You’ve heard this before: First impressions are everything. I subscribe to this theory a lot. They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, and while that’s true, you can certainly judge a book decently by its first few sentences. In grade school, we used to do this thing where we’d have to read a book and do a report on it for English class. We’d be given a pool of five books and we get to read the first sentence of all five. It’s an effective exercise – I chose Dial-a-Ghost by Eva Ibbotson. I remember the first sentence well (not word-for-word levels of well, but it was over a decade ago so shush): “The Wilkinson family became ghosts quite suddenly when a bomb was dropped on their house.” The almost comedic bluntness to such a tragic event drew me in immediately. Sure enough, the book was a mix of comedic and raw, emotional themes that my kid mind grew to love.
It would not be an overstatement to say that the blunt opening of that book inspired me to enjoy the bluntness of those situations. Look at the beginning of GBM – it’s a woman crying out in sexual ecstasy during sex. Hell of a place to open a story. If I cared about developing the relationship between the two people in question, I wouldn’t have started in media res the way that I did. I opened in such a way to show the blunt and raw nature of Aaron’s life. That’s the first impression I chose. BMS, on the other hand, opened with a melodramatic statement about how Adam hates his name. That sets up his character, the journey he goes through, and the overall tone of the book. It also sets up the story with a big neon sign saying, “HEY. THIS SEX STORY? THERE’S A LOT OF PLOT IN IT.”
Whether you agree with this or not, this plays out in sex stories very heavily and importantly. Recently I got into the works of an erotica author named Sensualist24. They’re a bit misguided when it comes to titles, which I’ve previously touched on, but they really nail tone and establishment. The first few sentences of their stories paint a picture beautifully of what you can expect from their stories. Inversely, if you’ve ever read a bad sex story, you could usually tell from the first three sentences. And if you’ve never read a bad sex story, you’re either a psychic that inherently knows good sex stories or amazingly easy to please.
If you’re trying to become a writer, either erotic or not, establishment is one of the most important things to… well, to establish. You’ll know if you’re making progress in your writing journey pretty clearly when the first three or so sentences of a story hooks someone in. Frankly, as I’ve said a few times, I got lucky with my first story, Being More Social. I relied on tropes, sometimes to an embarrassing extent, in the first few chapters, and the establishment was universal. That’s the ultimate key in all this – your establishment needs to hold an audience’s attention for one reason or another. For BMS, it was universality and the idea that everyone in the audience could, at one point in their lives, relate to a guy that hated his own name. For GBM, it was impact and wanting to see why a story would open that bluntly. Obviously, don’t focus too hard on how everyone is going to react exactly to an opening, just open with some kind of meaning or reason for a reader to keep on reading. I’ll talk to you all next week.