One Tuesday, I happen to see an old acquaintance at the local Mall.
I can take this opening sentence and extrapolate the narrative and the story into a number of directions. The opening sentence provides me several opportunities and the reader has several pieces of information that may inspire further reading.
I can describe the mall in excessive detail, lingering on the depth of the hallways, the store fronts, the lighting, the shadows, the color, the smells, the people. I can paint a picture of the feeling I have as I approach this person, my acquaintance I’ve not seen in some time and explain in great detail our last encounter and why we haven’t seen each other over the intervening years.
As we come closer my anxiety rises. Do I walk on by and pretend no recognition? Do I turn around and go the way I came? Do I shoot down one of the corridors?
My options change when the perspective is altered slightly because I share some information with the reader and once the perspective is established, I can no longer go in other directions that I could have previously taken. The opening sentence predicates the reality of the moment.
…so what will my direction be?
In real life I might dart down one of the corridors and avoid a meeting, out one of the mall exits to my car and drive home never to see this person again, especially if the acquaintance is a former romantic relationship and we separated on terms that might be described as “a little rocky.” While driving home I might have an automobile accident, or I’m swallowed up by a sink hole, or a space ship pulls my car up into the bowels of the space ship never to be seen again.
Or I don’t drive home but simply walk to another mall entrance and enter again at another section to continue my shopping, or have lunch at one of the many restaurants. Walk down to Barnes and Nobles and buy a book about writers on writing and take my new book to Red Robin and have a burger and a beer for lunch while flipping through the pages of the book.
There are several things I can do with this opening sentence. Some would require an awful lot of work to develop.
One is something I’ve played around with for some time, but can never find an opening into the story. I can explore the identity of the person who is approaching me.
Once, as a college student, in 1976 I take a weekend trip to the Gulf Shores. Dauphin Island, AL off the shore of Mobile Alabama. I have a weekend relationship with a young woman that has haunted me since. A single powerful weekend, the memory etched forever to be replayed many times since. Forty years ago if my math is correct.
But I don’t dart down a mall corridor. My eyes are the eyes of a 67 year old. I continue to approach the person. I’m now close enough for my eyes to focus and I realize the person I see in the distance is a young woman of about 25. We pass at the mall. I continue on to the book store to buy my book and to have a burger for lunch.
Suddenly I hear a loud KABOOM!…. and people are running wildly in all directions….