And Now, the First Line of My Next Writing Project

It is:

“Let’s just get this out of the way,” I said. “One of you idiots is likely to die.”

And that’s all you get until it is done.

64 Comments on “And Now, the First Line of My Next Writing Project”

  1. Disclaimer:

    This opening line may not make it to the final version of the story, either as it is now, or at all. You are hereby warned.

  2. He is off again and here he goes; the first word of Thomas Hardy’s new novel, at 10:35 on this very lovely morning, it’s three letters, it’s the definate article and it’s THE!

  3. changterhune – Before you hear lies from Chang Terhune himself, we thought we’d tell you the truth: without us, his old action figures, he’d be nowhere. He loved science fiction from way back and began reading it at an early age, but it was through us that he acted it all out. That’s what led to the writing. He watched a lot of science fiction shows like Star Trek, U.F.O, and movies, too. But we were always there to do his bidding. And it’s like they say: you always forget about the little people on your way up. Oh, the 70’s and early 80’s with him were good times! He’d use these blocks and make all the crazy buildings for us to be in his stories. I gotta say the kid’s imagination was pretty damn fertile. Oh, he had friends, but they just weren’t into it like him. He was like the Lance Armstrong of action figures. And of science fiction. At first, when he began writing in the eighth grade, we didn’t mind. He still made time for us. And we knew that when he was holding us in his sweaty little hands and he got that far off look in his eye, he’d come back to burying us in the back yard or - god forbid! – blowing us up with firecrackers. But it was worth it for a part in one of those stories. We loved him for it. He kept us around even when we were minus a leg or two - or even a head. In that mind of his, he found a use for all of us. Then he discovered girls. October, 1986. It was like the end of the world. One day we’re standing in the middle of this building block creation he’d pretended was some marble city on a planet near Alpha Centauri and the next we were stuck in a box in the closet. Not even a “See ya later!” Nope, it was into the closet, then we heard some high-pitched girly-giggles then silence. We didn’t see him for years. We got word about him once in a while. Heard he took up writing, but it was crap like “The Breakfast Club” only with better music. We couldn’t believe it. Not Charlie. What happened to those aliens with heads he’d sculpted out of wax? Spaceships? Those complex plots? All gone. For what? You guessed it: Girls. Emotions. “Serious fiction.” I tell you, it was like hearing Elvis had left the building. During our two decade exile in the closet, we heard other things about him. He went to college. He wrote a lot, but not much he really liked. We knew it even then. It was like he didn’t dare write science fiction. Some of us had lost hope and just lay there. Others kept vigil, hoping for a day we didn’t dare speak about. Then we heard he’d stopped writing in 1996. Did he come to reclaim us? No. He took up music for ten years or so. He took up yoga. Once in a while, he’d visit us in the closet. But it was half-hearted. His mind was elsewhere. Then one day, he really did come back for us. One second we’re in the dark and the next thing we know we’re in a car headed for Massachusetts. Suddenly we got a whole shelf to ourselves out in broad daylight! Then he bought a bunch of others form some planet called Ebay. He’d just sit and stare at us with that old look. But why were we suddenly back in the picture? He had a wife now, who didn’t mind that he played with us. So what had happened? Turns out he’d never forgotten about those stories. He’d been thinking about all of us and the stories he’d made up and then remembered he’d been a writer once. From the shelf we could see him typing away. Before long he’s got a whole novel together! Then he’s working on another one. Word is there are two more in the planning stages! Some short stories, too! It’s good to see him using his imagination again. Its good to know he never abandoned us. He returned to his true love of science fiction. We hear the stories are pretty good. Someday we’ll get one of the cats to score us a copy of the manuscript. Man, it’s good to be out of the damn closet! --- I'm smarter than you I'm harder than you I'm better than you I'm just raw I'm hotter than you More popular than you More clever than you And goshdarn it, people like me I'm smarter than you I'm harder than you I'm better than you I'm just raw I'm hotter than you More popular than you More clever than you And goshdarn it, people like me

    That’s exactly what my college creative writing professor said to us right after he said it was a safe bet none of us would ever be published authors.

  4. That would make a great writing prompt for a fiction-writing class if you end up not using it in your next project.

  5. A side comment that sometimes the RSS feed for your site (or perhaps the reader I use, Feedly?) will sometimes grab the Big Idea cover picture to go with a post that otherwise has no image. It’s occasionally quite confusing!

  6. So when can I order it? Will it be in installments? Who is going to do the narration on the audio version?

    What! Too early yet. :(

    Okay, I will just wait then.

  7. Hmm. Sounds like my boss of a couple dozen years back as new assignments came in for us … :-)

  8. Kate George – Vermont – Award winning author, Kate George is the creator of the popular Bree MacGowan mystery series, which started when she took up a dare to write a book; the result was Moonlighting in Vermont. She was born in Sacramento, California, was raised on a ranch until the age of eight, and graduated from UC Davis with a degree in anthropology. She is currently working on her MFA. She has been, in no particular order, a paste-up tech, a motorcycle safety instructor, an actor, and the assistant to the dean of a medical school, all of which provide plenty of fodder for her novels. Currently, she lives in an old farmhouse in the backwoods of Vermont with her husband, four kids, and two rescue dogs, where by day she teaches and by night, she dreams up wild adventures for her characters. Visit her at, or contact her at She always loves to hear from readers!
    Kate George

    I love a good opening line! hope it makes the cut.

  9. I once woke up with an opening line running through my mind: “Get your head down, lad. We’re about to open fire.”

    I followed it and goty an idea for a two-volume, fat-spine fantasy series. I even wrote a first chapter so I could pitch it to a publisher who was interested in me, but in the end I got a nope. So I pitched something else and got a three-book deal.

    But every now and then, I remember that line and I think, “I really ought to do something with that idea.”

  10. You’re doing a history of the Great Hugo Kerfuffle? Well, at least let’s hope this takes place on a dark and stormy night…

  11. Amusing myself by imagining inappropriate narrators here.

    Jesus to the Apostles
    Surgeon to conjoined twins
    Jim Lehrer to presidential candidates…

  12. I LOVE when books start out with cocky, obviously quite intelligent people who are mean to stupid people.
    (I do. I’m a horrible person.)

  13. I’m thinking a rewrite/update of Dostoevsky’s THE IDIOT with a larger cast (and apparently a special guest appearance by Raskolnikov).

  14. If you don’t use it then Idiots Likely to Die needs to go on the list for the name of your next band.

  15. John, for some reason I hear that line in my inner Shell Scott voice.
    For those of you who don’t know Shell… well now. :-O There ain’t many detectives who swing into crime scenes on a wrecking ball, get chased naked through a casino by a jealous, scimitar wielding boyfriend, land a hot air balloon naked, or disguise themselves as a prop on a movie set.

  16. If you really wanted to screw with us, Scalzi, you’d preview the second line of the work & have a contest to figure out the first line…

  17. Dear John,

    Frankly, it sounds more like your opening for the comments thread when you’ve written one of your more controversy-making columns.

    pax / Ctein

  18. Shooting Through escape rooms – Australia – Felicity Banks is the creator of Shooting Through: the escape room that comes to you. She also writes novels (The Antipodean Queen Australian Steampunk Trilogy, and the Rahana trilogy of kids, starting with "The Monster Apprentice"), interactive fiction, and the "Murder in the Mail" and "Magic in the Mail" art-filled immersive tales.
    Felicity Banks

    I’m writing on a fantasy novel called “Flight of Fancy” and the opening line is:

    I started packing at 7:35pm on a Wednesday night in June.

    It’s about a maths geek who’s sucked into a fantasy world and discovers she is, among other things, not entirely human.

  19. It’s a little-known fact that the identical opening sentence appeared in the first draft of Eat, Pray, Love.

  20. Timothy G Cramer – Munich, Germany – Timothy is a sucker for superb storytelling. He loves to scrutinize storytelling to understand and appreciate the talent and diligence of the creators. He bestows praise and offers provocative feedback to creators, especially webcomic writers and artists.
    Timothy G Cramer

    Love it how that line establishes character, tone, and setting: This must play out in a world where immortality has been achieved and is commonly available, or else both idiots would certainly die. Eventually.

    So: Are you doing a sequel to In Time?

  21. Wait, I get it – that’s the whole thing, right? Like one of Ginsberg’s American Sentences. Sci-fi haiku. Far out, man. Like, waaaaaay far out.

  22. “Wait, shouldn’t it be One of you idiots are likely to die?”



    Join us next week for another episode of the grammar vigilante…

  23. I gave that speech every year. The reaction was always the same: blank stares, looks of vague concern, and a few bordering on tears. Then, inevitably, one of them burst into audible, choking sobs. The rest soon followed.
    It’s a tough thing to hear, but comforting lies (even of omission) do no favors. Playtime was over. These poor souls were in kindergarten now.

  24. I love this line and it must stay: if not in this novel, than in another.

    This leads us to another fun game I’m surprised nobody’s tried yet: WHICH BOOK IS THIS FOR? A world we know, or a world we do not? (Sure sounds like the CDF….)

  25. Timothy G Cramer – Munich, Germany – Timothy is a sucker for superb storytelling. He loves to scrutinize storytelling to understand and appreciate the talent and diligence of the creators. He bestows praise and offers provocative feedback to creators, especially webcomic writers and artists.
    Timothy G Cramer

    Just noticed that the addition of “likely” tells us this new book puts the “Beyond” in “Beyond The Thunderdome”.

  26. Sounds like something Jane Sagan-Perry might say.

    But I’d really just like a short story where Zoe and Gretchen meet up after several years. Maybe Hickory and Dickory get in Gretchen’s way as she rushes to hug Zoe, and she says, “…

  27. Next Scalzi Writing Project : Blogging to his readers …

    The Mallet of Loving Correction hath gotten a little weighty ….

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