If I haven’t previously told you all, I have a ton of fun participating in The Legal Theft Project. My friend, Bek came to me with the idea three years ago, and we’ve been kicking through it with gusto ever since, first just the two of us, and now a small pack of collected friends.
Once a week, one of my friends will write a piece of fiction and hand the first line off to the rest of us. We take the first line and, without knowing what it originally led into, write a story of our own.
I’ve gone into a frenzy over some of them. I’ve actually shouted, “Why did it have to be in first person?!” at an empty room. I’ve spent most of a week demanding, “Is there any way I can write this so that it doesn’t lead to an onscreen homicide?!” But that feeling of being shoved around my literary world is actually the best part.
In 2015, I wrote seven of my ten favorite stolen stories after wanting to strangle the string of words I had to work with:
I have characters I’m used to working with, and a lot of the time, they make The Legal Theft Project run more smoothly. Seeing this line, I thought it would easily involve Jenny, a privateer who has been weaving herself into my stories since I was fifteen.
I wrote the first three paragraphs without any trouble, then wrote and deleted six or seven different fourth paragraphs. Eventually, I realized that if I switched the woman I had written down to Jenny’s best friend and co-conspirator, Bess, while letting Jenny grin from a mystery spot off the page, it would all click together perfectly.
Every once in a while, I get the rare opportunity to actually turn my frustrations with an opening line into the impetus for the story that follows. Once, I wrote about an argument with grammar on a submarine. This time, I argued with the word choice, because “gleefully” had me picturing pygmy headhunters out of a 1950s B movie.
I was also able to write good friends gambling harmlessly and gently poking fun at each other. Two of my favorite things.
This one was easy. It was one of those times when someone else wrote a line of dialogue, and I heard it in the voice of a character I had already created. Once I knew I would be working with Donnemey, it was just as easy to decide that Vardan would be the one with a bleeding heart. It was perfectly within his character to keep quiet at first, and allow me to have my fun in letting Donnemey run his mouth, but also to eventually put him in his place. It was perfectly satisfying. ;)
This was the one and only time I considered skipping a round based on the content of the line. At the time it was due to be written, I had days before I was supposed to test for my driver’s license, and I was panicking. The first time I sat down to write, I ended up in tears, unable to breathe. You think Method Acting is intense? Try Method Writing.
In the end, I’m glad that I wrote this story in that situation. I gave it a happy ending, because I needed a happy ending. If I wrote it now, when I am calmer, steadier, readier, I might have been more willing to let the voices speak more darkly.
I write a lot of angry characters, and more than a few that work themselves around to hating each other. I, however, got hung up on an unwritten rule that I never knew I had: that strong emotions should be saved until after breakfast.
I fixed that.
As soon as I read this, I knew two things: that I did not want to write about the Biblical Horsemen of the Apocalypse (M.D. did, beautifully, and I knew someone would), and that I was going to have a hard time not drifting out of present tense.
I eventually settled on writing about different disasters, and rewrote almost every sentence as I inevitably slipped into familiar, friendly past tense. It took hours.
I couldn’t point to any specific nuisances with this line, but it didn’t change the fact that, in six days, it didn’t inspire any ideas. The deadline forced me to sit down and write, one sentence at a time, like taking blindfolded steps toward home.
Eventually, I fell back on the memories of a Study Abroad trip that had me wandering through dozens of museums and under the noses of hundreds of statues. It was years ago, but I had a lot of things left over that I wanted to say to their faces.
I grew up on stories about apathetically cruel fairies. I grew up on the book Tinkerbell, who loved Peter, but tried to kill Wendy. I grew up on the faeries who left Changelings in our cradles, and never cared about delivering us home after the dance twenty years too late. If they remembered to deliver us at all.
I absolutely jumped at the chance to write about careless fae.
My exact response to this line, copied from the group message: “I was immediately like ‘YAY! All the vampires and werewolves and angels and demons and mermaids and sirens and ghosts and zombies and fairies are going to come out to play this week!’ And then I realized… Cats. It’s going to be CATS, isn’t it? *looks suspiciously at specific people*”
I wrote about Vampires. There was no question that I was going to write about Vampires, though I did take a few minutes to decide that I was going to touch on their immortality more than their monstrosity.
This line begged for a twist, while also concretely establishing a child’s narrative voice. It was simultaneously wide open and constricting. There were a thousand reasons Mommy could have been lying, and the kid had to be young enough to at least half believe that a goldfish could bust out of its bowl.
I blinked at the line a lot, ignored it a lot, and eventually came up with a single answer to the problem:
Mommy wasn’t lying.
Not only was this my favorite round to write, but my favorite to read. Everyone else’s solutions were just as clever.
Other thieves: Did you have favorite pieces you wrote this year?
Readers: Do any of them stand out for you?