Wednesday, May 11, 2016

#WeWriteBooks, Post 15: Prologues


Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She's currently writing a post-apocalyptic book with all of you called THIRST in conjunction with the #WeWriteBooks series. 

Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website, where you can read THIRST. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.


Welcome to week fifteen of #WeWriteBooks Wednesdays, where we are writing books together. I posted Chapter 13 of THIRST yesterday over on my author website. Click here to read it.




  

Recap

Week one was genre (THIRST is post-apocalyptic YA). Week two was premise. Here's my premise:
A waterborne disease has sprung up in every corner of the globe, decimating the human race. Young survivors Eli McShane and his friends journey toward Colorado and the rumored location of a safe water source.


Week three was Storyworld.
Week four: maps and floorplans.
Week five: protagonists and main characters.
Week six: side characters.
Week seven: prewriting.
Week eight: plot structures. 
Week nine: Theme.
Week ten: creating a plot outline or list of key scenes.
Week eleven: point of view.
Week twelve: narrative modes.
Week thirteen: how to write a scene.
Week fourteen: Where to start.

Checking In

Before we get started on prologues today, I wanted to check in and see how you are all doing. Are you keeping up with your goals? How is the writing? What's your word count? Feel free to give us an update in the comments below.

As for me and THIRST, I'm at 46,994 words, which is about halfway done, but I have reached the end of the chapters I had written years ago. And now I'm a little stuck. I last left my characters just arriving at the destination where the rest of the story will take place, and I have discovered that I don't know enough about the storyworld to continue. So I'm going to have to squeeze in some time this week to worldbuild and figure out how this place works. Next week I'll be posting a totally fresh chapter, and that's a little scary!

Today's Topic: Prologues

Prologues are one of those things you hear about in writing circles. A lot of people say not to use prologues, but they are a perfectly legitimate part of a literary work and should not be abandoned without reason. Nor should they be used without "very good" reason. And that's primarily what I want to look at today regarding prologues. What is a prologue, really? And what are the reasons to use one?

We actually haven't blogged all that much about prologues on Go Teen Writers. Stephanie wrote a great post on the subject, and that's all I could find! Here is the link to Stephanie's prologue post: Does My Book Need a Prologue?

What is a prologue, really? 

In the writing world, a prologue is a preliminary or introductory section of literature. It can be prose. But it can also be any number of other types of writing: a poem, a quote, a song, a journal entry, a letter, a newspaper article, a report, etc.

A prologue can be a risk when you consider your mission to hook your reader. Why? Because you're asking your reader to begin the story twice. You must try and hook them once with your prologue. Then you must try and hook them again with chapter one. This is hard to do.

Plus, I've met many readers who tell me they don't read prologues. They skip them. Figure they're unimportant. That's silly, but the reason readers do this is that there are just too many poorly written prologues out there that have soured readers on prologues in general. So take that into consideration when writing a prologue.

Good reasons to use a prologue

- To introduce critical backstory. "Critical" being the keyword here. Backstory information dumps are the number one worst reason to have a prologue. But a carefully written prologue that shares critical backstory can work quite well. Consider the opening crawl that rolls across the screen at the beginning of Star Wars: A New Hope. This shares critical information with the audience in only 93 words. 
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.... 
It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. 
During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet. 
Pursued by the Empire's sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy....

So if you decide to write a prologue like this, don't make it a history lesson. Keep it very short, lest you bore your readers. Trust me. You likely think it is very interesting because you wrote it. But if you go on and on, your readers won't like it at all.

-To show a scene that is out of sequence with the rest of the story. Maybe it took place hundreds of years before. Perhaps it takes place in the future as a narrator looking back to tell the story. Or maybe you want to show a short scene of your main character as a child before fast-forwarding to the present. Becky Wade did this in her book A Love Like Ours. Click here to read the prologue on Amazon.

-To foreshadow something that will come later in the story. Putting such a scene in a prologue can be a great way to create suspense early on.

-To introduce your antagonist, especially if the antagonist will not appear in the story for a long while. Giving readers a glimpse of this person in a prologue can create conflict from the start that will rest in the back of the reader's mind. You could also combine this idea with the "out of sequence" idea and show your antagonist years in the past before he became evil or maybe the reason he became evil.

-If you are writing a sequel and want to recap what happened in the previous books. I did this in each sequel to The New Recruit. I include a prologue in the form of an official report from Spencer about his missions in the organization so far. I use this to give a quick series recap of what's important for the reader to remember in case it's been a while since they've read the previous books. Click here to read the report prequel for Chokepoint on Amazon.

-In the horror genre, a prologue is often used to set up the "thing that went wrong" from way back... the evil thing that is about to be released by some unlucky individual.

-As a teaser to the overall plot, the way thriller or detective television shows have that little bit before the credits roll. Take the show Castle, for instance. Almost every episode begins with a teaser about someone getting murdered or kidnapped. Then Kate and Castle arrive on the scene. So if you're writing in the thriller, suspense, or mystery genres, this type of prologue is practically a genre convention.

-To create a ticking time bomb, as Jeff Gerke calls it. I did this in From Darkness Won, the third book in my Blood of Kings trilogy. Click here to read the prologue on Amazon. 

-To introduce a theme, mantra, or underlining core belief of the story.

-To share something with the reader that the protagonist doesn't know--something that will create problems for your hero very soon. I did this in THIRST. Though it is also written in Eli's voice, it comes from him in the future, looking back. Here is my entire prologue:
Six days into our wilderness survival adventure in the La Plata Mountains of Colorado, Comet Pulon passed by the earth. We had no way of knowing that it had come much closer than expected, that it had forever changed our planet, and that it had left a killer among us. Oblivious, the twelve of us camped in a clearing, cheered as the bright yellow fireball soared overhead, roasted marshmallows, and toasted with canteens of water we had purified ourselves.  
And as we celebrated in awe of nature’s majesty, the rest of the world began to die.

Bad reasons to use a prologue

-To give the reader a major historical, world-building narrative right up front. You might have created a fascinating backstory for your storyworld, but the reader will not want to read it before they've come to care about the story. Make them care first. Insert backstory details later. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself: if the reader doesn't learn all this up front can he or she still enjoy the story? If so, leave it out or work it in later. Storyworld elements are almost always better folded into the action of the story.

-If your prologue is a cleverly devised scene to give the reader a massive information dump on your main character's backstory. Just start your story and save the backstory revelations for later when the reader wants to know.

-If your prologue could just as easily be titled Chapter One, then it probably should be. Don't have a prologue just because. If the scene stars your main character and doesn't happen years before the story starts, call it what it is: Chapter One.

-If your prologue is a random, high-stakes scene that has nothing to do with the main story. You might think your Chapter One isn't interesting enough, so let's add a prologue that shows the hero being awesome. Well, if what happens adds nothing to the story, show your hero being awesome later. While the James Bond-esque prologue works great in a James Bond movie, it often feels random and displaced in a novel. Tie it into the overall plot or cut it.


To prologue or not to prologue

It's up to you. Does your novel require a prologue? If so, write one. Just be careful and make sure you do so purposefully and with good reason. (And keep it short!) If you can work the information from your prologue into the rest of the book, perhaps you'd be better off starting out with Chapter One.

Assignment Time

Do you have a prologue in your novel? If so, share your purpose for writing it below. If you have a prologue without a good reason, think about reworking it to have a purpose or getting rid of it and starting out with a strong first chapter. Give us an update of the progress of your novel too. I want to know how everyone is doing.










38 comments:

  1. I have a prologue in my WIP to introduce some of the values and rituals of the main antagonists of the story - a Necromancer Covenant. It's in the point of view of one of the main bad guys who crops up later called Asriel and includes some important information about what makes he and his Covenant special. I'd like to think it's quite and intriguing start to the story...an attempt to hook the reader in? Hopefully anyway XD Thank you so much for this series, I'm really enjoying it! :)

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  2. I don't have a prologue in my story, and I don't think I'll add one. I'm about 10,000 words into my book, or at least plan to hit that number today with just 500 words left. :) I'm having of a bit hard time successfully phasing the beginning of my story into the middle, though. Any tips?

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    1. Just keep throwing conflict at your character and try to keep things engaging. James Scott Bell has a book on middles. He suggests you try and bring your hero to a look in the mirror moment. It seems that a lot of popular stories do this.

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  3. I have a scene at the beginning of my work that meets many important goals: establishing the world, introducing the MC, introducing another important character, and slipping in a good bit of foreshadowing. I am undecided as to whether or not to put it as part of the first chapter or as a prologue. The scene does not take place far into the past or future, but seven days before the real story begins. The setting is one that is never revisited. Does this sound like a prologue or a first scene?

    My goal is coming along fairly well-finishing the first draft of my story. I have finished what might be called 'Act 1' and I am editing it.

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    1. This sounds more like a prologue to me.

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    2. It's always hard to give advice without having read your scene, but seven days isn't far off from the start of the story. If it's in the protagonist's POV, I'm not sure it should be a prologue since it will just read like more from the main character. A prologue should be set apart for a specific reason. If you dont have a good reason to set it apart, either make it chapter one or work the info into other chapters.

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  4. Thanks so much for the post!
    I had recently cut out my prologue, but now I am pondering whether to put it back in or not. I think it did foreshadow a bit. I used to think it showed too much backstory, but it really only shows one scene of someone (who will appear later in the book) just after his father's death. He gets 'attacked' although he came out unharmed and didn't remember any of it. Do you think I should put the prologue back in?

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    1. Again, I can't really say without having read it. But I will say: trust your gut. Stories that can get away without using a prologue are better off, imho. So if you felt like it should be cut, leave it cut for now. You can always put it back in during the editing phase if you think it will make the story stronger.

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    2. Okay. Thank you. I will just leave it out for now.

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  5. Is a preface the same thing as a prologue? If yes, than I have a mini prologue. You've seen it, the "once upon a time " twist. After than, my MC has some dreams about the past and the future. Then she wakes up, and decides to write about that terrible thing that happened in the past. Should I make it a prologue?

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    1. I've also started the rewrite and 300ish words of the sequel.

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    2. Prefaces are for nonfiction. They are written by the author to tell the reader things. Here is a good definition: http://www.publishtogetclients.com/foreword-preface-introduction-or-prologue-which-one/

      If I remember right, Twilight had a preface, but that was incorrect. It should have been called a prologue. So, yes. You should call yours a prologue as well.

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    3. Ok. Thanks!

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  6. I don't have a prologue and, timing-wise, I’m actually in a real pickle...
    In the past, I tried to give myself deadlines…and promptly forgot about/ignored them. Consequentially, I never learned to write fiction under pressure. That was a mistake. On August 15th, I’ll be heading off to a writer’s conference. I really want to have my WIP ready to pitch and time is getting short.
    It’s a whole lot worse than that, however. I entered the first 15 pages and synopsis of my (sadly unfinished) WIP in the conference organization’s contest. I’m terrified that I’ll be a finalist (or even win!) and not have the book done. I entered and assured myself that I would finish the novel so that the whole thing wouldn’t be a lie. Now, time is ticking away and THIS BOOK ISN’T GOING TO WRITE ITSELF!!!!! I’ve got to get writing so that I can revise/edit/have this whole thing done by August. (And I’m writing by hand so I’ll have to type it out, too!)
    Any suggestions for not freaking out and just WRITING??? All help is greatly appreciated!!

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    1. Try writing prompts, and word wars. They really work! And remind yourself that freaking out will just make the situation worse :)

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    2. Themed word crawls helped me a lot; I suggest browsing the NaNoWriMo forums. But really, the best you can do is sit down and force yourself to write one sentence at a time. Count every word a success.
      And whatever you do...
      Don't. Edit. Until you're done.

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    3. Yes, Taylor. You've just got to chip away at it. Estimate your projected finished word coun, then divide it by five days a week (or however many days you plan to write each week), then you'll have s daily word count that you need to reach. And you must work each day until you reach that goal. Writing to deadlines is tough, but it's great practice. You can do it!!

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    4. Just start to relax. Forget about the writing conference, and just focus on the story. If you think about the story, you can (try, at least) forget you're writing under pressure. It may not be the best advice, but remember if you freak out, you'll make your situation worse than you began.

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  7. I wrote a prologue for one of my old WIPs, Darkspire, that took place about a thousand years before the story actually began. It's short--less than 300 words--and it's written in shallow omniscient POV. It includes one of the super important side characters that will appear in the story, and also a smidgen of why he acts the way he does, but it also shows--although not exactly--what happened to form the post-apocalyptic realm the rest of the story takes place in. Because it didn't just happen, and boy oh boy is it important to the plot.
    Ahem. Anyway, on my current WIP I have a little more than six thousand words. Not too bad, considering I started last month in Camp NaNo (which was nowhere near my goal, but oh well).

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    1. That sounds likes great reason for a prologue, Lily. And good job on your WIP! Keep at it! :-)

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  8. My current project, Fractures, has a prologue. The main plot of the story is that my main character's sister leaves on a dangerous journey, but doesn't come back, so my main sets out to find her. The prologue shows the two of them and how close they are, as well as imparting some basic information that I felt fit better there than Chapter One. It ends with Rose, the sister, leaving on the journey, and Chapter One opens several months later with her still not having come back yet. Opinions? Is this a good prologue?

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    1. It sounds like you have a strong reason to set it apart, Melinda.

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  9. Apparently finishing senior year in high school is NOT a good time to start writing a novel. *sigh*

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    1. Oh, Rosie! Sorry you don't have time to write, but that totally makes sense! Enjoy your senior year and focus on finishing well. You can always start a new book this summer when you have more time.

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    2. Thanks for understanding! The encouragement is definitely appreciated :)

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  10. I have one book with a prologue because it was the only I could establish up front WHY the character was going through what she was. The rest of my books don't have one because I have not found it to be needed.

    I have read both good and bad prologues. There have been two books where the prologues were my favorite part of the story and then others where the prologue was just unnecessary and one where it really should have been just chapter 1 because it was in the heroes POV and literally happened the night before chapter 1.

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  11. My novella doesn't have a prolouge, but I'm fairly sure I'm going to add one in.

    The first draft of my story is all written out (at almost 20k words) and now I'm working on edits. Because it REALLY needs them :D.

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    1. Oh, good job, Savannah! Way to finish the first draft!

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  12. I have a prologue. It's critical because Anne, a daughter of the king's high commander, will find who she's marrying. I sort of end the prologue with suspense. In the end, the king announces her (evil) husband.
    I'm not sure how many words I have because I am writing it down in a notebook. I can't believe people skip the prologues. They can be critical!!

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    1. Also, how long should a prologue be? Mine's 4 pages.

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    2. Prologues can be one page long to as long as a chapter. Four pages is just fine.

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  13. Thanks for another cool post Jill :) I recently wrote a "prologue" because my beta readers both wanted to know why my MC hated my antagonist, and I didn't know. I'm just not sure if I should really use it as a prologue, or make the readers wait, and find everything out later through backstory.
    My prologue takes place roughly seven years before my story starts, when my MC goes out berry picking with her little sister. She notices a large bruise on her sisters arm, and the sister eventually tells her that it was the antagonist. Shortly after, the sister trips and falls in the river (neither of them can swim).
    Later in the story, we would find out that my MC is still mad at the antagonist(he still isn't a nice person) and that she blames herself for her sisters death. I still can't decide if I want to use prologue though. Any advice?

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    1. Hmm... again, can't say for sure having not read this, but with a story like this, I think it might be stronger to let the secret build. You can drop hints through the story as to why she hates him. But if you put it in the prologue, you lose all that mystery, which sounds like it might add tension to the story.

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  14. On my current WIP there isn't exactly a prologue but the chapter one is told from a third person narrative (at least I think that is the name of the narrative... it's the one that uses 'he' and 'she') and then the next chapter and most of the rest of the book is first person. The third person narrative comes back every once in awhile to tell the story and I haven't figured out who that narrator is quite yet but I'm planning to have them be a major part later in the story. I don't know if it is crucial to have this other narrator narrate chapter one but I like how it introduces the characters and I think it hooks the reader in pretty well.

    I love this series so thank you for writing it! :)

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    1. That sounds really neat, Judy. I'm glad you're enjoying the posts! :-)

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  15. I not sure whether or not to include my prologue. I want to keep it because it starts with the antagonist, Ceriss. She doesn't show up until waaaaay late into the story and is barely mentioned. The prologue is set a little less than seventeen years before the story actually begins and has some information about Rosamond's curse (which is never really talked about but alluded to a couple times).
    Something still stops me from putting in the prologue. It has a little suspense but not as hooky as the real beginning, and I think it won't seem very important to the readers.

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    1. Well, perhaps you need to rewrite it some and add a little more suspense. I'd say leave it for now and finish your first draft. Once your first draft is complete, look through it for some subplot that you could foreshadow in the prologue or something. You might not find anything, but it's worth thinking over. Bottom line, though: trust your gut! It's your story and if you feel like it shouldn't be in there, take it out. You know your story better than anyone else. :-)

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