One book leads to another...

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

How the Dickens?

Welcome Readers and fellow Writers, to the December 2018 online meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Founded by author Alex Cavanaugh and comprised of writing members just like you (and me), featuring writing tips, resources, articles, contests, and IWSG swag! See what we’re all talking about here and join us as we share our writing journeys.
*We meet on the first Wednesday of every month – join us and enjoy!

Visit our gracious Co-hosts, and let them know you’re here:  J.H. Moncrieff, Tonja Drecker , Patsy Collins, and Chrys Fey!

This year, Christmas songs were playing on the radio before the Thanksgiving turkey was an item on my grocery list. No pressure, right? As I wondered how the dickens I’d ever accomplish all of the goals I’d set long before the days grew short enough to pass too fast to notice, a much more inspiring dickens occurred to me: It took Charles Dickens only six weeks to write A Christmas Carol. If that was possible, anything is ;-)  More Charles Dickens fun facts can be found here.

Somewhere between the first draft and last revision, have you ever thought about how many times you tweak that first line? I sure do – think about it, that is. After all, it could mean the difference between a ‘Welcome’ mat, and one that reads: “Ring bell and pull weeds till someone answers.

Here are a few of my favorite First Lines:

“I have been afraid of putting air in a tire ever since I saw a tractor tire blow up and throw Newt Hardbines’s father over the top of the Standard Oil sign.” ~ Barbara Kingsolver   The Bean Trees - 1988

“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.” ~ Dodie Smith   I Capture the Castle - 1948

“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board” ~ Zora Neale Hurston   Their Eyes Were Watching God – 1937

This month’s optional question is: What are five objects you’d find in my writing space.

An Hour Glass
A small silver alien made of squishy rubber lies across the number keys of my desk phone
A candle that smells like a stack of new books (it really does!)
A Magic Rub
A small yellow-haired Wishnick balances (for the most part) on the rim of my pencil caddy

What’s your favorite first line? Do you have a personal best first line?

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

“What greater gift than the love of a cat?” ~ Charles Dickens


  1. Hi, diedre!

    It was interesting to read those 17 fun facts about Charles Dickens. I did not realize the idiom "what the dickens" is (or was) a euphemism for conjuring the devil. It was clever and brave of Dickens to come out of the closet, publish under his real name and embrace that phrase realizing it would help spread his fame. It is also fascinating that Dickens helped search for the lost Arctic expedition that had been looking for the Northwest Passage. In addition it was fun to learn that we have Dickens to thank for perfecting the cliffhanger ending, a staple of modern series entertainment, that he had a passion for ravens and cats, that he established a rehab for troubled women and that he was a ghostbuster. The fact I most appreciate about Dickens is that he was a master wordsmith. He created new words, something I also enjoy doing.

    The first line of a given work can be a killer and I often struggle with it for what seems like eons. Thank you for showing us examples of great first lines that captured your imagination over the years. The first two made me smile, made my eyes light up. The third made me exclaim to myself, "WOW!"

    The only first line I can think of at this early hour is Bill Cosby's "I started out as a child." :)

    I like the kitty's Christmas song. :)

    diedre, I am still aglow from the generous comment you wrote in reference to my post about my sister-in-law's illness and death. Your kind words touched me, touched my wife and touched May's daughter, Amber, the mother of the little boy who lovingly placed his note in granny's hand hours before she breathed her last. Thank you sincerely for that gift, dear friend diedre!

    1. Hi Shady!

      Wasn’t that a fascinating read? I’d merely been looking up a phrase my great grandma used to say (What the dickens?”), when I ran across these engaging tidbits that fit right into the season, as well as writing theme for this post. I appreciate your indulgence of my whimsy ;-)

      “I started out as a child,” cracked me up! It is definitely a captivating hook line.

      My response to your post was purely natural, my friend. I expect, nor deserve such graciousness for allowing tears of compassion to flow in words across the miles to you and yours. In fact, please accept my gratitude to you for sharing the event that prompted my response and those of many others. Just think, dear Shady, you may well kindle a worldwide crusade of kindness with your thoughtful posts!

      Top o’ the Season to you and your family!

  2. A candle that smells like books? That's original.
    I play over the first line in my head so many times that by the time I write it down, it usually sticks.

    1. Hiya, Captain!

      The candle was a gift from my daughter, last Christmas. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee goes quite well, but having visited your post already, you have me thinking of Hot Tamales ;-)
      I usually rework the first line, jumping into a story head-first as I do ;-) Later, I know the direction I want the readers to follow at my "This Way" line.

  3. Ah, for Dickens's productivity... Writing a zinger of a first line is challenging. How about "All this happened, more or less." Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five. Wishing you happy writing in December.

    1. Hi Sadira!

      So true. And until now, I had no idea the depth of his character.

      The Vonnegut line is another of my favorites. That entire first page reads in an instant.

      Happy writing to you as well!

  4. Howdy, dIEDRE ~

    The title of your blog bit really jumped out at me and here's why: Just a little over two weeks ago, I left the job where I'd been employed for 3 years. A co-worker gave me a going away card and something she wrote in it was , "I, myself, am going to miss the dickens out of you!!"

    That got me to wondering about that old expression, which I'm very familiar with. But what in the dickens does that even mean? What is a dickens and why would a person miss one?

    Naturally, it occurred to me that it might somehow be related to the writer Charles Dickens, but how did it come about? Who came up with it? Where? When? And sometimes Why?

    First lines... gee. I don't know that I've ever encountered one that totally knocked me out of my socks and cowboy boots. But here are a couple that I think are quite good and really start things out with a bang:

    "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."
    ~ Genesis 1:1
    The Holy Bible

    "I heartily accept the motto, "That government is best which governs least"...
    ~ Civil Disobedience
    Henry David Thoreau

    As for my own most notable first line, it might be this one:

    "Wow, I am SO hungover."

    I always enjoy reading your posts, dIEDRE, and I hope you have a magical Holiday season!

    ~ D-FensDogG @ Stephen T. McCarthy Reviews...

    1. Howdy, Stephen T!

      So, you're on to greener pastures? Good for you!

      Those are powerful first lines, but I think we need to add one more so as not to leave us hanging (ha!)

      How about "He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad" ~ Raphael Sabatini - Scaramouche -

      Smiles to the future - and the Season!

    2. Wow! That's a terrific first line, dIEDRE. I've never read that, so it was new to me.

      ~ D-FensDogG @ STMcC Presents 'BATTLE OF THE BANDS'

  5. One of my favorite first lines is also Kingsolver's. I'm copying it from memory, so it may not be perfect, but here goes: "Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened."

    1. Hi there!

      Ah, The Poisonwood Bible! Loved that story ;-)

  6. A book smelling candle is unique. And I'm wondering what the Magic Rub is. Happy writing and a blessed holiday season!

    1. Hi Tonja!

      The candle has a soft, pleasant scent that lingers a bit so I don't have to light it every time I write.
      The Magic Rub is an eraser I use occasionally - for my day job ;-)
      Pleasant writing and Happy Holidays!

  7. I never knew how long it took Charles Dickens to write A Christmas Carol. That's a neat fact.

    I want a candle that smells like books. I'd light it every time I was writing or editing. :)

    Happy Holidays!

    1. Hi Lady Chrys!

      Pretty cool, huh?

      That's exactly when I light the candle.

      Happy holidays to you as well!

  8. Hi diedre; I had no idea that Charles Dickens wrote "A Christmas Carol" so quickly, nor that he used a pseudonym in the beginning. Candles that smell like books? What a wonderful idea! Wishing you and your family the happiest of holidays and all the best for 2019. Cheers!

    1. Hi Debbie!

      Good to see you! I've tried to visit a few times of late, must be something amiss on my end.
      I do enjoy the candle immensely. It's by a company called Paddywax.
      Very best wishes to you this holiday season - See you soon!

  9. First lines are an important part in creating a memorable book or story. The fact that at the moment I can't remember any particular first lines doesn't mean I haven't read any good books. I just don't remember things like that.

    A candle that smells like a stack of books might be just the thing for some folks. Me, I prefer candles that smell like an aromatic food or some kind of spice like cinnamon.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

    1. Hi Arlee!

      Candles that smell like food would likely waft me into the kitchen more often than I should ;-) I like the scent of cinnamon - especially this time of year.
      Looks like we may all get some chilly weather on the west coast for a change. Stay warm!


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