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Published: Monday, 1/3/2011

'It was a dark and stormy night' … or not

I'LL say this for readers of One of America's Great Newspapers. Give them a challenge and they embrace it.

A month ago, I asked you to compose your best opening paragraph for the novel that you wish you had time to write. Several dozen of you responded - many with eloquence, all with earnestness and passion. For a few, it was indeed a dark and stormy night.

Not many were able to hold themselves to 50 words or so, but this wasn't a contest and there are no prizes, so it doesn't matter.

Here, in no particular order, are as many of them as space will allow. The only editing was to remove any proper names and to shorten lengthy submissions.

"She stood at the bathroom mirror that gray morning, prying open one bleary eye, then the other. She barely recognized herself. Where did that blossoming of wrinkles come from? She knew they weren't there yesterday, that road map to middle age. And where were they taking her?" - Frani Marshall

"The last hour of a flight is always the worst. Will he be there at the airport? He's always late. How do I know he is telling the truth? Did his wife really die in a car accident or did he murder her?" - Sandra Schocket

"The cold winter winds were blowing the last of the leaves off the oak tree in my front yard. It was the end of the leaves and the end of my career after 37 years as a cop. How I wanted to change things, change evil. I finally realized the only thing that changed was me." - Phillip R. King

"Her scent lingered momentarily, then dispersed as if a light breeze had massaged the fibers of my soul. When fully recovered I became alive and aware, then conscious of my past. With that mindful insight I realized I was not to have her, and I was surprisingly at peace." - Richard L. Weaver II

"The sun had gone down. Clouds hid the moon. He heard the wind blow and the rain beat against the windowpanes. There was a knock at the door that sounded like the clap of thunder. Dread coursed through him for he knew that good never rode in on a dark and stormy night." - Tom Williams

"It would have been dark at the back of the parking lot but for the spotlights on the cruisers. The officers standing around the body were sweating. It was hot and humid. There was no breeze." - Richard Kerger

"Ma's voice often comes to me in the quiet of a day or evening, with its lush southern drawl reminiscent of the whir of a distant lawn mower on a breezeless summer day. Barely 4' 9", and 108 years old, it seemed that she would never die but rather keep shrinking until, like Tinkerbell, her Tennessee lilt would indicate where she was." - Mari Davies

"It wasn't a dark and stormy night, nor the winter of my discontent. Even though it wasn't the best of times, or the worst of times, nothing was happening more or less. When I researched the story bit by bit once upon a time, nobody dared call me Ishmael, at least not to my face." - John Blinn

"A little gray had crept along her hairline, and what had been a Marilyn Monroe figure was thickening a little. Her tight-fitting knit dress didn't look as svelte as it had, but she still turned heads." - Shirley Mikesell

"How long she stood staring off into the horizon, she wasn't sure. Her thoughts were scattered as she tried to focus on one particular event. So much had happened in such a short period of time and trying to make sense of the jumbled visions in her head was beyond her ability. What should she do next? Who could she trust?" - Jan Wasserman

"The dark alley was quietly foreboding, and he had to walk gingerly as its uneven surface held unwelcome surprises. The late fall air chilled his nostrils but was oddly tranquil. Suddenly everything was lit by the blinding headlights of a late model, super-size dark blue pickup truck. As it roared past him he slammed against a crumbling brick wall, narrowly escaping disaster." - Lee Markham

"The old Plymouth choked and wheezed as it came to an abrupt stop at the edge of the bumpy dirt road. I looked at Grandpa as he slammed the steering wheel with the palms of his hands, then ran his calloused fingers through his wavy hair." - Karen Rieger

Finally, I salute the eighth grade creative writing class of Martha Culley at St. Rose School in Perrysburg. Her students' submissions were all impressive. Here are the two I liked best:

"A chill morning breeze danced with her dark locks as she raised a ceramic mug to her lips, her crystal breath intertwined with the swirls of steam. The coffee warmed her and brought a smile to the corners of her mouth. Pulling her sweater closer, she let out a contented sigh." - Caroline Thornbury

"It was one of those March days you dream about - if you dream about gray skies and rain. The clouds were the color of ash and the only illumination came from flashes of lightning. The wind whimpered just beyond the dirty glass." - Katie Pach

Nice job, Caroline. Way to go, Katie. And the same goes to all who sent in their Great Opening Paragraph. Wish I could have used them all. Now go finish your novel.

Thomas Walton is retired editor and vice president of The Blade. His column appears every other Monday.

Contact him at:

twalton@theblade.com



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