Friday, November 07, 2008

To Prologue or Not to Prologue

Personally I like a prologue as it jumps starts me into the story, but I gather the general feeling is no. The reason I raise this is because for my submissions (yes, I did do as I said I would and subbed) I ditched mine. Why you ask? Was it badly written? No, in fact it contained some of the tightest prose in the novel. Was it needed? Now there is the question. What was contained in the two pages of the prologue is central to the main conflict for the heroine so it is definately needed. But is it needed on page one? I thought long and hard about this. I thought about the comments by from the crits. What type of story was I writing? What type of market am I aiming for? My MWS reader asked me to put myself along side another writer in my chosen genre to help an agent place me. She gave me a few suggestions, but I hadn't read most of them or not in many years anyway. Needless to said their books are now on my tbr. I don't yet know where to place myself as my writing is changing and evolving. This is a problem, I know.

So where am I going with this? Well, while in Cape Town I thought about ACH. I thought about where it had come from and how on this last rewrite I turned the book around and balanced it out. It became Maddie's story and not Serena's. In order to do this the stakes rose dramatically. The issues became heavier. It was no longer a book of team angst and light romance. It had pain on the type of pain alot of people don't want to look at or talk about. I stopped and thought about where I found this as I am a glass half full person. Life is good even when it stinks because that's life. Yet the words of one of my first readers spoke to me - 'I was disappointed because I wanted to see you deal with more because it's in you.' (This was about August Rock) So I did with ACH. ACH is a book about letting love and forgiveness back in your life when you can't forgive yourself. It's about hating what you've done so much that you shut down part of what you are. It's about faith and it's about redemption. So I had a choice. Do I do another rewrite and make it lighter? Just focus on the relationship between the two women with a romance thrown in or do I let the book stand as I want it? Do I want to get published or let this sit in the drawer?

I want to find a publisher, but in my heart I knew that ACH must stay pretty much as it stands which more than likely means in these depressed times it will be rejected again and again, but you know what that's okay. Odd to say that, but ACH's message is important and one day it will find a way out.

Having said the above ACH won't get any where if I don't send it out. Which I confess I had thought of doing. I debated leaving it for another year to see if my writing or the world had changed. But then I thought no. I really like the book and my characters and lets put them to the test. So they are out in the big bad world as I write and in someways it is a freeing experience.

Now back to the prologue - so when looking at the script I realized that the prologue was there for me. It was there to keep me focused on what caused all the things that subsequently happened in the novel. I needed the reminder right in my face so that I couldn't back off from the issues, but the reader doesn't. So the two pages of prolugue will now appear 3/4's of the way through the book and I think it will be much stronger for the reader there. I hope it will be the point where the reader think okay, I see where she's coming from now.

I am also hoping that by pulling the prologue out I won't be confronting my reader on the first page. I want them drawn into the world of these to women. To laugh with them and to cry as them stumble and fall along their way to a happy ending because, of course, with me writing there will always be a happy ending - I just may have dragged the reader through hell to get there though.

Where do you stand on prologues? Have you written them? Have you kept them? The ones you've read did they add or detract from the story?


Debs said...

Great post. I'm not sure why editors dislike prologues, as I usually find they draw me straight into a book. I also like reading epilogues too, to find out what happened later, once the story had actually ended.

Best of luck with the submissions, your books sound wonderful.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful brave post.
It sounds to me that you have made absolutely the best decision to hold the prologue until the true impact of that event etc can be used as ammunition or as a huge reveal.
But I confess, I rarely read Prologues unless they are less than a page, and usually in crime books.
As to genre and subgenre? Only you can decide that, and it seems that you have had some excellent advice.

Best of luck with the submissions, I do hope the book finds a home. :-)

Jean said...

I can't make my mind up about prologues either. In my novel-in-progress I have taken my prologue out, put it back in, taken it back out, put it in again. Ah, decisions, decisions.

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

I don't mind reading them. I wrote one, but am now taking it out on the advice of my good critiquer and 'the general feeling'. I may use some of it in a flashback at some point, not sure yet.

ChrisH said...

A very honest post, Liz, you've been doing some very deep thinking about your work and where it will lead you. The comment you received about AR struck a chord and I winced in sympathy as I had a similar reaction from a friend who read FTT. I think one of the reasons I've been a bit stuck this year is because I'm questioning the direction I should go in.

HelenMH said...

First of all, having read this blog post, I now can't wait to read your novel!

One of the most effective prologues I have read is in Maeve Binchy's 'Light A Penny Candle', and I think it works because it captures a moment that is pivotal to the novel and the rest of the narrative takes the reader back to that point. Obviously that was written some time ago and maybe the market and expectations have changed.

I do have a sort of prologue to my novel but I have no idea if I'll use it or not. It sounds as though the solution you've reached is the right one for you and your novel.

Julie Cohen said...

In general, I think writers should do what you've done with their prologues: think long and hard about whether they're necessary. In most cases, I believe that prologues are there for the author and not the reader.

But there are some important exceptions. I like a short prologue that teases me, that I might not understand but will, eventually, make me go "oh yeah". I can think of three recent ones, all less than a page long--the teaser at the beginning of Giselle Green's "Pandora's Box"; the scene-setting snippets at the beginning of Marian Keyes's "This Charming Man"; and the teasers at the beginning of all of Stephenie Meyers's "Twilight" series.

I've got a prologue in my wip. I've added it just now, after writing the entire novel. It's a teaser, and I think the reader needs it because while the cover, title and blurb will all suggest that the novel begins in one place, it actually begins in another. So I've taken a few paragraphs from the middle of the novel and put them up front, so you can see it's going to end up in this intriguing setting. It also happens to be a major symbolic event in the story.

Time will tell whether I can keep it or not. Anyway, I agree that "I want it!" isn't enough of a reason to keep a prologue, and that generally a prologue you've written before you've written the rest of the book, often has to go.

Whoops...long post. I'm obviously procrastinating on my revisions!

Good luck with your submission. I'm glad you've got faith and are getting it out there.

Flowerpot said...

good post Liz. I think it depends a lot on the length of the prologue as well. What purpose does it serve? Could it be incorporated any other way? Best of luck with the submissions - we all kknow what those rejections are like.

Jenny Haddon said...

Fascinating post, Liz.

I've written prologues and often found, like you, that I needed them but the reader didn't, or not there, right at the start.

I think the problem with some prologues is that they make the reader take a breath - and she's still holding it half way through the book. Meanwhile she's skim-reading to get to the point where she knows why the prologue was there.

So my take would be - give yourself a time limit. If you haven't referenced your prologue in some way in the first three chapters or so, then that information is probably in the wrong place. (And there should be another way to evoke atmosphere, if that's what it's there for.) Okay, the WHOLE point of the prologue may not become clear until right at the end. But there's got to be something that stops us having to run two story threads in our mind at the same time.

Good luck with the submissions. Can't wait to read either or both,

Jan Jones said...

Tricky one, Liz. Have to say, I did love your prologue, but on the other hand (in hindsight) it gave the beginning of the novel proper a very slightly downbeat feel. Without it, there is more anticipation-about-the-characters, because the reader doesn't know what was in the prologue and thus doesn't know the heroine's history.

Not sure if any of that makes sense.

Leigh Russell said...

I'm going to sit firmly on the fence on this one (an uncomfortable position to adopt.)

To include a prologue or not? I think it depends.

Where I do agree, is that a prologue - along with any other content - should be ruthlessly cut if it isn't necessary.

Good luck with the submissions.

cs harris said...

I used to write prologues. But since I've discovered so many readers don't like them, I quit. Now I just type, "chapter one." A rose by any other name...

Rick said...

Good God, you've been thinking! Nice posting. You should go on cool vacations more often.

Every editor and publisher I know has told me that survey after survey shows that readers don't like prologues- only writers do. The only reason we see works published with prologues is that someone didn't do their job and get rid of it. For example, famous authors can include them even though the vast majority of readers don't like to read the things.

Personally, as a writer, I don't see what's wrong with prologues. Writers read, too.

I enjoy the works of Clive Cussler, and he doesn't right anything without a prologue. Anyway, great post.

liz fenwick said...

Well, prologues certainly provokee discussion and excellent discussion at that. Thank you all.

My prologue is history - well it was anyway, so to speak.

I think removing was the right things as...I've already heard a little something positive. Enough that I had to spend the weekend with head done tidying the script:-)

liz fenwick said...

ooops in last para missed prologue - see so used to cutting it now!

Billy said...

Saw you at Spyscribbler's. I think the Prologue is sometimes crucial but does not necessarily belong on page one, where it would be downright intrusive. Sometimes it's outside of the entire narrative structure, sometimes not. As a reader, I am always drawn in by a well written prologue.

B said...

I take the 'readers don't like prologues' thing with the same bucketload of salt as I take 'there's no market for short stories'. Bad prologues, and short stories, fair enough. Good ones work and people like the ones that work. Viz: Maggie O'Farrell and After You'd Gone. I can't imagine that book working in a different way.

I have to say though, I'm not keen on epilogues, unless they really are necessary. JK Rowling, I'm looking at you! However seeing as that was a children's story I might think about forgiving her.

If it wasn't necessary for ACH though, cutting was the right decision and I applaud you for being brave enough to take it.

And D pointed out, when I told him why I was pulling all the books out of our bookcase last night, that a good handful of authors have prologues that aren't labelled as such. Viz: Terry Pratchett and others.

Phillipa said...

I can't make up my mind, Liz. I mean, why not? I never pick up a book and think: "Oh, a prologue. Yuk.)

Surely, a good opening is a good opening and either engages the reader or doesn't?

Braja said...

Hey Liz...found you on Black Box, I love that thing! Just cruising thru your blog....come on over if you're inclined :)

KAREN said...

I like reading prologues and epilogues - providing the prologue is intiguing enough to reel me in :o) Someone once told me that a way round this is to make it Chapter One!

I would definitely send ACH out there as you have such faith in it - it will shine through in your writing :o))