My Fiction Techniques teacher liked to give us a beginning line to start our speed writing exercises instead of starting with a character. My favorite one was “The light turned red.” I wrote a fair amount of scenarios starting with that line. At one time, I thought I would probably write a whole book of short stories that started with that opening sentence but that would have been a book that only writers would have appreciated!
I think we all come up with ideas as we read other people’s stories too. I don’t think there’s anything wrong if you write your own tale using someone else’s first line. If you’re like me, you’re going to come up with a completely different story when you see where your imagination takes you.
I wasn’t really wedded to any particular technique for starting a story when I started the program but doing the speed writing exercises made me understand that was probably a good thing. The technique was something that I could use outside of class to start my stories which was a great help when I was drafting new stories for my workshops.
The technique is fun too when you’re not worrying about what other people will think of your work at the end of the exercise. There’s something so seductive about starting to write without deciding where you’re going or how you’re going to end. I also started learning how to stop worrying so much about what other people might think. It was kind of like spilling coffee on your white blouse before you go to work and knowing everything else you own is dirty and if you don’t leave RIGHT NOW, you’ll be late for that meeting with your boss. You just have to go through the day acting like the stain isn’t there.
My classmates were experiencing the same pressure I was feeling, I could tell. They had to know that if I couldn’t come up with a scintillating idea every time, it didn’t mean I couldn’t be a writer.
Our teacher seemed most interested in whether or not we put forth the effort and took some risks. I hadn’t had many opportunities to force myself into creative mode within a measured period of time. I think that it was easier to produce more during the time I scheduled to write every day. Much of that time during my first semester was devoted to the small exercises we were assigned to do outside of class. I did it the same way I did it in class. We were assigned a literary technique by my teacher, such as point of view or description and I picked out an idea, person, or situation and started from there. Some of my exercises even started with “The light turned red.” The exercises were great tools for developing my craft arsenal and I had the added benefit of receiving comments from my teacher.