Every writer struggles with the most ideal opening line. And definitely in short stories like most erotic stories, the opening line is crucial. Many beginning authors have the tendency to start with some context: what preceded? Where does the story take place? Who are the personas? Not only do you spoil a lot of words, it is often also … well, kinda boring.
Tips for writing an opening line
The goal of an opening line is to make instantly clear where the reader ended up. I always compare it with the opening of a police series; it persistently starts with the crime scene.
Start with the throw of the rock, not with the run up to it
So, pay attention to:
- The American play writer Jacob M. Appel once said: ‘Start with the throw of the rock, not with the run up to it’. Leave behind the narrative. Skip the explanation. Start in the middle of the story, in the middle of the action. Or, perhaps even just after the action.
- Don’t start with a personal pronoun. Many stories start with ‘I’, ‘he’, ‘she’ or a name. ‘Julia woke up early that morning’. This seems a great opening line (after all, you now know that Julia is the main character and it is apparently morning), but it is far from original. In this case you could have written ‘The alarm clock did not go and already Julia had woken up’. It gives just as much, or even more, context and it is a more titellating opening.
- Start zoomed in and then zoom out. Start with something small and place that into perspective. A detail can symbolize a setting, a location, or an atmosphere. This way, you immediately have the readers’ attention and you create speed in your story. You can start zoomed out, by for example starting with the description of a street and then go to the bedroom of the main character, but in a short story that may be too thready.
- Make your opening line simple. Avoid clauses, listings and too many punctuation. Has your opening line more than one comma, a semi colon or a colon? Break up your sentence. Compare the next two opening lines:
“I had known Betty for a week. We screwed every night. The forecast was for storms.” [Opening of the movie Betty Blue, 37°2 le matin. OK, it starts with ‘I’, but it is simple and effective.]
“Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.” [Sue Fondrie, winner of the worst opening line of 2011]
- You can start with a dialogue or a quote, but I wouldn’t recommend it. You get a lot of punctuation and it just looks awful. Also, it almost forces you to zoom out and give context to clarify the situation.
A story is not a report
A common ‘rookie mistake’ is that many erotic stories read like a report. Whith that I mean that they don’t comply with the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule.
A number of stories are like a technical description of the event: ‘First he did this. Then that. And later on also something else’.
Certainly with an erotic story, the reader is interested in what goes on between the ears, rather than between the legs. Even if the setting and the events are very exiting, if you suffice with a description, it often is not. Tell the reader only the things he cannot complete himself. What goes on in someone’s head, describe a scent, a memory. Make sure the reader understands why the main character is so turned on by what is happening.
The entries and my feedback
I wrote this explanation as a jury member of the Smut Marathon on a specific writing assignment. The assignment was: “Write an exciting erotic story in which the main character masturbates with a sex toy. One person. One sex toy. No brand names. “