Monday, May 6, 2013

MAY 2013 - So you're writing your first novel? The Prologue Pitfall

Stories begin with an idea. That idea may be a plot premise or a character, a setting, some detail, or anything. However, the bottom line is that an idea spurs the imagination, intrigues, and has the story subconscious thinking and providing more story details.

Among those "ideas" is what a newbie writer considers a prologue. After all, that prologue contains the idea for the story, the idea behind the plot, or leads to defining the characters, right?
Not so right. Most of the data a newbie writes is so they, themselves, can understand the plot, the characters, the setting, (the story world), and more. However, only ten percent of that initial effort will end up in the story itself because the reader does not need all that detail. The reader needs only what is necessary to understand the story at that particular time in the story.

It's often said that the first three to six chapters a newbie writers is all back story and back history that should be ruthlessly axed so the story starts with an interesting character in an interesting setting, facing an interesting problem (dilemma, etc.). And yet, despite realizing where the story begins, nine times out of ten the newbie writer will hold onto that prologue and start their story with it. Well, here is the litmus test for whether to keep or delete that prologue: if anything in that prologue is repeated or included in the story itself, then that prologue is not needed. In other words, if there is any way at all to weave that prologue's elements into the story, do it and the reader will get a more worthwhile story.

But here's a secret: prologues work best for very complicated stories. I did research at two local libraries and discovered that most multi-published authors didn't use a prologue until they had written about six books. Why was that, I wondered. Well, further reading-research proved that the initial stories were simple plots. It was only when the author grew as a storyteller that there was a necessity for including a prologue, because without that prologue the reader would be absolutely clueless about some critical fact. In other words, nowhere else in the story could the crucial information be put but in a prologue.

**** BYLINE MAGAZINE published my original article on "The Purpose of Prologues" and it is available from Rimstone Concepts. This article also lists additional pitfalls, facts, and four other reasons a prologue might be included in a work of fiction. ****


Coming June 2013 - The Lead/Opening/Hook

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