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There’s a set of commonly shared rules that tend to make fiction writing better—”show, don’t tell,” and the like—and last week, author Marc Laidlaw added a new one to the list. He posited on Twitter that any story can be enhanced by following the first line with “and then the murders began…”
The first line of almost any story can be improved by making sure the second line is, "And then the murders began."— Marc Laidlaw (@marc_laidlaw) March 3, 2017
Surely, the plot device of murder wouldn’t fit into just any narrative? Well, actually …
One sunny Sunday, the caterpillar was hatched out of a tiny egg. He was very hungry. And then the murders began. #LaidlawsRule— Elizabeth Meg (@Scranshums) March 3, 2017
Some people are calling this literary truism “Laidlaw’s rule,” and there are hundreds of examples on Twitter already, from Harry Potter to the Holy Bible. It just goes with everything!
“I wonder what Piglet is doing," thought Pooh. And then the murders began. https://t.co/ZWBA29tjW9— Damon Young (@damonayoung) March 3, 2017
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And then the murders began." https://t.co/SnW7928jQl— Stig Abell (@StigAbell) March 3, 2017
Mr & Mrs Dursley, of number 4, Privet Drive, were proud to say they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. And then the murders began. https://t.co/WbbBuyehqU— Kyle Treasure (@KyleTreasure) March 3, 2017
Once upon a time there were four little rabbits, and their names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter. And then the murders began. https://t.co/XxrP0PrF1c— L.D. Lapinski (@ldlapinski) March 3, 2017
@twlldun In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. And then the murders began.— Mike Bird (@Birdyword) March 3, 2017
Even wildly popular fantasy author Neil Gaiman got in on the game, adding some murderousness to Jane Austen:
No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine. And then the murders began.— Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) March 3, 2017
And the value of Laidlaw’s rule isn’t limited to fiction, either. Some people are reporting it works wonders for their dry textbooks and other academic writing:
@marc_laidlaw The UML is the successor to the wave of OOA&D methods that appeared in the late ’80s and early 90’s. Then the murders began.— David Brockley (@DavidBrockley) March 3, 2017
Who knew computer science could be so thrilling?
The trick works because, although it can be a joke, it also reveals an underlying truth about storytelling. Any opening is better when you simulataneously reveal some tantalizing detail and create a question in the reader’s mind. In the case of “and then the murders began,” you’re introducing the shock and intrigue of serial murder, but it’s not yet clear who’s killing, who’s dying, or why. It doesn’t matter what sentence comes before a barnburner like that, it’s always going to work.
As a meme, though, it’ll probably be fairly shortlived. People picked it up and played with it on Twitter for a few days, trying to create funny juxtapositions with famous first lines, but the best possibilities were soon exhausted. And then the murders began…
Jay Hathaway is a former senior writer who specialized in internet memes and weird online culture. He previously served as the Daily Dot’s news editor, was a staff writer at Gawker, and edited the classic websites Urlesque and Download Squad. His work has also appeared on nymag.com, suicidegirls.com, and the Morning News.