Afternoon InquisitionRandom Asides

AI: A Post Pregnant with Portent

November is National Novel Writing Month. National Novel Writing Month is a hardcore deadline approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1 in an attempt to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

I don’t know how valuable an endeavor like this is, but with a single month to write a novel, there is obviously very little time for re-writes and polishing. And so there will no doubt be many trite and awkward first sentences and descriptions floating about. A lot of “It was a dark and stormy night” and “The sea heaved and churned, like Oprah’s stomach after too many enchiladas and pork rinds” type lines will find their way onto the page.

So what are the best and most hilarious first sentences to a novel or descriptive sentences that you can create?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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  1. The crimson juices flowed from her body like a thick creek of slimer goo, but red, not green; her body writhing in agony over her recent little death and soon to be malady from the use of vaginal strawberries.

    Explanation: I actually used this run-on sentence in a conversation with someone, telling them how they needed to put condoms on food before they had sex with them. “Little death” is the direct translation of “petit mort,” which the french use to refer to orgasms. Introducing sugar, even sugar from fruits and vegetables, to the vagina can lead to an increased risk of vaginal yeast infections. I was trying to be funny and helpful at the same time. It was so amusing, though, that I kept it in case I needed a good intro to an article or something.

  2. The chime of the microwave awakened Sam, causing him to frantically get his bearings as he stumbled groggily across the studio floor to fetch his now-warm bean enchilada. Upon pushing the button to open the microwave door, he let out a shriek that sounded like a Ringwraith howling. For the bean enchilada was not a bean enchilada at all, it was beef, and Sam was a vegetarian. The thunder claps violently across the Texas sky, as though mocking poor Sam. His gurgling stomach convinces him to eat the meat enchilada, but before he can take the first bite, the enchilada sprouts legs and teeth and devours Sam whole. Lightening strikes, and the killer enchilada walks out into the wide-open world looking for dessert…

  3. There’s a book series titled “It was a dark and stormy night” that gives the contest winners for the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. It’s a contest for the worst opening lines in literature.

    Bulwer-Lytton actually opened a book with the line:
    It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents–except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

    Snoopy in Peanuts uses this as the opening sentence when he’s a writer.

    You can find the grand prize winners at http://www.bulwer-lytton.com/lyttony.htm.

    My favorite opening paragraph is from the Illuminatus! Trilogy:

    It was the year when they finally immanentized the Eschaton. On April 1, the world’s great powers came closer to nuclear war than ever before, all because of an obscure island named Fernando Poo. By the time international affairs returned to their normal cold-war level, some wits were calling it the most tasteless April Fool’s joke in history. I happen to know all the details about what happened, but I have no idea how to recount them in a manner that will make sense to most readers. For instance, I am not even sure who’ I am, and my embarrassment on that matter makes me wonder if you will believe anything I reveal. Worse yet, I am at the moment very conscious of a squirrel – in Central Park, just off Sixty-eighth Street, in New York City – that is leaping from one tree to another, and I think that happens on the night of April 23 (or is it the morning of April 24?), but fitting the squirrel together with Fernando Poo is, for the present, beyond my powers. I beg your tolerance. There is nothing I can do to make things any easier for any of us, and you will have to accept being addressed by a disembodied voice just as I accept the compulsion to speak out even though I am painfully aware that I am talking to an invisible, perhaps nonexistent, audience. Wise men have regarded the earth as a tragedy, a farce, even an illusionist’s trick; but all, if they are truly wise and not merely intellectual rapists, recognize that it is certainly some kind of stage in which we all play roles, most of us being very poorly coached and totally unrehearsed before the curtain rises. Is it too much if I ask, tentatively, that we agree to look upon it as a circus, a touring carnival wandering about the sun for a record season of four billion years and producing new monsters and miracles, hoaxes and bloody mishaps, wonders and blunders, but never quite entertaining the customers well enough to prevent them from leaving, one by one, and returning to their homes for a long and bored winter’s sleep under the dust? Then, say, for a while at least, that I have found an identity as ringmaster; but that crown sits uneasily on my head (if I have a head) and I must warn you that the troupe is small for a universe this size and many of us have to double or triple our stints, so you can expect me back in many other guises. Indeed do many things come to pass.

  4. @Zapski:

    Wow, that book is even worse than youtube comments left by 14 year-old trolls. And this book was actually published? Don’t books usually get edited and reviewed before being published? I especially love the second paragraph where the author realizes that he forgot to mention the date and year, and he just sticks it in there randomly. How did you find this book?

  5. The vampire sparkled in the sunlight in the same way that vampires had not been sparkling in the sunlight since the beginning of time. Because he was a sensitive soul the vampire trudged up the hill to the high school he had been attended for the last 150 years. He heaved a huge sigh and looked through his artfully tangled locks. Would this be the year? Would he finally achieve his hearts desire? Would he finally graduate high school? No one had been held back as many times as he had. He had only become a sparkling vampire so that he might actually finish high school someday. Then he noiticed her. She was as beautiful a girl as he had seen in his 1 and 1/2 centuries of schooling. He tried to work up the nerve to talk to her but then he saw that she was walking with one of the football players. He didn’t need another beating like that. Only 40 years ago the football player’s father had given him a wedgie that he wouldn’t soon forget. With another huge sigh sparkly the vampire felt the tears of shame run through the glitter on his cheeks. Weaping silently to himself he felt the snot start to leak out out of his left nostril. He rubbed his perfectly rumpled shirt sleave across his slimy nose leaving a sparkling slug trail up from his elbow to his shoulder. With a feeling of incipient sorrow sparkels the dreamy vampire opened his locker. His books all fell out and everyone laughed as he scambled around on the floor trying to get his books and papers picked up. He could feel the pretty girls eyes on him and knew, just knew that once again he would be at home alone when the dance was held again on Friday.

  6. @marilove:

    Sparkles the vampire of extreme cuteness struggled to lift his feet as he moved with extra moppiness to his first class. He thought at first that it was his sadness that made his feet so sluggardly but then he remembered that he actually wore huge combat boots that he had bought at a local army surpluss store. As he moved down the hall he wondered if Hot Topic had anything new. Carefully, hoping he wouldn’t be noticed he glanced to the left as he passed the girls restroom. The door was swinging shut and he thought he might have seen a girls boobies reflected in the mirror. Was it boobies? Yes it must have been boobies. Sparkles made it too his lit class just as the bell rang. He sat in the back corner just like he had been for the last 132 years. The student teacher was standing in front of the blackboard like a young hottie. Looking through his lashes sparkles could almost convince himself that she was topless and not just wearing a light tan blouse that hugged her slight curves in much the same way that a scared child would hug a tickle me elmo extreme. The teacher was passing back their compositions. “Sparkles” she called. Sparkels stood and walked toward the desk in a manner that he hoped conveyed his infininent weariness with school and not the fact that he was picting a tent. The teacher handed over his composition book. Sparkles held it in a way that he hoped hid his boner but didn’t seem like he was trying to hide a boner. He slid back to his desk and opened the book. F was written in red. The same red of the blood that he had had for breakfast just that moring. A note was under the crimson failing grade. “Please see me after school.” Was this the way that the student teacher was telling him that if he could pleasure her then she would raise his grade? Was he finally going to see a real woman’s boobs. Sparkles had spent countless hours looking at pictures of boobs but was he finally going to see a real pair? Oh he hoped so.

  7. As Gunther slid like a man on a banana peel into the mahogany leather seats of his white whale of a ’68 Buick with all the extras of a director’s cut DVD, he wistfully thought of the events of that night, that night humid and languid as a kiss from a too-old madame with runny eye makeup, the last night he would sleep alone in his Temperpedic king bed with 1000 count Egyptian cotton sheets in leopard print, and he thought to himself, staring pensively into the night like a lowland silverback who has lost his last battle for troop dominance, “This is the last night, Gunther, the last night when you can eat pizza in bed and watch late night TV until the infomercials come on with no one complaining and trying to eat your crust,” and he smiled the smile of a man with too many teeth who thinks he knows that everything is going to be okay from here on out, and slow as a turtle trapped in molasses he maneuvered his great white American chariot onto the black rivers of asphalt that wove and splashed their way to the blue door on his white house in his perfect suburban neighborhood and he was happy for the first time since the fire.

    Whew. I think I need a beer now.

  8. It would be the last lunch break spent soothing the tattered remains of his fragile psyche, “I think I’m going to grow a beard to counter-act my thinning hair. Do you think it’s a good idea?”
    “Maybe you should first see to the fact that you look like you stepped out of a washing machine set to olive oil.”

    Wait, is this supposed to be fiction?

  9. Many years ago, when the world was new, I was a slush-pile reader at Galaxy magazine. On the wall of the spacious cubicle wherein SP readers sat, reading stories typed on both sides of onion skin paper [I told you this was Long Ago], or tied in purple yarn, was the best worst first sentence:

    ‘The sun was a turgid egg yolk in the sky, dripping its tumescent beams upon the earth below.’

    Best worst last sentence has to go to ‘And suddenly, the Earth went nova!’

  10. I’ve got an idea for a superhero action musical story populated by people who are skeptical in real life. I just need to start typing it. The hardest part, describing the choreagraphy. Nothing better than to have Steven Novella start dancing and singing.

  11. Here’s some openings to stories I’ve never gotten around to writing:

    1. Marley was dead to begin with. At least she thought she was. There was no way she could’ve survived the crash. But the fact that she thought anything at all pretty much proved she wasn’t, in fact, dead. Didn’t it?

    2. The Prankster sat glumly in his chair, staring at his Library. The Library returned his gaze in what it calculated to be an inoffensive manner. Best not to upset him. All around them, the Ship hummed happily to itself, blissfully unaware of the drama unfolding within its shell.

    3. The last thing Harlan ever expected to be was the captain of a spaceship. Fine, not the absolute last thing, but definitely way down on the list. Somewhere below Pope but not quite as low as, say, Vampire King. Nevertheless, through a series of bizarre and almost criminally suspicious coincidences, he had in fact become captain. Captain of a ship crewed almost entirely by nerds. Nerd Captain of the Nerd Ship Nerdington. And leader of what could soon be the last remnants of the human species. He shook his head and recited his morning mantra. “Screwed. We’re totally, totally screwed.”

  12. @Gabrielbrawley:

    Sparkles sat nervous in his seat, anxious of the possibility of finally having a pair of ample boobs grace his centuries-old eyes. Staring down at the blood-like colour of the crimson F he was given, his mind went wild with impatient fantasies involving his teacher and playing a baseball game in the rain. The rain pouring down her body causing her firm boobs to stand at attention, as Sparkles stepped up to the plate and hit a home-run that travelled for miles. “Sparkles? Sparkles! Wake up” said the teacher who quickly noticed that Sparkles was holding his vampyric boner as though it was a baseball bat. Sparkles then tried to blush, but due to his total lack of pigmentation he merely turned a slightly less pale white. The teacher was flattered and impressed by his showing of affection, and leaned in to kiss him on the cheek, thus showing Sparkles clear view down her blouse and see the perfect boobs he long sought to see.

  13. The gloom and wind driven rain pierced Tom’s soul, washing away memories of comfort and ease, leaving behind a sense of aggravated and uncomfortable freedom. Tom knew decisions were about to be made, had to be made, and he judged he was right where an innocent witness would reasonably be when his well planned shit hit the malignant bloated and all to predictable fan.

  14. @Steve: #3 is great. Very Doug Adams, with a bit of Chris Moore thrown in. “Nerd Captain of the Nerd Ship Nerdington” Awesome!

    Here is one of my latest efforts (unfinished, as well):

    The heavy doors of the Hooker building swung closed behind me with a grim finality as I began to traverse the sprawling university campus toward my waiting car. Pulling away from Hooker’s massive edifice, with its cold granite walls covered by ivy that softened its hard edges with a verdant green during the warmer months of the year, I slowly came to the realization that it was over. We had tried, but we could not get the experiments to yield the results for which we had hoped. Doctor’s Romero and Lenz had been my constant companions as the trials wore on; days turning into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years. But that was all over now, and despite all the endless nights in the lab, the neglect my wife and children endured, and the terrible toll it took on my health, at that moment I still felt like it was all worth it. I knew if we three had not tried someone else would have, so at the very least we could say that we had given it our best shot.

  15. With infinent slowness the picoseconds became nanosecond which became nanoseconds after enternities became milliseconds and finally seconds which became minutes which morphed into quarter hours then slid into hours which became half days and then a day.

  16. @Garrison22: #3 is great. Very Doug Adams, with a bit of Chris Moore thrown in. “Nerd Captain of the Nerd Ship Nerdington” Awesome!

    I am not Steve, but if I were I’d feel insulted. I know you mean well, but this is implying that the author is copying the style of another author. In writer’s circles this is one notch below accusing someone of plagiarism. It’s not a compliment. A writer would much rather hear that they have “a unique voice.”

  17. The Wiff has done NaNo the past few years, and thanks to it now has two e-books out (one of which has also gone to print), with a couple more in the queue.

    I do miss her during November, though. . .

  18. In the reflected glow of the fluorescent lights from the hallway, she was careful to avoid the growing pools of unidentifiable chemicals mixing with god-knows-what on the floor. As she fought back another wave of nausea, she buttoned her blouse and straightened what was left of her hair. With purposeful steps over her associate’s remains, her only thought was: “Not again.”

  19. I had a bad feeling walking into this job, it seemed to damn good to be true. I guess that’s what I get for believing a goddamned criminal. The security system was one of those state of the art “intelligent machines” type of systems, and our tech guy failed to get around it. The cops were on us well before we had gotten out, just as we had pulled the cash and diamonds. I watched a good friend, one I’ve known for years, who’s pulled me out of a tight spot time and time again, take one in the chest and go down quickly. I’ll bet the little fuck who told me about this job folded as soon as the guns were pointed at him. I got away with the gems. Some fucking luck.

  20. From my NaNo-

    Apparently in his final years Anthony Morris had let the house go a little, then again that would be expected for someone who knew that in all likelihood he would probably die the next day. But rather than the next day it turned out to be more like the next year or two.

  21. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.”

    Nah, that’ll never catch on. If only I could write like Dan Brown [*sigh*]

  22. @davew: Naw, it’s a fair cop. All writing is derivative. You can pretty much trace every story ever written back to Gilgamesh, and that was probably cribbed off someone else.

    Besides, I’ve been a Douglas Adams fanboy since the original BBC radio broadcasts. That’s bound to affect anyone after a while. The “Nerd Captain of the Nerd Ship Nerdington” is probably more of a Grant/Naylor thing, though.

  23. @davew: What I wrote was, of course, not intended as an insult, and I don’t think Steve took it that way (see above post). Plus, if writer’s are going to be that sensitive they ought to go into another profession, because it takes a really thick skin to deal with the publishing world. I am an amature fiction writer and would be delighted if someone said my writing reminded them of Doug Adams, or of any writer I repect and admire. Now, if I had said Steve’s writing reminded me of Stephanie Myer or L. Ron Hubbard, he would (and should) rightly be insulted.

    All creativity is derivative. Some more than others.

  24. @steve @Garrison22

    Maybe I was projecting too much. I hate getting compared to other authors. One of my biggest fears is that someone will hold up my writing next to Chris Moore’s and say, “See. They’re almost identical.” It would hurt more if accurate.

    Someone asked KT Tunstall in an interview if Dido was an influence. Kate’s response was, “Dido? She can’t fucking sing!”

    My first comment was too strong, but I don’t think you can go wrong by avoiding comparisons.

    Of course all writing is derivative, but I don’t think most writers strive for it. Indeed I think the opposite is true. The way I look at it the world already has a Billy Collins. If I write like him I’m just consuming paper someone else could put to better use.

  25. Wait, this was a CONTEST for many years. Of course it was called “It was a dark and stormy night…” which was indeed the opening line for a novel.

    “Jessica sipped on her mango smoothie and contemplated the crumpled corpse of her pool boy, wondering if the bloodied corpse was a portent of a more interesting weekend then all the dull and boring weekends she’d experienced since her marriage to Romundo.”

    that sort of thing

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