Enter the Reader’s 2013 Short-Fiction Contest: “Great Beginnings” Print
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Wednesday, 24 July 2013 21:25

Admittedly, some of our previous short-fiction contests have been a bit cruel.

So we’re making it easy for our 2013 contest, which runs through August 20. (Our favorite entries will be published in the September 5 issue of the River Cities’ Reader.)

All you need to do is start with one of the beginnings below and finish your story in an additional 250 words. And we’ve been extremely generous, giving you 50 options!

I should probably wait to tell you that the previously mentioned beginnings come from the Bible, Moby-Dick, Infinite Jest, A Tale of Two Cities, The Color Purple, Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone ... . And one – offered here in its entirety – might be the shortest story ever written.

Anyway, here are boring rules:

A) Entries, including titles, must be 250 words or fewer – not counting the opening required in Rule G. The Reader’s super-mean managing editor will make the final judgment on word count, so we recommend being careful or leaving some breathing room.

B) Entries must be typed.

C) Entries must include the author’s name, mailing address, and daytime phone number.

D) Entries must be previously unpublished.

E) Entries must be received by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, August 20. We shall accept submissions by e-mail ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it with “Fiction Contest” as the subject line); mail (532 W. 3rd St., Davenport IA 52801, with “Fiction Contest” on the envelope); and fax (563-323-3101).

F) People may submit as many entries as they like, but no more than one for each opening prompt.

And here’s the biggie:

G) All entries must begin with one of the 50 “great beginnings” below. Outside of using one of these openings, no fidelity or relationship to the beginning’s source is required.

Without further ado, here are your options:

(1) In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. – The Bible

(2) Call me Ishmael. – Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

(3) It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not. – Paul Auster, City of Glass

(4) I am an invisible man. – Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

(5) It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. – Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice

(6) I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. – Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle

(7) On the day he lost his right foot, Walter Van Brunt had been haunted, however haphazardly, by ghosts of the past. – T. Coraghessan Boyle, World’s End

(8) “I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears, and I tell you he’s the one.” – Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game

(9) It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York. – Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

(10) I’d never given much thought to how I would die – though I’d had reason enough in the last few months – but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this. – Stephenie Meyer, Twilight

(11) None of them knew the color of the sky. – Stephen Crane, “The Open Boat”

(12) When I leave home to walk to school, Dad always says to me, “Marco, keep your eyelids up and see what you can see.” – Dr. Seuss, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street

(13) It was the best of times, it was the worst of times … . – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

(14) Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person. – Anne Tyler, Back When We Were Grownups

(15) Harry locked his mother in the closet. – Hubert Selby Jr., Requiem for a Dream

(16) In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

(17) “Where’s Papa going with that axe?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast. – E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

(18) They shoot the white girl first. – Toni Morrison, Paradise

(19) It was one of those midsummer Sundays when everyone sits around saying, “I drank too much last night.” – John Cheever, “The Swimmer”

(20) Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself. – Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

(21) “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” – dubiously attributed to Ernest Hemingway

(22) I am seated in an office, surrounded by heads and bodies. – David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

(23) To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth. – John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

(24) The drought had lasted now for 10 million years, and the reign of the terrible lizards had long since ended. – Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey

(25) Today, Maman died. – Albert Camus, The Stranger

(26) It was the day my grandmother exploded. – Iain M. Banks, The Crow Road

(27) Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. – Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

(28) In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

(29) Mr. Jones, of the Manor Farm, had locked the hen-houses for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the pop-holes. – George Orwell, Animal Farm

(30) It was inevitable: The scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love. – Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

(31) As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. – Franz Kafka, “The Metamorphosis”

(32) Dr. Weiss, at 40, knew that her life had been ruined by literature. – Anita Brookner, The Debut

(33) Nobody ever walked across the bridge, not on a night like this. – Mickey Spillane, One Lonely Night

(34) I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story. – Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome

(35) Vaughan died yesterday in his last car-crash. – J.G. Ballard, Crash

(36) You better not never tell nobody but God. – Alice Walker, The Color Purple

(37) Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. – Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

(38) Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. – D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterly’s Lover

(39) Pelham came away one night to find a naked man standing over his bed, growling. – Daniel Woodrell, “Night Stand”

(40) Had I been dreaming, I would have dreamt of being someone else, with a little creature burrowed in my body, clawing at the walls inside my chest – a recurring nightmare. – Aleksandar Hemon, “Passover”

(41) The boy with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way toward the lagoon. – William Golding, Lord of the Flies

(42) Rosebud. – Citizen Kane

(43) I am a sick man ... I am a spiteful man. – Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground

(44) It was a pleasure to burn. – Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

(45) The past is a foreign country: They do things differently there. – L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between

(46) Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress. – George Eliot, Middlemarch

(47) “The marvelous thing is that it’s painless,” he said. “That’s how you know when it starts.” – Ernest Hemingway, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”

(48) Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. – J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone

(49) This is the saddest story I have ever heard. – Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier

(50) All this happened, more or less. – Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five


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