Famous First Lines

Jonathon Brooks

A plethora of possibilities were at the author’s fingertips. He was an artist, or a sculptor, or an award winning chef with words, or perhaps only a Freshman English major. Was the World Chef the next Bill Shakespeare? An answer of “No” with an exclamation point after the single word response is most likely the correct assumption. To hell with Shakespeare the artist thought. He knew not why all English majors were friends of or in favor of old Willy. With the multitude of possibilities available, the Freshman knew he needed an exquisite first line to his short story that was due the next morning.

Bulldog was the writer’s nickname. Bentley was his birth name. His last name was Young. Bentley Young considered writing “Bulldog Young” at the top of the blank page. After a moment’s consideration, he realized that would be a rookie mistake for any serious author. Nicknames are not the same as official names, and they don’t belong with art as the artist’s identification. One might wonder just how Bentley ever came to be called Bulldog to begin with. Well, that’s another story for another time. It really isn’t all that interesting of a tale anyway.

Back to Bentley’s first line fiasco. It just had to be top notch. It needed to be one-of-a-kind. Unique, awesome, outstanding, or at least way above normal is what it needed to appear as on the page. You got this Bentley Young; you know you can do this.

Then it happened. His phone started buzzing! How do artists ever create anything at all when the horrible invention of smartphones buzz as obstacles to magnificent art? Young Mr. Young considered ignoring the lousy thing. Then he went off of instinct instead and answered it.

“Who’s this?”

“It’s your greatest nightmare-come to life to haunt you.”

Bentley laughed. “Jerry, what do you want? I’ve got important business to accomplish. I’ve no time for foolishness or hauntings.”

“There’s always time for a little foolishness in good fun, Bentley. Anyway, I just wanted you to have my new phone number ‘cause I had it changed recently.”

“Well, now I’ve got it. Was there anything else you needed? I’m trying to write a short story for my English class. Man, it’s due tomorrow!”

“That’s awesome, Bentley! What’s your story about? Is it fantasy? Or comedy? Or a thriller? Young Adult? Mystery? Give me the details; I’ll even accept spoilers.”

“Spoilers are not our friends.”

“I see. I respect your artistic integrity, my friend.”

Bentley and Jerry laughed. “I could go for some pizza,” Jerry said.

“Dude, pizza does sound good.” Bentley replied.

The story, the work in progress, got placed on the bottom shelf due to two young appetites for pepperoni pizza. The artist known as Bentley Young would not be starving any time soon. The two friends ended the call after deciding to meet in thirty minutes at The Perfect Pizza Place. The name had always been thought by both men as a little uppity. Is there truly a perfect pizza in existence? Isn’t there always a little something that could perhaps make a pizza just a little better? Uppity or not, The Perfect Pizza Place did truly make a quality and delicious pie. Forty-five minutes later the two young pals were seated across a booth from one another and discussing stories. Bentley loved to talk of tales; he just didn’t know how to write one. Jerry was a dedicated reader who had never written so much as even a Thank-You note for a present.

“So what’s your favorite genre of storytelling?” Jerry inquired.

“That’s a tough question. It would be difficult to narrow it all down to merely one. I mean, I love science fiction and coming-of-age stories. Memoirs are fascinating if they’re about someone I find intriguing. Biographies and autobiographies are good too. And who can resist a finely crafted graphic novel with cool artwork? Children’s books can have many valuable life lessons that adults are prone to forget. Honestly, I think I am simply in love with storytelling. I can’t pick a favorite.”

Jerry nodded and smiled. “Bulldog, perhaps you should try writing a young adult science fiction tale with elements of autobiography masquerading as fiction. You could get to be the hero of your story and nobody would even know it was you. You could be like a masked comic book dude! What do you say?”

Bentley laughed and nodded. “I’m enjoying the conversation. Although I think I’ve got to figure this one out on my own. I suppose I could start with an outline of ideas for a story. Maybe that would make things easier. What do you think about that?”

“I could never start with an outline,” Jerry said. “No, I’d just have to sit down and let my imagination roll like a set of dice. My words could shine with brilliance or they could burn out on the page. That’s what it’s like rolling dice or even life itself. We take gambles every new day with our lives even when we aren’t thinking about it. Yeah, I’d have to take a gamble that my story would be entertaining and that others would enjoy it. If the story wasn’t any good as judged by a jury of my peers and elders, then I would hope for a better roll the next time.”

“I dig that,” Bentley said. “Man, I like that a lot.”

“Why thank you, my good friend. And perhaps our elders and peers don’t deserve the final say concerning the verdict of our art. We should listen respectfully to the so-called constructive criticisms. Yeah, sure, I’m all for that noise. Although, shouldn’t we also have the right to say we politely disagree with the criticism? One dude’s garbage is another’s trophy on the living room bookshelf, or beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What I’m attempting to state is stories and all art is a matter of the unique individual’s taste. Some folks enjoy apples. Others like bananas. Then there’s the pineapple people. The list of all the fruits under the sun could be listed. Some individual loves all of those fruits as their personal favorite. Hell, some people like anchovies on their pizza! Do you hear me quiet and clear, Bentley?”

Bentley smiled like the California sun in the month of June. “Oh, I hear you one hundred percent of the way. Honestly, I’m beginning to think you ought to write a story yourself. You seem to have the confidence for telling a tale. I suppose there isn’t any specific correct way to write. Maybe it’s just a little inspiration and a whole lot of perspiration. Perspiration could be too strong of a word for it though. Shouldn’t writing be fun? If everyone says a story sucks, but the author had fun writing it, then maybe they’re still a success. Of course, their readership would be minimal at best, but they’re singing karaoke and rocking that microphone like nobody’s even listening. Man, I respect that all the way to outer space and back.”

Jerry pounded the table with his left palm. “To Outer Space and Back could be your title! There you go! Just write a cool title and let it roll from there. That spark of a title could set the whole story ablaze.”

“Do you really think the title should come first?”

“I believe it is your story and you ought to do whatever the heaven you want with it.” About that time the pepperoni pizza was dished up. So, obviously, Bentley and Jerry didn’t have as much to say for a few minutes. Each dude was devoted to the art of not letting hot food grow cold. The deep pan pizza was large and wonderful as always. A couple of Cokes went well with it. Thirteen to fifteen minutes later the pie was down to its final slice. Yes, the final chapter of the pizza was about to be read. The friends looked at each other, then they looked at the last slice, and then they threw their arms in the air in gestures of defeat. It was time for a box for the road.

“You take it,” Bentley said.

Jerry smiled. “That slice has your name written all over it, my friend. It will serve as inspiration for the epic tale you’re going to begin crafting tonight. When you think you don’t have another word or creative idea in you then you’ll take a short break, heat up that slice, and recall our conversation here about stories.”

“Do you really think that might help with the rest of the story?”

“It’s a possibility, and possibilities are our friends.”

“Jerry, let me ask you something. Have you ever read much about William Shakespeare?”

A mischievous grin overtook Jerry’s face. “I like some of his movies, but I’ve never cared for his plays.”

The friends laughed wholeheartedly. Bentley then said, “So you don’t find him to be the greatest writer ever born? ‘Cause let me tell you something. A whole lot of English majors think he is the greatest to ever place ink to page, but I’ll tell you something else. I am not a fan or friend of Mr. Bill Shakes.”

Jerry replied, “So you are saying that your short story won’t be anything like anything the greatest writer in the history of the world would ever create.”

“Well, you don’t have to word it exactly like that.”

“No, it wasn’t an insult. The point I was trying to illustrate is that your work will be your very own, and it will sound like you instead of William.”

Bentley looked happy. “Exactly! Thank you! I like that.”

Jerry looked joyful. “Now take the final slice and get out of here. You have to go home and be a writer.”

Bentley looked hopeful, and Jerry looked like a wise man. They got up and parted ways. Bulldog was on the move. He arrived home ten minutes later and typed out the first line to his story: William Shakespeare, back from the dead, walked into the local pizzeria for a meal and second chances.