“I’m glad that Amateur in Amsterdam asked about story beginnings,” Simplia said as they wended their way through the woods to the Fairy Tale Lobby. “It is important to get a story off to a good start.”
“Right,” Sagacia chimed in. “Especially Fairy Tales.”
Her friend had no response, which seemed out of character to Sagacia, though when she looked over and saw Simplia’s screwed-up facial features, she knew there was a “why” there.
“Because a Fairy Tale can’t begin ‘On the eighteenth of April in ’75 / Hardly a man is now alive / Who remembers that famous day and year / something something something Paul Revere.”
“I guess not,” Simplia said, her face a little more relaxed.
“It has to start right off letting you know that this story will not be about a real time or place. It will be about magic. It will be something that happened once, but a ‘once’ that you won’t find on an historical timeline.”
“I guess so,” Simplia said, “Like ‘Once upon a time.’”
“Right.” Sagacia agreed. “Or some way of getting right into the magic of the story. Announcing the enchantment.”
“Like that opening Charles Kiernan sent that lets you know right off there will be a magical creature in it,” Simplia offered. “Remember? He used an example from ‘The Three Flowers’ which he’d read in Erica Eichenseer’s anthology of von Schönwerth tales, The Turnip Princess.”
“Yeah,” Sagacia said. “I think so, anyway. How did that go again?”
Simplia recited: “Three huntsmen went in search of their sister, who had been abducted by a witch and hidden away in the woods.”
“Yeah, see,” Sagacia acknowledged. “We know right off that this is a story with a witch.”
At that, the Simpletons emerged from the woods and entered the Fairy Tale Lobby without even knocking. They were quiet enough, which was a good thing since Jeri Burns was discoursing on the beginnings topic:
“I can’t wait to get my Turnip Princess already!” she was saying, leaning upon the mantel and addressing a gathering of lounging storytellers snacking on apple slices and hazelnuts.
“Beginnings…,” she mused. “How to begin? Charles’ example of that fairy tale beginning is wonderful.”
Jeri nodded the Simpletons into the room, and they tiptoed over to the Davenport. She continued, talking about the Storycrafters’ own particular practice:
In general, we rarely use the terms “once upon a time” or “happily ever after” for our fairy tales. It is not because we see the phrases as irrelevant, but it is not us. We prefer, what I call, a different “enticement to listen.”
The story beginning Charles offered is does this – it is like a vortex that sucks you into the story with momentum (somewhat like Simplia was sucking up the litter with the shop vac). It surely enticed me.
So, crafting an opening that entices listeners to lean in and move forward with the story is important. I think of “once upon a time” as a magic incantation for a certain crowd, but not all crowds. And that is another story.
“But not all crowds,” Sagacia thought to herself. “Not for all crowds?” she wondered. “Who is it not for?”
But Sagacia didn’t say a word, for she knows, as we all do, that by some accounts she is just a wee bit of a prig when it comes to Fairy Tales. Still, she persisted internally, ‘Who is it not for?’ And “Why wouldn’t you want to set people up for magic?” Or “If you didn’t set them up for magic, wouldn’t they become cynical a ways into the story?” Or, “If not setting listeners up for magic, what else should your enticement do?”