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Frightening First Line Contest 2023

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Autumn is the season of rustling leaves, a chill in the air, and, of course, Halloween. 

In that spirit, we invite you to create the first line of a frightening story. But we want that first line to be so intriguing or chilling or scary that it makes our skin tingle and our nerves twitch. 

Whoever writes the first line that best accomplishes this goal will receive a free Gotham class of their choosing.

(You can actually use more than one sentence, but there is a limit of 31 words.)

Like many writers, Stephen King works tirelessly on his first lines, saying, “My first sentences stick with me. They were a doorway I went through.”

As inspiration, here are some great first lines from frightening stories:

The seller of lightning rods arrived just ahead of the storm.
Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury

This story ends in blood.
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, Grady Hendrix

Here she is, on the porch, all straw hair and slumpy joints and a crack that passes through her lip like she is dirt that has never known rain.
Mothers, Carmen Maria Machado 

We did this contest a few years ago, and here’s the winner: 

Uncle Joe led Scout troop meetings every Thursday night. There he taught us all essential camping skills: fire-building, whittling, tying knots. Uncle Joe was good with a rope.
William Loew
New York, NY

Deadline: Thursday, November 30, 2023, 11:59 pm Eastern Time

The contest is currently closed.
  • Submit the first line (or lines) of a scary story.
  • Entry must consist of no more than 31 words. Longer entries will be disregarded. 
  • Entries must be submitted online by 11:59 pm Eastern Time, Thursday November 30, 2023.
  • Only online entries will be accepted. 
  • Entry is free. Limit one entry per person.
  • Entry must be original and unpublished.
  • Entries will be judged on originality, quality, spelling, and grammar.
  • Gotham will post the winning entry at
  • The winner will be notified by December 18, 2023.
  • Winner receives a free Gotham class of their choosing, excluding any premium classes (Zoetrope Fiction, Business Writing, Level III)