"To avoid having this book hurled into corner of the room by the suspicious reader, I will assert in time that this is not a newspaper story. You will encounter no shirt-sleeved, omniscient city editor, no prodigy "cub" reporter just off the farm, no scoop, no story--no anything.
But if you will concede me the setting of the first scene in the reporters' room of the Morning Beacon, I will repay the favor by keeping strictly my promises set forth above." -- O. Henry, No Story
I've always loved the way O. Henry started off this piece by deliberately making a pact with his reader. I will not hand you a lot of cardboard characters, he says, and you will forgive me for setting this in a place that breeds them. It's also a kind of warning to those readers who do expect the omniscent city editor-cub reporter-scoop sort of story: this, O. Henry says upfront, isn't it.
I remembered the O. Henry piece when I noticed that Kensington's Aphrodisia line has an easy-to-read caption on the back cover of their novels, right above the ISBN box that reads WARNING! This is a REALLY HOT book. (Sexually Explicit). I don't understand the last two words. Would we presume that REALLY HOT meant something else, like high-temperature, or stolen?
We've already done our own riff on warning labels, but if we could still get away with opening a novel by making a pact with the reader, I could imagine restarting a few of my stories, like so:
"To avoid having you waste $7.99 on this science fiction novel, please be advised that it does contain a continuing subplot icky romance between the protagonist and her lover, a character pretty much everyone hates. To you romance readers who have bravely jumped over the genre fence, I will not kill off Reever in this book or in the next, no matter how many times you e-mail me."
"To prevent you from having a hissy fit, I will assert that this is not a romance, was never a romance, and will never be a romance. I am not responsible for my publisher's erroneous marketing decisions, especially those I advised against, in the most vigorous language, many times. They told me to shut up and write books. P.S. You will encounter realistic relationships between characters who have serious flaws, but there is no happy ending, either. Deal with it."
"To knock you on your ass because you haven't a clue, this novel was ghost-written by me. What can I say, they offered me a pittance and I jumped at the chance to work. Starvation makes one do many strange things. I know all the starred reviews and stellar writeups this book got are upsetting, but we can pretend that I didn't write it. That way no one will ever know you gave me five stars for this when you swore you'd trash every book I write for eternity."
What sort of pact opening would you make with your reader?