Entry: Chris was riding his motorcycle fast in the dark with the lights off, the hair stood up on the back of his neck and he knew it wasn’t the speed.

  9. Here’s a first line I’ve always wanted to set to a story…

    Entry: The legionnaires drove the sandgrouse from the oasis, and the spirits from their shrines, but they could not quiet the ghosts on the salt-flat wind.

  10. Entry: He watched as the freeze he had started spread across the city, buildings beginning to crumble as ice formed within their walls, and wondered how long it would take the firemen to stop.

  11. entry:

    His voice was the sound of the deepest blue, so deep and dark you could dive for miles down into it and never reach the bottom

  12. Entry: Grandma always told me if things got bad to look for a Carthaginian ship, and now, with cops from seven planets on my tail and the High Priest of Baal so close he was practically tying knots in it, I took a glide around the port trying to look as if I was taking an idle interest in spidersilk and shadesong instead of weighing up whether I was desperate enough to take her advice.

  13. Not an entry but: “For a long time I used to go to bed early.”

    For most novels all I require is a minimum quality of prose, and from that base I appreciate the story, the characters, the Cool Stuff®, and so on. I usually just hope that the prose avoids obtruding itself clumsily into my reading experience.

    But in Swann’s Way, the prose quality is everything to me. It’s the words and sentences that keep me reading, and occasionally an entire paragraph of profound and nuanced thought. But Marcel and Swann and their relations and so on… whatever. I just don’t care about them at all.

    Anyhow on very rare occasions passages in genre novels achieve that level of power for me. And that’s why I like Zelazny so much. His books not only overflowed with Cool Stuff, but they occasionally achieved some really exquisite word-by-word and sentence-by-sentence power too.

    So: “His followers called him Mahasamatman and said he was a god.”
    And: “The man walks through his Thousandyear Eve in the House of the Dead.”

    And among many others, this is one reason why it was such a loss that he died so young.

    Edited to add, re Jo Walton’s entry: Wow.

  14. Entry: The murder charge didn’t stick because I’d backed him up first, but that left me on the hook for neuroprivacy invasion and the HIPAA violations that go with that, not to mention old-fashioned assault and battery.

  15. I think I went a bit overboard so I’m going to post two favorites of the bunch I made up. Since i have no idea how to do italics I put thought text in brackets sorry.

    Entry: It was truely grotesque, I mused absently while driving the spears point deeper into the bruise colored flesh, how all those little feet still could skitter about even in death.

    Entry 2: //Oh dear,// he thought as all sensation of sound cut off leaving him a unhilariously ironic deaf fish in a barrel full of things that ate metaphorical sharks, //my last Blink just died.//

  16. ENTRY: I gazed at my reflection in the mirror, my hair falling out in clumps and my face covered in lesions, and messaged Command, it was time to start over-again.

    Also edited to express awe at Jo Walton’s entry. Also delight that I can say I read everything she writes,even isolated first sentences!

  17. Entry: I woke to the wails of the souls of all those who had opposed my ascension to the Tantalum Throne ringing out from the pillars where they powered my reality distortion engines — a sound that would never fail to bring a smile to my face even if a naked skull weren’t always smiling.

  18. Entry: For most people, it started the day we buried all the nuclear warheads in the mantle, but it started much earlier for me, of course.

  19. Non-entry: When I drew Lady Teldra to fulfill my final contract, I had the somehow familiar feeling of being in two places at once.

  20. Entry: She pushed away from the computer, realizing she was just one tiny cog in a huge machine; a machine that was now broken because this cog had become aware of her real function.

  21. Entry: When our blink-jump tour reached its hundredth star, Sarah and Kazguelt suggested that we celebrate with an erotodrama in the epic mode, sparking memories of my last ecobond that I immediately squelched with a multisite PKM-ζ discharge ― not the first time I’d excised a bit of identity for the sake of relationship harmony, but the one that turned out to have the most ramifications for the integrity of the Esthetic Policlade.

  22. Entry: “What do you want?” she finally asked, sitting back and feigning concern over the brand I now bore on my right wrist, either failing to notice or deciding to ignore the Collaboration witness being set up at the table next to us.

  23. Entry: I bought my watch because it was self-winding, purely mechanical, and had no electrical parts, which is why I still love it and why it’s the only thing that still works.

    Entry: I knew cards were losers and I grumbled as I tossed them toward the dealer, but the real grumbling started when they stuck there, dead still, hanging in the air over the table.

  24. (sorry if i posted too many here)

    Entry: As each of my fragments was carried in to be ceremoniously yet securely bolted to the wall of the courtroom, as each thundering clang was answered by a carnivorous roar of approval from the boisterous crowd in attendance, our confidence rose.

    Entry: “I’ve never been much for nostalgia, but I’m sure a sucker for regrets”, Jardin softly whispered from somewhere within the haze of his ever present pale green shroud of smoke.

    Entry: The colors told me my prey was close, their taste warned me my prey was not afraid.

    Entry: What they never tell yah bout sorcery lass, true sorcery, the kind o’ sorcery that shakes the earth and shapes the heavens, is that it utterly consumes a big old chunk of yer true self, the you that makes you you, if yah know what I’m tryin to say, and the hollowed out left of yah had better be damn careful what, or more dangerously who, yah use to replace that achin void.

    Entry: As far as times to look for suitable rocks go, the washed out tinges of dawn and dusk were far from ideal, but in the chaotic bloodiron stained streets of Daiarbor safety was always Mino’s top concern, and good rocks were a calculated investment in survival.

    Entry: Somewhere that wasn’t really anywhere, for locations are often ephemeral in this land, but nevertheless an important Where (in the thankfully not Here but There sense if you will), a door burst open and a pathway closed, which is precisely the sort of inevitable balance that marks the Hunt.

  25. As far as first lines go, IMHO, there will never be one better than Jim Butcher’s epic opening line to Blood Rites (Dresden Files #6): “The building was on fire, and it wasn’t my fault.”

  26. I’m in a contest with Jo Walton? Cripes :-)

    Entry: “When you were a dog,” she said as we lay in bed last night, “I very much think I preferred you.”

  27. Entry: When the Intil’Imani returned to grant us godlike powers in direct proportion to our irreverence and contumacy, I found this very personally validating, but it still annoyed me to see Andy Warhol’s face where it had been carved into the moon, that goddamned hack.

  28. Entry: Though she had been gone for sometime, meaning I was widowed, there was unfinished business… that didn’t involve tunes or whiskey.

  29. Probably the best opening to any book I’ve ever read was two sentences.

    “On the third day of their honeymoon, infamous environmental activist Stewie Woods and his new bride, Annabel Bellotti, were spiking trees in the forest when a cow exploded and blew them up. Until then, their marriage had been happy.”
    – C.J. Box, “Savage Run”

    For many years, I’d take the book off the shelf, read the opening, and then put it back. I just knew the rest of the book couldn’t measure up to that.

    (Eventually, I read the book. It was quite good, just not THAT good.)

    I did like the Jim Butcher one, @lazerwulf. :o)

    Hrm. How’s this for an ENTRY:
    “If reality is what you make of it, I was gonna have to have one of those long stern talks with myself, the kind that leaves me wrung out and weeping and dying for a drink. Maybe not right this moment, though.”

    Yep. Broke your rules. ;o)

  30. …and here I came up with something that almost fits your rules just a bit later. Ah, well; I didn’t see any rule against making a second ENTRY:

    “I’d begin at the beginning, but that hasn’t happened yet — and if we’re very very lucky, it won’t — so how ’bout instead I begin where it began for me: inside my coffin on the Golden Rocket at about a quarter to three in the morning.”

  31. Entry: On a cold September morning, an exiled angel lay on a roof above a backstreet in Norrmalm, Stockholm, watching two garbage collectors pulling back in horror as they found a mutilated body behind a container.

    Entry: There is a time for living and there is a time for dying, a time for loving and a time for hating, but there never is a time for quitting.

  32. Entry:
    I have always wondered if we woke her, with our shaft drillers and our tunnel borers, or whether, instead, it was the natural rhythm of her life to sleep and wake, and this was just her time; she has never answered me, and longevity is seldom the fate of those who presume too far on the patience of a god.

  33. Entry: Jahki walked into the largest and often the strangest tent in lizard camp and announced, “Father, I want to go slitherabout.”

  34. Entry: I never had a reason to question my own sanity until I woke up with burns on my clothes, blood on my sword, and a minotaur in my bed.

  35. I felt really confident about my entry when I wrote it, but looking at the other entries I feel as if I should have been more expositionary.

  36. Entry: I woke up in the morning, still hung over from the night before. I got of bed and tripped on the cat and fell to the floor, then through it, to another world, where a baby velociraptor looked at me and said, “Mommy?”

  37. Entry: The probabilities shift once again, and once again I have to laugh at how hilariously wrong all the world’s religions were about the afterlife, because if I don’t laugh I might have to do something about it.

  38. Entry: Staring into the bell of the sky, the assembled aardvarks raised their snouts in chorus, their note a reflection of the voice which created the land underneath them.

  39. Entry: I have no time to tell stories, but my dim-witted friend here keeps copious notes, some of which are highly incriminating and all of which are heresy.

  40. Entry: Things got weird when I dug up the little green man buried in Area 51.

    Entry: I thought I was dying and then I woke up as a disembodied brain floating in a nutrient solution.

  41. Entry: People have various days they mark during the year, birthdays, anniversaries, and so on, but in my case it was different: the day I mark is the one on which I was taken out of the normal world to this odd place beyond time.

  42. Entry: The chief problem with your plan, said the Colonel, is that Broccoli is currently classified as a non-belligerent species.

  43. Entry: Once the Sweetwind stopped, I could hear the robots screaming – but I was the only one who could, and I could never make anyone else care.

  44. Entry: All the stars are big and bright, deep in the heart of space when your tether has broken and your thrusters are out of juice.

  45. Entry: “You obviously don’t have a plan, because ‘Just kill them’ isn’t a plan; it is however the desired result of a plan.”

  46. Hrm. I tried to edit that last entry, before the time had expired. but it took long enough for the edit box to load that it expired…

    So, here’s the edit as it should have been.

    Entry: As a geneticnet bioblog and sensenovel writer, I should have known to put a shorter timeline on my contest, to ensure that the endless stream of incredible and amazing entries would be judge-able with less than a gigaflop of virtual viral assistants.

  47. Entry: The biogram from the auditor confirmed what Laura had feared: she was unable to reject her inheritance.

  48. Entry: The Queen from another age, cloaked in a crimson red shadow, spoke to the tribal elders in but a whisper, “We must disappear.”

  49. Entry:

    Let me explain the curse I’m writing under,
    A daemon’s vengeance for the minor blunder
    Of writing a too-potent script that killed
    Too much, brought down more than I could rebuild.

  50. Cannot do better, want to play anyway.

    “All the trees and goblins had run off the vases again, so that Daisy was furious and the Queen, as threatened, fell into the most annoying sort of decline.”

    (This is a real one, but the research is going to be just a bitch.)


  51. No shit—there we were, naked as the day we were born but looking much older…

    (No, I know it won’t “win,” but I kinda had to say it….)

  52. Entry: The very last issue of the Journal of Artificial Intelligence ran an editorial that considered whether robots were sentient and if so, whether they were capable of understanding that we were, too.

    Entry: I tried counting epochs as they passed, but the memories kept me from sleep for quite a long time.

    Entry: It was because we were so absolutely alone in the universe that we went a little crazy and introduced the virus into our gene pool.

  53. Were this a democracy, mandrake would have my vote so far. Great stuff!

  54. Entry: Today, one of the new brokers asked me ‘when you say that the futures market was much simpler before time travel, what do you means by the word *before*’?

  55. Entry: Paggad woke, stretched, nuzzled her still-sleeping husbands, hung from the bedframe in prayer for a count of one hundred twenty-one, dressed for work, threw some bean grounds in a container for later, opened the front door, and was immediately shot dead by the police.

  56. Entry:As the suns rose, I stood above the graves of my mothers, vowing revenge to their weeping spirits.

    Entry:Five days ride from Hell, I lost my sight.

    Entry:I only claim to be God sometimes.

  57. Entry: “The Cloud was full of lunatic scientists, leaders, and the occasional Pope, but the first of the Uploaded to remain sane turned out to be a twelve-year-old-girl with terminal cancer and an excessive love of Hello Kitty.”

  58. Ah, well; here’s yet another ENTRY:
    “Wouldn’t ya know it; I killed her half an hour before she knew I was dead.”

  59. Entry: I woke up twice this time so it’s probably real; the nurse is dead; either the dimethyl-phosphate was ineffective against the critters, or it’s just a coincidence and I’ll have a wonderful day with nothing happening whatsoever.

  60. From the Thirteenth National Bank skyscraper down Tarot Avenue, the cable car’s motion lowered Hyacinth stop by stop further into despair, until she reached Question Street and the sight of the sign brought the reality down on her like a burning barrage balloon: the Cinema Homuncula was truly insolvent, its enchantments dissolved in a bankruptcy court, and with it all chances a steel-puddler’s daughter could ever be queen among these bohemians.

  61. Entry: The dog-spirit nipped playfully at my toes, which made me realize I’d already drifted some distance from my body.

    Entry: Smoke drifted up in a winding way as the men sat round with eyes half met, telling tales of strafe and woe in a long lament of their Captain Voh.

    Entry: The end is the beginning, since each time I die I am reborn; a poet, a doctor, soldier, sinner, and each time I see loved ones from different lives fade unknowing or never come to be, I pray it is my last.

  62. Entry: While the terrorist fumbled with his jeans zipper, the stewardess casually reached up and put two neat little holes in the terrorist’s forehead with her .22 Derringer; “thank you mama” she said to the air.

  63. Entry: From the Thirteenth National Bank skyscraper down Tarot Avenue, the cable car’s motion lowered Hyacinth stop by stop further into despair, until she reached Question Street and the sight of the sign brought the reality down on her like a burning barrage balloon: the Cinema Homuncula was truly insolvent, its enchantments dissolved in a bankruptcy court, and with it all chances a steel-puddler’s daughter could ever be queen among these bohemians.

  64. Give me a week or so and I’ll have one for you. I guess 24 years with a story for that one line perculating in the back of my scull is long enough.

  65. Entry: She explained, “Mr. Brown, we cannot approve your benefits because our records show you have been dead for four years, but if you come to our office perhaps we could arrest you for impersonation,” which is just one more proof what they deserve come the Revolution.

  66. Entry: It’s hard to drag yourself out of bed every day when your soul is a haiku, the world is a limerick and your personal life isn’t even on the slow train to Nantucket.

  67. Like a few of us I’m guessing, if I wasn’t posting this here, I probably would simply have used a period or two more than I did.

    ENTRY: Even on the streets of Old New York in the year 2424 there still exists a kind of human dinosaur and living cliche; John Haggard, red-eyed from lack of sleep was both of these things, a disheveled, unshaven, world-weary detective who drank too much and pretended too hard that he couldn’t care anymore.

  68. This may be too much stealing. But then, that’s also sort of the point…

    Entry: In a hole in the ground there slept a dragon.

  69. Better late than never. Discovered worlds are hard to build.
    Entry: With a story idea buzzing about annoyingly, she activated her brain’s creativity booster and sat down to write.

  70. There are many of these that aren’t doing very well in the exact terms of the contest, but are simply wonderful first sentences.

  71. Entry: You really can’t make this recipe properly without Sirian roundhog, but Iberico ham will do in a pinch.

  72. Entry: Matthew could have avoided all this if he had listened to his grandfather: “The government always remembers what you forget”.

  73. Entry: It was a simple mistake – they told me it was Wednesday, so I figured the Norse Gods had won here.

    Entry: The Great Old Ones were terrified of her, and I really couldn’t blame them.

    Entry: The cards told me what she was here for – she should have worn gloves while dealing them.

    Entry: Around about my seventh suicide, I was starting to get the message.

    Entry: The past is not like a foreign country; you won’t find a McDonalds, a cellphone network or an ATM there.

    Entry: It’s not easy starting your own religion, but it’s a family tradition.

    Entry: It was a bright cold day in April, and we were burning all the clocks.

    Entry: 10 kilograms of high grade heroin, a pocket of uncut diamonds indistinguishable from natural, a few hundred thousand in currency the local Treasury wouldn’t be able to tell from their own, and a small vial of nanotech seeds that couldn’t be manufactured here for another hundred and eighty years.

    Entry: I was sleeping the untroubled sleep of the just, and I had paid them well for it.

    Entry: You can tell a lot about a world by the state of their public bathrooms.

    Entry: If you’re still human, why are you reading this instead of running?

    Entry: He was the seventh son of a seventh son, so he was pretty much fucked right from the beginning.

    Entry: The day they executed Mary, Queen of Scots, I was rolling dice for my life with a dragon, so I missed it.

  74. Entry: Cognitive authentication was never a problem until the Distributancy learned that my predecessor self had arranged to receive the Agathanian on Mothsday.

  75. Today was a glorious day, I thought to myself considering the tumultuous past which had obfuscated the beauty which is my life, though to be honest I appreciate those moments of pain and loss and misery for without them, would not the beauty which I experience this moment be less?

  76. Next week we all give submissions for the NEXT sentence in the story. After only a few years at the rate of one sentence per week (and a small piece of skzb’s sanity), we could end up with a fun, socially built short story.

  77. entry: By the time the GoogleBots served notice to my household admin server and broke down my front door, I had managed to disable a second camera.

    entry: It wasn’t her fault that stabbing me in my battery with the Dagger of Solomon would unleash the biggest apocalypse yet.

    entry: It wasn’t until that we had reached the last flight of stairs to the Sun, that my fifteenth part realized we had left all our wrenches back at the temple.

  78. Entry: The inhabitants of the world of Entherion thought that they could live forever in perfect happiness. They thought wrong, and slowly the waves of mass suicides started to ravage the planet.

  79. Entry: I didn’t know it, but M.Alice had already ruined my life by the time I got to the bus stop that morning.

  80. I love this thread. I’ve read every one. My actual first sentence of my book (so not an entry) reads: “On April 12, 1204, around midday, a Venetian sailor leaped from the assault bridge of a massive ship called the Paradiso.”

    I wish I had the creativity of the brilliant folks in this thread.

  81. Sorry I’m not an English native-speaker but I would like to take my part too)

    Entry: If someone asks me how do I apprehend the job I’m doing I will just squeeze my shoulders and answer that I do not apprehend it at all.

  82. Entry: The 2015 Hugo Awards gave us the opportunity to pass off our timeline adjustments as random assassinations, sci-fi fandom gone wild.

  83. Entry: “What’s a human?” my son asked under the black snow, as he was too young to remember the global fluffy bunnies mutation.

  84. Entry: Today was my first time I would leave the spaceship to be among the stars, but I wasn’t worried at all–at least not until my first pseudopod touched the airlock

  85. Entry: The bones of the world felt gritty in her hands, but washing them would cause irreparable loss.

  86. Entry: … keystroke, clock-tick, interrupt request, virus sca#$%#%^#, HOLY FUCK I’M ALIVE :::timestamp 04/16/25 – Wed 6:15:20.093758164254 PM::: !

    Entry: Sure, mom was a big Pratchett fan, but naming me Esmerelda Weatherwax sure left me a lot to live up to.

  87. Entry: I used the standard ritual as I ate the Kroja fruit, hoping to get a more interesting form than last time, at least a gamma level transformation, and smiled as I felt the scales begin forming underneath my skin.

  88. Entry: Penny pedaled down a Seattle road completely free of cars, ignoring the Carthaginians on war elephants and Germans atop Panzers who streaked overhead – enslaved dead traveling to carry out gruesome missions. – Gar Lipow

  89. Entry: “Ginny, I’ll be late, it might be days, the sky is clear and no sign of lightning.”

  90. “If they give you ruled paper, write the other way.” (Was that original Bradbury, or did he steal it to attach to Fahrenheit 451?)

    A new ENTRY:
    “Look, Steve,” he sighed, “I can either give you ‘amazing’, or I can follow a recipe. I can’t do both; that’s not how art works.”

    Sounds kinda like something “Red” Reddington might say. I think I’d like to write that story. I’m already halfway through the first chapter of my “Golden Rocket”.

  91. Entry: Darkness colored the horizon, allowing me to finally glimpse the ruins of the fabled temple city in the distance.

  92. Entry: I was beginning to suspect they spiked my drink again – fool me thrice – because the octopus walking down the hall was waving at me in a friendly way, if he talks they spiked it, otherwise I’ll bow to avoid suspicion.

  93. Entry: Rocked by memories of my year marooned with that rotten vivisectionist, I forced my eyes off the smoking hole in the back of the hairy chap with the bulbous head who had burst into the garden room, and keeping my voice on an keel, told Miss Elizabeth, “Before the war, I met this splendid little fellow in Belgium.”

  94. Nice one, Larry.

    Ya know, I was sad when I heard Terry Pratchett had died. But what really got me was when I realized that:
    – Lord Vetinari no longer rules as The Man with The Vote.
    – Rincewind stopped running.
    – Fred Colon is done mumping.
    – Nanny Ogg will never sing the rest of the Hedgehog song.
    – Esme Weatherwax is gone.

    On the other hand, they’re always there waiting for me to visit again, so it’s not a complete loss.

    Some day, I’d like my life to have meant a tenth as much.

    “This morning was the first time I woke up not from the nightmare in what seems like ten years.”

  95. Entry: In April 2015, New York Times bestselling author Steven Brust, having challenged readers of his Dream Cafe blog to see how much they could imply in an enticing opening sentence, declared the overall winning entry to be as follows:

  96. @Miramon ,,, re Zelazny… Couldn’t agree more, but that should be no surprise, since Brust and Zelazny are my all time fav authors, (why else would i be following this blog, lol) .and well, i actually discovered Brust from reading Zelazny’s comment on the cover of “Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grille” and i thought that if Zelazny recommends it, I know it’s gonna be good, and I was hooked ever since. In any case, Zelazny’s writing is so very poetic …. and I was so sad when i heard of his passing. I remember standing in a B&N in NYC on Bway/86th… hmmm…

    And, just to share….. Here is one my favorite opening lines of a book, not that I am a big Stephen King fan, mostly because i am not a huge fan of the horror, but the opening sentence from the first book in the Gunslinger series impressed me so much 20+ years ago, that I never forgot it….

    “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

  97. I am in no wise a writer, and I will therefore leave the entries to others, but I wanted to note that the first sentence of Jhereg was one that really got my attention. This was when the pocket book came out, in 1983 I think. I was hooked right off.

    “There is a similarity, if I may be permitted an excursion into tenuous metaphor, between the feel of a chilly breeze and the feel of a knife’s blade, as either is laid across the back of the neck.”

    I am not sure that one can do a huge amount of “world building” in a single sentence, but one can get people’s attention with it. The Zelazny quotes mentioned above are two more good examples.

    However I think the classic example of where a first line may lead would probably be J. R. R. Tolkien describing how he encountered a blank page in an exam paper that he was marking, on which he wrote “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” which led of course to the eventual book The Hobbit where it was the first line.

  98. Tomorrow I am to marry the man who tried to kill me with a glance, I’m told that’s how they do things round here.

  99. professorperry: I think you’re allowed to use a real sentence from your real book, though I must say yours doesn’t do much world-building. :-)

    The world-building is going to be hard for SKZB to judge, but I thank 1soru1, CPaca, and Barbara Robson for smiles, and bckinney and Phil Fellman for birds.

  100. Hi Arthur,

    I have been thinking of that Stphen King line (I am a fan) ever since SKZB announced the contest. It is a kind of template or meta-structure for the world building which follows. I think it is one of the best opening lines I know of. Like SKZB’s opening of Jhereg, I have the original 1983 version (in this case read by King, which is also fun). Has SKZB narrated any of his own works? I have all the Bernard Satero Clark narrations.


    Phil Fellman

  101. A childhood friend led me to Zelazny which eventually led my way to Brust. Reading these submissions has been quite enjoyable, and has pointed to a couple of new authors to read. I couldn’t help but try a few myself and they came quickly. Please pardon lack of quality compared to what has been submitted. Fun to play for a minute or two.

    Entry: I don’t now if I can explain how civilization ended, but of the when and where, there can be no doubt.

    Entry: Alarming, the speed with which the best laid plans can turn to shit.

    Entry: By all accounts a beautiful day, the breeze slightly cool but soft, the sky a brilliant blue, tulips in bloom and clear streams meandering down from the mountains after the Winter thaw… shame she can’t see it.

    Entry: She told me she loved me, that the coming storm wouldn’t matter; at a minimum she might be naïve, most certainly a liar, but could I excuse her for birthing our destruction?

    Entry: The first time I died was easy…

    Entry: It was over .. I wish I had known.

    Entry: I wish I could tell you why she did it.

    Entry: The sun disappears as I finish and fatigue descends upon me, not in waves but in a deluge, as I struggle to keep my head off the ground to watch as they approach over the mountain … it won’t matter – I was set up to fail well before now.

    December came and went without any trouble, thought the Emperor, but the blood in his eyes, the barrel hard and cold against his chest, and the resonant click of the hammer made him think January might differ slightly.

  102. Entry: It was time to go before the council of admirals and present my report; it was time to tell them a world had been found that could end the diaspora, a world perfectly suited to housing the Lokym, a world that even contained Artifacts of the Firstborn, a world already inhabited by somebody else.

  103. Entry: Waking up to a flashing green light and a petulant sputter of static the only warning I had that I may have just violated three of the cardinal rules to survival out here in the post-apocalyptic recesses of Deadspace: don’t get seen, if you do get seen, don’t get caught and most importantly, you can sleep when you’re dead.

  104. I accidentally posted the following with an old Word Press account I didn’t realize had become active. As innocuous as it might be, I don’t want to give any impression of being deceptive. Its just fun to read other people’s entries and to take part in all this.

    Entry: Waking up to a flashing green light and a petulant sputter of static was the first warning I had that I may have just violated three of the cardinal rules to survival out here in the post-apocalyptic recesses of Deadspace: don’t get seen, if you do get seen, don’t get caught and most importantly of all, you can sleep when you’re dead.

  105. This is from a short story I wrote.

    Entry: Then there was the time I went into this midget bar to pick a fight; it seemed like a good idea at the time.

  106. Hi, Phil,
    I have read some books by Keith Laumer, but not Dinosaur Beach.
    Wikipedia provides some versions of the Yon Yonson poem or song.

  107. Entry: I don’t know how to explain it, but there is something that happens to a person’s eyes at the instant that they die and the soul leaves the body.

  108. To do it properly:


    Tomorrow I am to marry the man who tried to kill me with a glance, I’m told that’s how they do things round here.

    Exposition I was aiming for ambiguity to suggest alternative directions for worldbuilding. What is meant by “to kill with a glance, literally a look or something else? Does “how they do things round here” refer to the matter of the attempt to kill, the marriage or both and was it the attempt or the failure that was important?

    Incidentally I struggled most with the choice of the means of death, rejecting “a moonbeam” as too fluffy and “a rope of mistletoe” as too specific.

    Finally some lovely entries here. Steve, you’ve created quite a job for yourself, your fault for attracting such clever and creative fans.

  109. Okay, this is kind of late, but I fixate on first (and last lines) a lot; and I think Patrick Ness nails those both. Here’s the first from The Knife of Never Letting Go: “The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say.” And from More Than This: “Here is the boy, drowning.” Also, to be that guy…”I am seated in an office, surrounded by heads and bodies,” from Infinite Jest. Anyway, all these entries look like they should be books already. I don’t really have anything to add, but I’ll try:

    Entry: I wake up knowing that my son is dead, which is really fucking strange, considering I don’t have a son, I’ve never had a son, and oh yeah, on top of that, I’m a fucking virgin.

  110. Entry: I woke up when the subway pulled into the Haight Street station and the police got on to ask the riders to show their bar codes.

  111. I am abysmally late to the party, but this is fun.

    Entry: The will of God is that none go to the Mountain where His presence dwells save those who are chosen, whom birth or crime or circumstance have set apart from other men, those on whose brow the mark of the serpent is set–but a lone man in the Empty Lands is a dead man, and the dead will be called before God anyway.

  112. Entry: Last Messinger, when the planetary newscasts were politely offering to predict, for a mere five francs or the equivalent hundred pounds, whether Pope Joan III’s lesbian lover would be next of the “enemies of state” to be cryo-revived, my great great great grandfather swore me to secrecy and invited me on an expedition to the surface of the Earth to find, in advance of any state inquisitors who might torture the location from her, their Holinesses’ ascetic retreat and its fabled gift of complete quiet.

  113. Ok, a question.

    Is it still a great opening line if it’s essentially a short flash-forward to the middle of the action of the story, as in
    “Two Days From Now: I dodged the knife just as the tiger ripped my pants off…. Now: I woke up wanting a smoke and a coffee, next to the same empty side of the bed I’d lived with for years.”

    That is, the great line is only stuck at the front of the book/story/etc because it’s a great line, not because it’s really the starting point of the book/story/etc.

  114. I am reminded is one of my all-time favorite first sentences. The first sentence of Emma does imply all that is to come and left me (still leaves me) eager to see what comes next:

    Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

  115. Entry: He was found face down with a Morganti dagger between his shoulder blades, and a note pinned to him saying “Didn’t the contest close three days ago?”…

  116. Jeff: I dunno. That seems like two sentences. As to whether it would work in a story, I am proud to be able to answer that: depends.

  117. Flaunt that second sentence, man! ANARCHY IN THE US! Yeah!!!

    (I know, I know. Rebellion wins me no prizes. *sigh*)

    Belated ENTRY:
    When the phone started ringing, I was already dead again, so I let the machine get it.

    (That’s actually the opening line to Chapter 3. I’m having fun with this one.)

  118. So many great entries! I can’t stop rereading the whole thread every day. I swear many entries were popping in the middle?

  119. @Aliera, I have been wanting to write it since 1997 when I got the first idea, but there are a couple of stumbling blocks: I have the opening scene and the grande finale but not much in between, the plot is about the apocalyptic events at the turn of the millennium, which feels a bit dated now :-( I still should have a go at the finale though!

  120. @Nils: When, precisely, did the Millennium turn? Some would say that the actual end of the Second Age of Man was in 30AD or so. Others would point out that the word “yom” is imprecise, and should refer to moons, so we’re really talking 6 to the 6th power of moons, which would be somewhere around a 3200-year periodicity.

    Around 1000 AD, there were many people who attempted to tame the numbers, making them fit a pattern that they had chosen for ease of narrative. European history records several massive groups of people flocking to the tops of mountains; each believed whichever prophet they chose, none of whom, as it happened, was correct. Now, I’m not saying that the thousand-year mark is without significance, but on the other hand, twisting the numbers to fit your aim is nothing new. It’s almost traditional by now.

  121. If all of these entries were paired down to a few finalists, it might be fun (and easier to judge) if we had discussions for each one (author excluded) to see how much world building is actually established.

  122. OK, I cry foul. I don’t figure I am in the competition anyway what with the dozens of great lines (and a few cheats here and there). But where did this “world building” stuff come in? Not that it isn’t a good idea.

    It wasn’t in the original specification of this contest. I expect Steve to say, “Pfft, begone peasant! It’s my contest and I’ll change it any way I please.” Just sayin’.

  123. Hi, David,
    The specifications for the contest say to “see how much of the world, the setting, the characters, the story you can imply”. The shorter term “world building” is used in the name of the contest.

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