Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Short Story First Lines

I admit I have an ulterior motive for posting about short stories. This is partially a repeat of the Writers Who Kill post from 2/2/2020 (love that date!), but with an important addition.

A NEW ANTHOLOGY IS OUT! It contains my 1950s short story "Life and Death on the Road" inspired by my little brother running away to join a carnival when we were kids. From Darkhouse Books, available in paperback and e-book. First line of this story: Davy lay awake, rigid, unable to relax.

(Oh, and did I mention that I have a short story up for an Agatha Award this year? Yeah, I thought so. It's the one from A MURDER OF CROWS.)

And here is the original post:

As writers, and as readers, we know how important beginnings are. The first line, the first paragraph, the first page—that’s what determines whether or not the reader decides to invest more precious time in your story or not. I’m going to deal with short stories today.

I have some first lines I’m proud of. And some that work okay. I’ll put some of mine out there. Feel free to rip me up—I mean rip my WORK up, not me. (Although it does feel that way, right, writers?) Also feel free to tell me some of yours that work, or some famous ones you love.

“Grist for the Mill” (have to say this, my Agatha nominated story) in A MURDER OF CROWS:
Kevin Grady couldn’t wait to get outside.
***I hope I’ve made the reader wonder why he wants to go outside and can’t wait.
You know, I like the first line of the second paragraph better:
When he choked on it, he stopped and looked around, spitting out the foul taste he had inhaled.
***Now you have to wonder what he’s choking on. Much more important.

“The Darkest Hour” in DAY OF THE DARK, 2017
I think it was on a Saturday afternoon when Tom got the bright idea to rent out our spare room for the eclipse. I wish I’d just killed him then.
***Two sentences, but I have to use both of them to entice you into the story. 

“Dream Girl” in BOULD Anthology, 2019
She stretched with delight. What a great dream that had been!
***Of course, here, I want you to wonder what the dream was. That’s revealed over the course of the story, which I hope confuses the heck out of the reader.

“The Bible Belt Buckle Killer” in Suspense Magazine, Fall of 2018:
Isabel Musik dropped her Bloody Mary when she heard the scream.
***This is my second Isabel Musik story. She’s a “reformed” vampire, so it’s fitting she’s drinking a Bloody Mary.

I’ll put a few more of mine out here, then step aside and let you post yours.

“The Truck Contest, Fish Tales” (the first Guppy anthology):
The first time I saw it I assumed it was an accident.

“Levittown Louie,” Mysterical-E, Spring 2007
First off, Kimber's entrance to the Ground Hog Day Ball was disastrous.

“Handbaskets, Drawers, and a Killer Cold,” Crooked, January 2009:
“If your brother screws up once more…” Cal Arnold’s tirade skittered to a stop at the expression on his wife’s face.

“Snatched Potatoes,” Kings River Life, June 2014, also in Black Cat Thrillogy #11 from Wildside:
“Be sure you gouge out the eyes, Imogene.”

Barb Goffman, Cynthia Kuhn, Shawn Reilly Simmons, and Art Taylor

Your turn!

You can find links to these on my short story page, some for purchase, some to read:


  1. Some great -- and fun -- lines, Kaye.

    1. Thanks, Paul! Probably not great, since they're all mine--maybe fun, though.

  2. From A Caregiver's Lament, 2018 BOULD Awards Anthology (a paragraph):

    Every night, the same damned thing. He wakes up, disoriented and hungry. Some nights he's lucid, some not. At least he remembers the language.

    1. Thanks for your Jake! Sounds a bit like Groundhog Day.