“Once upon a time....” Those magical words immediately evoke special memories in many adults. Indeed, when was the last time you used the word “upon” in any other phrase? Like many readers, you've seen the word “upon” often enough in common phrases such as “due upon receipt”. But “due upon receipt” rarely evokes a smile, whereas it's hard to imagine “once upon a time” failing to elicit one.
It's a writer's job to grab the reader's attention, and not relinquish it without a major fight. But what self respecting writer wants to begin a work with something as thread bare and worn as “once upon a time”? Sooth! The magic lies not in the words, but rather 'tis found in the genre.
People are naturally drawn to fairy tales and myths. There are heroes, sorceresses, and fanciful creatures that do not appear in the financial pages. These tales give voice to long lost hopes and aspirations, and fantasies long forgotten while waiting for the 7:35 southbound. People also like sex. They think about it while waiting for the 7:35 southbound, while they're on the 7:35 southbound, and even after they disembark. So when a writer combines the heroes, sorceresses, and fanciful creatures with sex, then the reader is in for a rare treat.
Fairy tale and mythological characters start out larger than life. The reader endows these characters, like Superman, with “powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men”, before the first word is written. So the reader both expects, and is a willing accomplice to, their extraordinary deeds and undertakings, including and especially sexual conquests.
Why does a dashing prince fight a dragon to rescue the maiden from the tower? Really, the guy has a title, and probably some land and money. He can get laid any time he wants. If the writer just tells the story of the prince taking advantage of a chamber maid, then it's probably just “porn”. But saving the damsel in the tower, that's a challenge. It strokes the prince's ego and bolsters his masculinity. If he succeeds, then the music crescendos, and emotional investments develop between the reader and characters. Now we have erotica.
In The Mercies of Cinderella (coming February, 2012, from Naughty Nights Press), my principal characters were already formed and waiting. Even without holding up any placards, the reader already knows to cheer for Cinderella and the Prince, and to boo and hiss when Stepmother or the Stepsisters take the stage.
Cinderella is about to marry Prince Charming. Her step-relations have been convicted of treason for their conspiracy to prevent the Prince from finding his true love. Every reader already knows the back story. Cinderella asks the Prince to place them in her custody for a year to determine whether she may speak on their behalves before sentencing. All I had to do was figure out what else the reader wanted. In this case, it was Cinderella's and the Prince's wedding night consummation, and Cinderella's payback to her step-relations.
The principal advantage to using fairy tales and myths (aside from their being in the public domain) is that the back story is already in place. All the writer needs to do is figure out what puts the “happy” in “happily ever after”. Once that's done, the reader will say “screw the financial pages” next time she takes her seat on the 7:35 southbound.
Thanks for letting me ramble, Alexx Momcat.
Thanks for this wonderful piece!