Old friends, old flames and storytelling

What did you feel like when you graduated high school? Were you relieved? Were you living in a small town and ready to escape to the big city? Lots of people growing up in Kansas City aspire to move away and “get out of Kansas/Missouri.” It’s funny though, as many of them leave, lots of them come back to have their own families (the Midwest is a an inexpensive place to have a family if you’re interested in that sort of thing). I think I was a bit of a rarity in that I thought I was ready for a change and something new. But, when it came down to it and was time to move away, I definitely wasn’t up for it. KC has always been my home and will be my home until I run away to the beach and retire in 35 years.

Even so, I still enjoy reading those stories that feature characters who left home, found their fortune and then, due to some uncontrollable circumstance, find themselves back in their hometown running into people they didn’t think they wanted to see again and reigniting old rivalries or flames. It’s a common plot, but it’s fun because we all fantasize about running into that one person and saying our piece (or would we really if we had the chance? I probably wouldn’t…) or showing how much better or prettier or whatever it is we are now that time has passed and we have grown, changed and supposedly matured.

Living in Kansas City is sometimes like living in a small town in spite of its size and I both love it and hate it at the same time. No matter what you do, you’re bound to run into someone from your past or have people in common with other people from your life. I run into people I know/knew regularly. I’ve run into restaurant managers whom I used to report to back in my server/bartender/manager days. Fellow servers. People I used to serve regularly. College classmates. I’ve run into ex-boyfriends (and it’s always the worst!). Sometimes I run into people I went to high school with, too.

Last Friday, I ran into someone I hadn’t seen in 12 years! This woman and I worked as servers together and we had a volleyball team on Sunday nights with some of our other coworkers back in the day. She finished school, got a job and began the next stage of her life.

Now, we are connected on social media, but don’t interact much beyond a like here and there. Over the years, my restaurant days would come to mind or I’d run into someone else from those days and we’d compare notes on who we’d seen or who was still in our circles, catching each other up on the who and where nows. This friend would sometimes pop into my head at these times and I wondered how she was and expected we would run into each other sooner or later. But, it just never happened.

Then, last Friday, I was walking from my office to the garage where my car is parked during the day. I came up a flight of stairs near a park and there she was. We both looked at each other and recognized each other instantly. I shouted (because I’m loud and excitable), “I know you!” We chatted for a few minutes to catch up and she introduced me to her husband and children. And it was just great and gave me the best feeling going into the weekend.

This experience got me thinking about stories about rekindled friendships (or romance if the relationship is in that vein) like Sweet Home Alabama or stories you read from authors like Sarah Addison Allen and the concept of running into old friends or enemies after a long period of time. I think this works as a plot point because it in of itself is realistic, though some of the other circumstances that make a story what it is may not be (like that deep dark secret you each kept and now it’s coming back to haunt you).

Could a story about running into someone who you lived in the same place as but didn’t see work? Maybe not because it’s less dramatic and attention-grabbing. But, are there ways that you could turn this concept on its head? I think so! Maybe a person runs into an old flame and their current life is perfect and great, but this puts a huge wrench in their way. It might be hard to keep the main character likable in the reader’s mind in this scenario, but it could be interesting to explore. It’s fun to think about ways to inject new life into a common story line.

Big epic events make great story catalysts. But, sometimes, the every day and the ordinary can be just as interesting, like running into someone you haven’t seen in a long time (for good or ill). It gives you the chance to explore facets of this character about whom you are writing and what makes them tick. It gives you a chance to revel in the real world with the traditional rules of gravity or whatever form of society you are choosing to depict and see what’s possible by pushing those boundaries or trying to stay within them. There’s lots of possibility.

What other everyday circumstances have you witnessed or experienced that might make the beginning of a good story? Please share!

Photo by Cameron Casey from Pexels.