Next Line, Please

When Two Strangers Meet

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By David Lehman

January 6, 2015


 

I like keeping a notebook in which I scribble down overheard dialogue, a pun or a typo that catches my eye, lists of similes, possible opening lines for poems or stories. Sometimes I find myself lifting just a part of the opening sentence of a book—the first part. I delete the rest and with the passage of time, I can approach it as a literary problem to be creatively solved.

OK, quick: without looking it up, how would you complete a first sentence that begins “In my younger and more vulnerable years, my father gave me …” You may not outdo the author of The Great Gatsby, but it’s worth trying.

Leaving Gatsby aside, I suggest we try this experiment. Here are the first 20 words of a piece of writing—whether a story, a prose poem, or a novella:

 

On the Sunday after Christmas, in a nondescript cocktail lounge at a forlorn Midwestern airport, two stranded passengers met and

 

Finish the paragraph, adding as many as 50 words. Deadline: Midnight, January 11.

 

 


David Lehman is a poet and the general editor of The Best American Poetry series. He teaches at The New School in New York City.

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