The First Line Challenge

One of my favorite sources for short story prompts is The First Line Literary Journal that provides a new first line every quarter. The first line cannot be altered in any way unless otherwise indicated (i.e., fill in the blank). Everything written after the first line is fair game. I have written and submitted many short stories inspired by these prompts, but none were ever accepted for publication. Some of them did get accepted elsewhere for publication.

The Fall 2010 prompt became the basis for “The Kitterun Five Tourist Trap,” first published in Short Sips: Coffee House Flash Fiction Volume 2 (Wicked East Press, March 2012), and will be available as a short story ebook in March 2013.

Three thousand planets in the known universe, and I’m stuck on the only one without [a decent toilet].

The words in the brackets were the part that I had to change in the original prompt. A human visiting a feline-humanoid world in pursuit of seeing the mysterious tail of a sexually aroused female Kitterun finds the accommodations for his hotel room quite different from what he expected.

The Summer 2012 prompt became the basis for “The Wizards of Flushington,” slated for publication in Fresh Ground: Coffee House Flash Fiction Volume 3 anthology (Wicked East Press, Spring 2013).

Rachel’s first trip to England didn’t go as planned.

A young witch magically flushes herself down the toilet to arrive at a public toilet in England for a renaissance fair, but ends up being thrown out of an outhouse in the Australian outback to meet two strange old wizards.

The forthcoming Winter 2013 prompt was somewhat more challenging than usual to come up with ideas for a speculative short story.

On a perfect spring morning with flat seas and clear blue skies, Captain Eli P. Cooke made a terrible mistake.

I’m thinking that this story could take place on a fishing boat. Eli is the Biblical name of a high priest whom knew that his sons were mishandling the temple services but did nothing about it, his family line through his sons fell in battle and he died from hearing the news as God’s punishment, which suggests a knife, a sacrificial offering and a struggle with nature. This would be enough to start a short story under most circumstances. Not this time. I was missing something to tie the whole story together.

Last year I read a story about a giant blue eyeball washing up on a Florida beach. No one knew where it came from, perhaps it belong to a sea creature from the dark depths of the Atlantic Ocean. Wildlife experts confirmed that the softball-sized eyeball came from a swordfish, probably cut out and tossed overboard by fishermen.

Putting the first line prompt and the giant blue eyeball together, I have enough to get started. As I thought about how to write the short story, Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and The Sea,” where an aging fisherman goes after a giant marlin, became an inspiration. Except my short story is a speculative tale.

A fisherman spends all night to pull in a giant squid on to his small fishing boat. The first thing he does is to cut out an eyeball. The giant squid, not yet dead from being out of the sea, starts thrashing on the deck and falls back into the ocean. The fisherman curses at his misfortune of losing his catch, keeping the worthless eyeball that watches him.

Will I get this short story done by the deadline at the end of the month? Probably not. I just started a new non-writing tech job. My writing priorities will probably change over the next few months. Not all First Line prompts will turn into finished short stories. Most end up with two pages being written before going on the back burner. Those unfinished stories that do get published are so heavily revised that the first line prompt disappears in subsequent drafts.