Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Mr. E And The Introductory Sentence.

My high school freshman year English teacher was named Mr. E. He started the class by teaching the students how to diagram a sentence, something I had learned in 7th grade in a different school district. So I would fight to stay awake, eyelids almost meeting as I drifted off in the warm afternoons in the fall, until he would spot me and ask me to answer his question about where did "very" go, and I would pop open my eyes, look at the blackboard, and tell him where to put "very."

Mr. E called us in at the end of school, in the spring, and asked us what grade we thought we deserved. I said "A." He almost fell out of his chair, and said I was the first student who had ever said that. I don't know why he was so surprised: I was quiet, not stupid. I got the A.

Mr. E seemed to tolerate instructing 14-year-olds in basic English grammar and composition, but his true passion lay in the Thea-Tre. He taught drama in upper grades, and was the director, producer and everything else of the school plays each year.

When drama season began, Mr. E would wear a black beret to school everyday, all day. When he thought no one was looking, you could see his face collapse into a baffled despair, wondering how he had ended up instructing teenage suburban adolescents from tract homes with tv sets and barely-literate parents, and why he was not living in Paris, spending his days in cafes by the Seine drinking coffee or wine and debating the modern-day value of the Greek classics with other pretty and handsome young, talented people, all of whom would have had good paying jobs in the theatre, living in fabulous flats while writing their novels and waiting for fame to corrupt them. How did he end up in the suburbs. What a miserable fate.

I remember Mr. E spending what seemed like forever teaching us to write the introductory sentence. And after months on that insufferable topic, we actually proceeded to writing a complete paragraph. The introductory paragraph.

Little did I know that years later, I would think of Mr. E on an afternoon in May when a calm spring breeze blew the sound of chirping birds on a warm wind through the screens in my window.

If you don't get the introductory sentence right, you cannot move forward. No novel, no screenplay, no play, no article, no blog piece. You need the introductory sentence. It must grab the reader, compel them to read more.

Here's one I've been playing with for awhile.

Months later, as her bound body was dumped into the dark freezing waters of the Pacific, she regretted having picked up the phone that day, wished she had overslept and showered late, or gotten up early and went out for coffee, or simply declined the offered work even though she needed the money, but her bitter tears of regret quickly disappeared into the cold wet grave of the ocean as her oxygen-deprived brain went black.

So, what do you think?

Too girlie?

Too sentimental?

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