Prom(pt) Date: 20 Tried and True Bits of Inspiration

I’ve been posting flash fiction and short stories of my own, I’ve provided lists of suggested books by others and touched upon the ideas and visions of even more talented people. I’ve written about the foibles and folly of grammar and words, and I’ve given you tips and ideas on how to use those words. Now it’s your turn. Here’s a chance for you to pick up the pen and do a little scribbling of your own.

In one of my recent posts I talked about the importance of a strong opening salvo to your story or novel.  This time I’ve done some of the work for you. Below is a list of 20 opening lines from some of the great works of literature (I cherry picked from a list of 100 of “the best” that I found on the web).  Some may be familiar but some are not (at least not to me). Take one of the opening lines and kick off your story with it. That’s the only requirement, you have to use one of the lines from my list as your opening line. From there you can let it take you where ever it wants to.  There are no length requirements, your story can be as long (within reason) or short (five sentences anyone?) as you like. Share what you come up with in the comments section or link back to your own blog. I look forward to seeing what you come up with. I’m working on mine and will post it soon.

The list in no particular order:

  1. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
  2. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
  3. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
  4. I am an invisible man.
  5. Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.
  6. 124 was spiteful.
  7. Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting.
  8. The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.
  9. All this happened, more or less.
  10. The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.
  11. I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story.
  12. It was the day my grandmother exploded.
  13. In the beginning, sometimes I left messages in the street.
  14. If I am out of my mind, it’s all right with me, thought Moses Herzog.
  15. “Take my camel, dear,” said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.
  16. In the town, there were two mutes and they were always together.
  17. The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting.
  18. Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray from the straight road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood.
  19. There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.
  20. Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.
For those of you who want to know where the openers came from, here are the sources:  1. Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813); 2. Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1877; trans. Constance Garnett); 3. George Orwell, 1984 (1949); 4. Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952); 5. Franz Kafka, The Trial (1925; trans. Breon Mitchell); 6. Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987); 7. William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (1929); 8. William Gibson, Neuromancer (1984); 9. Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five (1969); 10. Samuel Beckett, Murphy (1938); 11. Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome (1911); 12. Iain M. Banks, The Crow Road (1992); 13. David Markson, Wittgenstein’s Mistress (1988); 14. Saul Bellow, Herzog (1964); 15. Rose Macaulay, The Towers of Trebizond (1956); 16. Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940); 17. Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage (1895); 18. Dante, Inferno (14th Century); 19. C. S. Lewis, Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952); 20. James Joyce, Ulysses (1922)


Okay. Here’s my effort (written completely this morning). I used William Gibson’s opening line from his 1984 novel,  Neuromancer:

Like Water Off a Duck’s Back

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel. The pregnant clouds boiled with a promise of rain, but Stuart had left his umbrella at home and with an eye skyward trotted halfheartedly towards the diner. It was the closest refuge and, besides, they served killer sausage gravy and biscuits, which he ordered about three times a week. He thought his cholesterol must be pushing through the roof. A rain drop about the size of a plum tomato hit his forehead. A second drop darkened his sleeve and he knew that he was screwed.

He banged through the diner door looking like he just swam in from London and his shoes were making squelching noises with each puddled step. “Gloria!” Stuart called, “do you have a towel?” She poked her head out from behind the kitchen door and began to laugh. His hair was plastered to his scalp, you could clearly see his sleeveless undershirt and even a sprig of black chest hair through both layers. His tie looked like it had been applied down the front of him with a narrow paint roller.

“You’ll need more than a towel,” she replied putting emphasis on the word “a.” She disappeared and returned with a couple. “Here.” She tossed him the stack of dish towels.  It was mid morning and the place was empty. “There’s a hand drier—you know, one of those blower jobbies—in the mens’ room.  You might be able to make some progress with that,” she suggested with a wink. He blushed at the wink paired with the mention of “blower jobbies.” Stuart had always had had a crush on Gloria but he had never had the courage to advance beyond that.

In the men’s room he stripped down to boxers and wrung out his shirts in the sink, fired up the blower, hooked his undershirt over the nozzle and proceeded to towel his hair dry. For 25 minutes he banged repeatedly on the big chrome button and let the hot air race over his various articles of clothing in a series of three minute intervals until everything was relatively dry.

Dressed in wrinkled but dry-ish clothes he emerged from the restroom.  The place was still empty. “Hey Gloria? How about a little service out here?” he joked. “Gloria?” he called again after getting no response.

“Sorry, I’m in the kitchen. Come on through and we can chat while I fix you something.”

“Good enough. Got my clothes respectably dry,” he was saying loudly as he crossed the restaurant, “but I think my tie is a total—” he never got to the word “loss.” When he pushed through the swinging door he found Gloria sitting in a chair flanked by two guys in duck masks that covered the entire head. One had a gun pointed at her. The other was texting something on his phone. Both were sopping wet.

The one with the gun looked up and motioned with his weapon to join them over by Gloria.  The gun-duck scraped another chair over and indicated that he wanted Stuart to take a seat. They immediately bound his wrists together behind him with, appropriately enough, Duck Tape.

“I really had a hankering for some of the best biscuits and gravy this side of the Mississippi,” Stuart opined after a few minutes of silence.

Gun-Duck pointed the black pistol at him and said, “No one said you could talk, asshole, so shut it.” His voice was a bit muffled and distorted by the mask. A few more minutes ticked by in silence. Stuart was not sure what they were trying to accomplish by holding them here. Gun-Duck turned to Texting-Duck and said, “Go lock the front door and put up the ‘Closed’ sign before some other numb nuts walks in here.” He did his boss’s bidding and quickly returned and began thumbing another message out on his phone.

“You guys don’t know what you’re missing,” Stuart said unable to bear the silence and lack of development any longer. “She really does make the most sublime sausage gravy.”

“Shut up.” A gun was pointed again at Stuart.

“I promise, it’ll hit the spot.  You must be cold in those wet clothes.”

“Stuart? Shhh…” Gloria said softly. “What are you doing? This guy’s gotta gun.”

“Both of you shut the hell up right now.”  A few more minutes were passed in silence with the exception of the slight clicking of the blackberry keys beneath the thumbs of Texting-Duck.

“Onions sautéed in butter. Spicy Italian sausage grilled up. A rue made with the drippings.  Be a shame to let this kitchen go to waste.”

“Okay enough with the sausage gravy. You,” Gun-Duck nodded towards Gloria. “How long will it take to whip up some of these gravy and biscuits he keeps going on about?”

“Not long if your friend can help chop up some onions for me.” Gloria looked up and smiled innocently. Gun-Duck ordered Texting-Duck over to help, indicated by a simple nod of the head while he cut the tape from Gloria’s wrists.

Texting-Duck put his phone down as Gloria put him to work. She pulled down a 14-inch industrial cast iron skillet and set it on the stove. The burner made the click-click-click sound as the automatic pilot light sparked the gas burner to life. She pulled a second skillet down for the sausage and put that on another live burner.

The butter was melting in one pan and the sausage was starting to sizzle in the other. “You about done with those onions yet?” Gloria asked. “The butter is ready for them.”

“Hold on,” said Texting-Duck, “I’m not a chef.” He finished chopping and his eyes stung  from the onion and he lifted his mask to rub his eyes.

“Derrick! Mask! You moron.” Derrick yanked his mask back down.

“Me?  Who’s the moron? You just called me Derrick!” Gloria was watching the two ducks argue while she shook the onions a little and gave them a stir with a wooden spoon. The sausage was starting  to brown nicely and had rendered a good bit of fat.

“Just shut up, Douche. When’s Gorddy getting here?”

“Shawn, You did it again! No names, man.”

“You just used my name! No names to you!”

“Okay from now on I’ll call you Dick-head Derrick.”

“Oh yeah? Well, I’m calling you Shawn Shit-for-brains.”

Watching the the two hoodlums bicker had Stuart’s head swinging back and forth like he was attending a tennis match. Gloria had picked up the heavy skillet of sausage with both hands and given the meat a toss to turn it. Instead of putting it back down on the flame she gave it a roundhouse swing.

Kwang! went the skillet as it connected with the big man’s head and down went Shawn (aka Gun-Duck) amid a shower of sausage and grease as his gun went skittering. Derrick tried to react but slipped on the now lethally slick floor and hit his head on the edge of the griddle knocking himself out cold.

“Bravo!” said Stuart. “I love a bit of floor show with my meal.” Gloria smiled at his remark. “I’m glad you read my mind. Now, about that gravy and bisc—” he said, but Gloria leaned over and cut him off with a kiss on the mouth deep enough to dissipate all his thoughts of food. His stomach, however, gave a bit of a rumble in response to the smell of sautéed onions.


10 comments on “Prom(pt) Date: 20 Tried and True Bits of Inspiration

  1. LOL. I loved your story! I’ll have to see if I can work on something. I’m not sure I’m capable, but I’ll try. 🙂

  2. What a great story prompt idea! I thoroughly enjoyed your story. It was a fun read! Thanks for sharing it. I tried my hand at line number 13: In the beginning, sometimes I left messages in the street…..I posted it on my blog at: snapshotofthewhole.wordpress.com if you want to read it. I had a great time writing it, out of the norm from what I usually write, but that made it so much more fun! Thanks again!.

  3. This is great–I choose #12. Hope you like it.

    It was the day my grandmother exploded. The day had begun like any other for my cousin Jahanns and me. We played outside, but soon became bored and decided to go into the kitchen where we began to lay out a number of things from the pantry.
    I guess we got a little carried away when we started mixing chocolate and eggs and flour, adding lots of sugar, because we liked our treats very sweet. The mixer we were using went haywire, and soon splotches of the mix covered the counter and floors. Some was on the far wall and that wall happened to be covered with stripes and flowers that were particulary liked by my our grandmother.
    What happened next, I need not relate, but it was the only time I ever saw her that angry. From then on we were expelled from the kitchen. It was hard to sit for the rest of the day.

    • What a delightful little tale. I’m glad it wasn’t a litteral explosion. My eye kept going back to that sentence as a possible prompt as well but in the end I chose the other one. Thanks for playing along!

  4. I do love your story–bravo to the skillet swinging chick!

  5. On the other hand she could have served him a chili laden apple pie!

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