I’m picking apart a sentence before I write it. Actually, it’s not my sentence. It belongs to a contest. They’re loaning it to me, more or less, to put into a story that I am to send them. I’ve set out to enter NPR’s Three Minute Fiction contest a few times, but I’ve never actually finished a story. I’m hoping—really hoping, that this time will be different.
This sentence, which they’ve asked contestants to use as their stories’ first sentence, isn’t all that great.
“She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door.”
I can’t figure out who she is. I know it’s not one of my characters. Why? Because the voice isn’t mine. It doesn’t take place in the South, I know that. The voice isn’t southern at all. People there shut books and set them on tables.
I don’t write about characters who place things on tables. I don’t write about characters who decide to walk through doors.
I do like that the sentence demands that the story begin with a decision, an important one at that. She’s been thinking about walking through that door for what seems to be quite a while. (Otherwise, why would she finally make that decision?)
Then there’s the question of the door. Is it real? A metaphor for something new or old or frightening? The same goes for the book, I suppose. Closing a book could signal an ending to something. “We closed the book on that idea.”
I’ve done some whacky stuff in therapy before. My therapist is into guided imagery, and, truly, it works well for me. It’s helped me process quite a bit. And the more I write this post, the more I realize that this sentence could be imagined. The door doesn’t have to be real; the book doesn’t have to be written; the table doesn’t have to exist.
What if, then, the gesture and the decision mark an ending? What if they mark a beginning?
Am I overthinking this? Am I making it harder than it should be? Or am I being a careful writer, trying to craft something with intention? I’d like to think it’s the latter. But it’s difficult to approach something so carefully when it’s not mine.
The book is a guest book from her mother’s funeral service. She’s sitting at her kitchen table, considering who came to the funeral, who knew her mother, why they came, what it means that she’s now, for all intents and purposes, an orphan. The door she has to walk through is not a real one. It’s cliché. Walking through the door equals moving into a new phase, a place that’s scary and unfamiliar. Placing the book on the table is a way of letting go. (I actually kind of like this.)
The book is a Bible. She’s leafed through it and decided she’s done with religion. Done especially with Christianity. The door is in a church. She’s walking out at an inappropriate time. (I can’t bring myself to actually write this.)
The book is one she wrote. She’s finished with it, or she’s filled a journal. She’s done, either way. And the door? I have no idea.
The book is nothing more than a cheap Sudoku book from a drug store. She’s glanced through it with no real interest. She’s been in the bathroom (the guest bathroom at a co-worker’s house) for quite a while—really stunk the place up, and she’s ready to face the music, deal with the fact that she’s made a lot of noise, that she’s no doubt been heard, and that there are others waiting to use the bathroom. The table is just a little ornamental thing. Maybe she wrote something in the book. Or maybe she’s just done shitting. (I crack myself up.)
The book is a log book in a guard shack on a military base. She’s done with her 12 hour duty shift. Tired and ready to head home. Finally, hours after hours of sitting and doing nothing of any consequence. Hours of living inside her head are done and she can move into the reality of her world. (I actually kind of like this. Problem is, the sentence says that she decided to walk through the door. That’s important, and it just doesn’t seem to fit this scenario.)
She’s written a letter in the only thing she can find to write on. Or maybe she’s leaving the book for someone and has written an inscription. Either way, it’s important that she places it on the table, where it will be seen and read. But she won’t be there when that happens. She’ll be far away, not just on the other side of that door, but out of the house, out of town, on her way to a new life. (This smacks of Thelma and Louise.)
The line is the last line in her book. That will allow the story to have a bit of a twist, and it’ll give me a bit of control. What seems like an end can be a beginning. (How unoriginal. Stick with the challenge.)
She’s 12. She has taken her father’s porn magazine from his closet. (Ugh. Never mind.)
The book is her daughter’s journal. She’s been sitting on her daughter’s bed, reading her journal, learning about her final days. She knows that this will be the last time she can sit in this room, the last time she can be near her daughter’s things. She closes the door with no intention to open it. She is leaving things just as they were, just as they should be. She is keeping her daughter alive by doing this. (Ugh. So trite and familiar.)
I get to finish a story I started ten years ago. There is a woman in that story—a recluse. Miss Daize, is in her apartment, knowing that her building is on fire. She does decide, in this story, to walk through her door, out of the building and into a life she hasn’t been a part of for years.
That seems possible. I know this character, and the voice of the sentence matches the voice of that story. And it’s a hell of a lot better than writing about a woman who’s just finished taking a dump.