Monday, January 16, 2012

A Tale of Two Prologues - THE CORNISH HOUSE and AUGUST ROCK

Now I know I've posted about this before but it has come up again on twitter because I axed my prologue again in the rewrite process....No, I can hear some of you cry and hurrah from the rest.


So I thought I would share my thinking...as muddled as it is. First though let me state that as a reader I kinda like prologues but as a writer I'm not to sure.


So both THE CORNISH HOUSE and AUGUST ROCK have had prologues, in fact AUGUST ROCK has three different ones. The most recent prologue for AUGUST ROCK died this morning when I 'merged' it into chapter one, scene one. AND no, I didn't just relabel it. 


When I met with my brilliant editor Kate back in Decemeber to talk about what i was doing with August Rock we spoke about pov. I knew with certain clarity that AR needed to be written in first person but THE CORNISH HOUSE was written in third...another story on that another time...


So I had sent her before the meeting a few chapter rewritten in first to see if she was 'cool' with it...she was but the prologue wasn't right. She knew why I wanted it there but the voice was too old. The heroine Jude is supposed to be 13 in the prologue....


I went away from the meeting thinking - worrying I know...it should be a doddle to make the voice more youthful. Well, it wasn't. Believe me I tried. The reason it wasn't ...because what I wanted to convey wasn't what a 13 year old girl would think or see even if she was mature....


That left me with a problem. I needed that prologue because without that knowledge the bomb that drops in chapter one scene two wouldn't have the impact I wanted....


Well, I chewed on that for a week...and finally I realized that by sacrificing my best opening linse ever ...The incoming tide lapped over my red toenails and wet the brilliant white lace of my wedding gown. Tears caused it all to blur to pink. I hate pink not that anyone had cared or had listened.


I could do this. I had to start the story sooner and build those thoughts (the important bits of the prologue) into something that was happening right then and there...


So i sacrificed my best opening (although those words are now later in the chapter) and altered the timing of the scene (only by ten minutes)and was able to to lose the prologue and I think it's much better for it....


My experience of prologues was slightly different for THE CORNISH HOUSE. But again it involved some of the best writing I have ever done (and now no one will see!). I can't tell what it was, but I needed that scene right there at the start of the book to focus me while I rewrote it. By putting it at the front I couldn't forget it and nor could my heroine Maddie. 


Confession to make. I did try after that rewrite to put that scene in other places later in the book, but in the end the emotion was the page without the need of it...in fact I think it's stronger because it isn't there.


So prologues....ask yourself ..
Why? What is the scene doing? Teasing? Relaying important info? Character stuff? Foreshadowing?


Once you know the purpose you then then ask if there is a different way to achieve your goal...then ask is it a better way? If yes, then ditch the prologue and kill those darlings....What's your take on prologues?
 

11 comments:

Julie Cohen said...

Well done. It's hard but sometimes (ahem...almost ALWAYS) you have to sacrifice for the good of your book.

Love,
The Prologue Nazi ;-)

Judy Astley said...

I think having a prologue can be rather like explaining a joke before you tell it. Also, readers often skip prologues as they come outside the body of the book, both materially and sort-of emotionally. My feeling is that it's best to weave the essential information seamlessly into the narrative or just leave it as it is and call it Chapter One. If there's a big time/location change, simply say so at the beginning of chapter 2.

JO said...

As a reader - I don't like them. I agree with Judy - I'd rather see the information woven into the narrative.

Having said that, I've just written one and took it to my writing group. It's not a prologue, they said. It's chapter one. But I wanted this information up front ... so now I've no idea. I'll watch this discussion with interest.

liz fenwick said...

Julie and Judy...I'm definitely beginning to lean into the anti camp...at the moment my mind is blank on books where i felt it was hugely successful. But I am beginning to see the prologue might just be a part of my writing process - a way for me to focus on some aspect of the story...time will tell but these two prologues exist no more...

Jo - interesting that they called it chapter one and maybe it is. All my prologues have been very short - a page or a page and a half...Where are you in the writing process? First draft or rewrites?

lx

JO said...

I'm at the writing-scenes-that-are-fun-and-putting-them-together stage. It all feels a bit ad hoc - I'm having great fun, but goodness knows what the final shape this will be. So it's probably first draft, though some of these scenes have been subject to some Serious Thinking!

Liz Harris said...

I like prologues, both as a reader and a writer, PROVIDED that there is some point to the prologue. I don't mean that it should contain a little hook to encourage the reader to read on - the first chapter should be good enough to do that alone - I mean that it is in some way substantial to the story, and enhances the story and the reader's experience.

I have opened three novels with a prologue - two are part of a framing device and the content of the prologue is material to the way in which the story is told. In the third, it explains something that the reader will later learn about and might have wondered about: it provides an answer to a question that hasn't yet been asked, without giving away the plot.

I don't think that the content of any of my prologues could have been omitted, or could it have been dripped in throughout the narrative, which I think justifies them.

It depends, therefore, upon why the prologue is there. When there is a valid purpose for it, I think it enhances the reading experience.

Liz X

liz fenwick said...

Well in that case you'll be well ahead of the game when it comes to editing...as it always does :-)
lx

liz fenwick said...

Liz - i agree with you. Just out of curiosity bases on the the comments above...what impact will it have on the story if the reader skips the prologues?

lx

Liz Harris said...

In my first mainstream novel, Child on a Swing, you would question something done by a major character, which might not have rung true had there not been what was almost an explanation in the prologue. The reader wouldn't have seen the prologue as that, however, at the outset.

For my second mainstream, it introduced a dramatic purpose to the telling of the stories of four girls, and possibly a hook for what was going to follow. It stopped the first chapter (I hope!!!) from feeling mundane and run-of-the-mill.

In the third novel, The Road Back, it again framed the stories of Patricia and Kalden that were about to be told in the first part of the novel. The second part of the novel returns to the time of the prologue and continues the story.

I don't see how any of those three prologues could have been removed without my losing a dimension to the novels. In their way, they were a material part of the book that they introduced.

What a long answer to your question!

Liz X

liz fenwick said...

Thanks Liz. So if the reader skipped then they would miss out...warning to readers - don't skip prologues :-)

lx

Stephanie Zia said...

This is so interesting and you and Judy have got me thinking now. Could I turn my prologue into chapter 1? 'A year later' might be neater. There's a cosiness to it, a narrative pull that might keep me reading if I were coming to it fresh & hadn't written it and read it 5 thousand million times...