Online | Fiction | Workshop

1-Day Fiction Workshop: Hooking Readers with the First Line

“First sentences are doors to worlds,” wrote Ursula Le Guin, and the best lodge themselves indelibly in our minds. Think of the multitudes contained in the opening of 100 Years of Solitude: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice." An entire world indeed. Here we will learn the art of building doorways.

Nothing is more important to your story than the first line. It must set the stage, grab the reader, and not let go. While also establishing the style, setting, and content of the piece. Particularly for emerging writers, it’s often what determines whether an editor keeps reading or puts the story down and moves on to the next.

In this class, we will break down first lines from a diverse array of genres and styles, including contemporary literary fiction (Denis Johnson, Leslie Marmon Silko), sci-fi (Ursula Le Guin), mystery (Raymond Chandler), thriller (Stephen King), and classics (Melville, Achebe) dissecting what works and what doesn’t, the nitty-gritty tactics used to launch the reader into the writer’s world. We will be going deep, word-by-word, showing how much power you can concisely pack into an opening line, and how much easier the right intro can make completing your story.

Then we will have a first line workshop, in which each member of the class shares a first line from a work in progress, and we take all we have learned to help them punch it up, and ignite the story’s fire from the first words. A great first line leads to a publishable piece. My aim is for everyone in the class to leave with that confidence, ready to follow their narrative through to the end. 

Our class platform works best on laptop or desktop computers. Class meetings will be held over video chat, using Zoom accessed from your private class page. While you can use Zoom from your browser, we recommend downloading the desktop client so you have access to all platform features. The Zoom calls will have automated transcription enabled. Please let us know ([email protected]) if you have any questions or concerns about accessibility.

Check out this page for details about payment plans and discount opportunities.  


- Understanding the importance of first lines in fiction

- Learning how to pack character, setting, and style into a single arresting sentence

- Becoming aware of the graceful symmetry of a story that answers all the subtle questions presented in its opening

- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


Read through the course handout before class, bring a first line from a work-in-progress to class, respectfully participate in a first sentence workshop by providing verbal feedback in the class discussion. All students will receive verbal feedback from the instructor and other participants.


Hour 1: Craft Lecture

Hour 2: Discussion of course reading

15 minute break :)

Hours 3-4: First line workshop

Maxim Loskutoff

Raised in small towns in the west, Maxim Loskutoff is the author of Ruthie Fear and Come West and See. His stories and essays have been translated into six languages and appeared in numerous periodicals, including The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, Ploughshares, and The Southern Review. A graduate of NYU’s MFA program, he has received fellowships from Yaddo and MacDowell. Other honors include the Nelson Algren Award, the M Literary Fellowship, and an arts grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation. He lives in the Rocky Mountains of western Montana.


“Devastating … grows increasingly bizarre and haunting until it’s left an indelible mark.”

Janet Maslin The New York Times

“A new kind of American Western. The interconnected short stories shirk the tropes of destinies made manifest in favor of dark, interior tales of the angry, the wild and the socially impotent. This book climbs into the heads of its characters, pokes at their insecurities with a sharpened stick, then reaches out a hand to invite you in.”

NPR Best Books of 2018

“Fans of Cormac McCarthy and Russell Banks will find plenty to like in Loskutoff’s fresh voice and keen instincts for drama. … [T]he language is crisp and often thrilling in its plainspoken eloquence.”

L.A. Weekly

“A blazing new and original talent. … [Loskutoff’s stories] vividly expose escalating resentments with extraordinary eloquence and compassion.”

National Book Review

"Maxim's thoughts are prescient. All were of great help as I continued to refine and tighten my manuscript. Several were issues with which I was already wrestling and it was helpful to read them so well articulated."

former student

"Maxim saw right through my work. A very perceptive reader, he was able to locate my wishes and goals as a writer, and help me toward them."

former student

"Maxim's early support and encouragement are what allowed me to keep working and revising until my first story was accepted for publication. The opportunity to publish a work of fiction means more to me than he can ever know. I'll always be grateful for the role he played making that happen."

former student