Caught in the Prologue Cross Fire? When to Hit Delete and When to Save Them

iStock_000018797284XSmallEveryone tends to like things to be done a certain way, generally their way! That’s not necessarily problematic, it’s a matter of placing your own mark on what you’re achieving. Some of the best novels have broken the rules, some of worst ones have decimated the rules. Fashions governing what is acceptable also change over time, leaving writers sitting in the middle of raging arguments, wondering which direction they should be taking and what it will do to their sales.

One of the debates I’ve been reading up on, is “forget about writing prologues, no one reads them anyway. They are just a frustrating delay.” I can see the point, but I am still scratching my head and considering that to be a sweeping generalisation, rather than solid advice. Could prologue bashing be part of the reason why are turned off them? If we keep seeing them reported as bad writing, the force of repetition can lead to us adopting the same negative view, whether it is biased, erroneous, or not. We need to think for ourselves.

A well-written prologue can be an effective story hook. I always read the prologue and epilogue. I’ve always liked them. They can set the scene for a story and contain gems of information I can’t understand the book without. I particularly like the ones which talk about a future event, that motivate me to dive into the novel to see how it comes about. My curiosity is aroused. Please note the words well-written. Actually, note them again. Poor writing is the entire basis of the prologue problem.

Have a think about this further. Television programs, such as The Big Bang Theory, are structured to include parts that act very much like a prologue and epilogue. If you are an avid television watcher, you are being conditioned to expect that structure. There is a ‘prologue,’ or teaser at the start; the front credits roll and then the body of the episode begins. At the very end, there is a small, comedic part you never want to miss, which works as an epilogue. Every episode is the same. You expect it to be.

The quickest way to determine the effectiveness of a prologue, on a fair book-by-book basis, is if you can give just your prologue to a reader and they start to care about the characters and want to read more to see what happens or happened, it’s working for you.

Below is a summary of all the arguments about prologues so you can determine your own fate.

Pro Prologue

  • You can put specific events under a spotlight to emphasize their importance.
  • You can talk to the reader from a different point of view than the rest of the novel is written in. For example, instead of third person, you may speak from first person as an onlooker, or one of the characters.
  • You can start to build solid characterisation, motivation, suspense and plot with a focus on one pivotal element.
  • If, like me, you are a science fiction and/or fantasy writer and need to world build, a prologue can familiarise your reader with place, science and customs. Just keep it interesting and adding benefit to the story. Don’t info dump! If there are parts of the world you can’t introduce through dialogue, this may be an effective way to set the scene.

IMG_0182Anti Prologue

  • They can be used as lazy information dumps, rather than building proper story. For example, you can write far too much about a character’s past, bypassing show don’t tell and boring your reader. Try a glossary or build these elements into your story properly.
  • If it doesn’t make you care about the characters or get you interested in the story, cull it!
  • If you can understand the story without the prologue, you don’t need it, you are wasting time and paper.
  • Due to the abuse of prologues, many traditional editors may reject your work as you have included one.
  • If you put in plot points which leave the reader hanging for a very long time before the answers are revealed, you can divide their attention and frustrate them.

Effective Prologues

  • Keep it short and write in active voice, not passive terms. Prologues can be a single paragraph or a single sentence. Length is up to you.
  • It must be written in the same spirit and style as the novel, or it looks out of place.
  • It was stated in one article that it should read like a short story, but without an ending. The ending is your novel.
  • Both the prologue and chapter one must hook the reader in, just as powerfully. Both have to work hard, or they don’t work at all.
  • It must be distinctive from the rest of the novel in terms of time or point of view, otherwise it’s a chapter you stashed in a silly place.

So what parts of a novel do I skip? Prefaces, Forwards, Dedications, Acknowledgements and most Introductions, especially lengthy ones. They have no story value and unless I adore the author and they can teach me more about them, I skip over the pages. I’ve always seen them as the part that is written for the Author’s benefit or as a courtesy. But that’s just me…


acomm

This article / blog post is Copyright Cate Russell-Cole 2014. All rights are reserved Internationally. You may not reproduce it in any form, in part of whole, without Cate’s prior written permission. That includes usage in forms such as print, audio and digital imaging including pdf, jpg, png etc. A fee may be requested for re-using her work if it is for a commercial venture. 

Link sharing and Pinterest pins are most welcome as long as Cate is the attributed Author.

Book of the Month: Morale Boosters for Busy Writers

If your energy and enthusiasm for writing, blogging and marketing has left you drained, these quick-read ebooks will help. They are also priced as low as Amazon allows. Books are available in pdf or epub from Cate or from Amazon Kindle. Click on the underlined links for ordering information.

PR3DPhoenix Rising: Conquering the Stresses of the Writer’s Life, addresses the challenges and frustrations of writers in the digital age. It has been written for all genres of writers and all forms of publication. It has been written as a quick-read writer’s companion, with chapter topics that don’t require reading in any set order.

If your creative energy is low, your word count flagging or the downsides of being a writer are taking away your joy, this book will give you new strength and hope with which to spread your wings and find new freedom.

I chose the image and title of the phoenix rising from the ashes in response to the battles writers face. I personally relate to the need to choose to rise upwards: away from the fire and into a clear sky to start again.

Topics include but are not limited to:

  • Measuring the Value of Your Work in a Digital Age
  • Healing Creative Injuries
  • Bomb Proofing Your Writer’s Ego
  • Balancing the Blogging Load
  • Writers and Depression: Debunking the Stereotypes
  • Boosting Your Productivity

 

 

3dpthriveIf you buy a copy of this book, you will also receive a free copy of “Phoenix Thriving: Conquering Stress and Burnout in the Blogging Life.”

I frequently hear complaints and pleas for help from highly stressed bloggers. As a coach and fellow writer, I have been doing my best to assist people, then decided to write a helpful ebook. “Phoenix Thriving: Conquering Stress and Burnout in the Blogging Life,” will help to ease the burden of writing, marketing, social media and the annoyances that fly in the faces of online writers.

Some of the topics covered include:

  • Creative myth busting;
  • Placing value on yourself as a writer, despite your level of success;
  • Dealing with writer’s burn out and social media demands;
  • Search Engine Optimisation versus originality;
  • A balanced approach to writing challenges online;
  • Marketing and people connections: the plus side and
  • When is it time to keep or ditch your blog?

To claim your free copy, inside the book, next to the CommuniCATE Resources for Writers blog link, there is a code. Buy the book, find the code (it’s easy, it’s in the first few pages) and email me. I will send you a copy of the new book by email. Your email address will never be sold, compiled for mailing lists, or used in any other manner. So far it is not available on Amazon.

frwf

 


acomm

This article / blog post is Copyright Cate Russell-Cole 2014. All rights are reserved Internationally. You may not reproduce it in any form, in part of whole, without Cate’s prior written permission. That includes images and text usage in forms such as print, audio and digital imaging including pdf, jpg, png etc. A fee may be requested for re-using her work if it is for a commercial venture. 

Link sharing and Pinterest pins are most welcome as long as Cate is the attributed Author.

Cate's books for writers.

Cate’s books for writers.

Getting Your Characters Help! The Character Therapist

BLOG BUTTONThis is one of the most original writer’s resource blogs I have discovered, and it’s a goldmine of information on many topics including:

  • romantic scenes, break ups and all the soppy stuff
  • amnesia
  • mental illnesses of all kinds, including some you’ve never heard of
  • attachment
  • character archetypes
  • body image
  • backstory
  • character flaws and criminology
  • comic relief
  • conflict, defence mechanisms etc
  • social issues such as domestic violence, cults,
  • physical illnesses including autism, Down’s Syndrome and many things
  • dialogue and character inconsistency
  • emotional revolution
  • marital issues

… and if those haven’t piqued your interest, go look up Fascination by Mystique, countertransference, the Cotard Delusion, Nazism and Paris Syndrome. Plus, it is Christian friendly.

Screen-shot-2013-03-13-at-9.20.59-PMLink: http://charactertherapist.blogspot.com.au

The blog and accompanying services are run by Jeannie Campbell, who is a licensed and highly experienced marriage and family therapist. She has turned her skills into a helpful resource where she “diagnoses make-believe people” to assist novelists. Jeannie also has a newsletter you can sign up for.


Need more help?

“Creating and Resolving Conflict in Fiction,” dissects conflict into its component parts; looks at how it works and helps you generate conflict plot-lines and themes which will add richness and realism to your work. The principles apply to any kind of fiction, regardless of the length, characters or genre.

CRCF4DimCover3lowresThis book is not a “how to write” text. It is a user-friendly, introductory reference on the topics covered, which will enable you to write about them effectively. You don’t have to read it from cover to cover, it can be used as needed.

Some of the topics covered include:

  • How to Fuel Conflicts and Misunderstandings
  • What Character Traits Go With What Type of Person?
  • Human Behaviour Is All About Patterns
  • Using Power Dynamics
  • Making or Breaking Character Relationships

Available in Kindle and pdf formats from this site: http://virtual-desk.com.au/conflict_in_fiction.html


acomm

This article / blog post is Copyright Cate Russell-Cole 2014. All rights are reserved Internationally. You may not reproduce it in any form, in part of whole, without Cate’s prior written permission. That includes usage in forms such as print, audio and digital imaging including pdf, jpg, png etc. A fee may be requested for re-using her work if it is for a commercial venture. 

Link sharing and Pinterest pins are most welcome as long as Cate is the attributed Author.

 

Hunting for the Right “Elements” ~ #Research and #Fantasy

2014-09-01_11-56-17

Professor Simon Woodward, from Periodic Videos, discovers that if you drop a few ml of Trimethylaluminium from a syringe onto a glass plate, this is what happens the second it touches normal air!

Have you discovered that you cannot publish book one in a series, until book two is written and all the details are formed coherently? Or is is just me who writes back to front, then has to go back to book one to fix mistakes, multiple times? For some of you, this post may be a cautionary tale on research and book publication expectations.

Lisa Kohn asked me to write a post on my writing process and I was honoured, but declined. It wouldn’t be much of a post. It would simply contain these words: “I binge write and then spend months fixing my boo boos, as I didn’t complete all the background research by the time the story gushed forth. I hope to streamline this chaos in the future.”

It is incredibly easy to paint myself into corners with plot and character arcs. It’s even easier when I am world building. I can spend a great deal of time researching, researching, researching and still miss that one sliver of information which will trip me up. (I’m sure historical novelists grapple with this too.) Though, there is still so much to be discovered scientifically, maybe, in the future, I will be the one who was right? Who knows?

I have been trying to make a planet glow with a soft, golden hue. So I took Saturn as a model and exchanged its ice rings for rock rings, which have small chunks of gold embedded in them. The sun hits the rings, the gold reflects onto the surface. It’s simple, right? All the gold on Earth comes from meteorite strikes on the planet. Gold is not naturally produced on Earth. Just leave the gold in it’s rocky celestial homes, it glitters and I’m done. Easy!

I checked the astronomy and it seemed fine… then I got distracted by the Periodic Videos on Youtube and discovered a major flaw in my plan. The gold in meteorites or astroids is not found in chunks big enough to create a glow. Rocks only contain tiny trace fragments of gold, which to make matters worse, are also far more likely to be embedded inside, not sticking out. In other words, no self-respecting meteorite trails gold dust through space. It’s tacky to flaunt your wealth. I can only make my plan work if I make it far more subtle and use a fair whack of poetic licence. The guesswork is, how much licence is too much?

de8y32h*&

Dr Sheldon Cooper would be disgusted with me. Being called derivative would be the least of the issues he’d expound upon. ;-)

I have studied astronomy and geology, never in my wildest dreams did I think to double check any of my science with chemistry! I didn’t take that subject at school and I am clueless. Once I add chemistry in, writing gets much more complex. I had also built in a layer of gas in the planet’s atmosphere to stop the gold hue being blinding, then watched the Trimethylaluminium video (image above) and realised that if I didn’t get the gas choice right, my pretty sky with gold flecks peeking through the blue, was more likely to become “come on baby, light my fire,” KABOOM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Darn it! That layer was eliminated before it took out the planet. At least I saved lives.

Many areas of astronomy are theories, even though the science is presented as fact. You have to dig to find out what is substantiated and what isn’t. There is room for invention: at least until they can set their theories in stone. (Pun not intended!) I had no idea that they can make anti-matter in the form of molecules. I thought that was just Star Trek, but it’s real. I’m learning. I know that if I get the science close enough, the work should be sufficiently plausible to be acceptable to most readers. The best I can do is try and research across as many scientific disciplines and sources as I can, which is great as it means that I will also come up with more ideas (or problems). However it also means, my publication process time is significantly expanded and I need to learn to deal with that and be patient.

So for those of you who have shown interest in when The Dragon Tree is coming out, the answer is, I have no idea. I have to sort out book two or I am sunk! At the moment I have to find an easily harvestable energy source which is eco-friendly. Setting aside the saga of the Hindenberg, I know from astronomy that hydrogen is the most plentiful element in the cosmos, so I am exploring that. Just keep the hydrogen away from flames and oxygen and secure it properly. How hard can it be? After the gold discovery, I am betting it is harder than I think. Imagine the reaction below on a mass scale, plus the saga of hydrogen storage…

So, what do you do to stop your writing from painting you into a corner and leading to horrendous book reviews? I’d love to hear about your adventures in the comments.


acomm

This article / blog post is Copyright Cate Russell-Cole 2014. All rights are reserved Internationally. You may not reproduce it in any form, in part of whole, without Cate’s prior written permission. That includes images and text usage in forms such as print, audio and digital imaging including pdf, jpg, png etc. A fee may be requested for re-using her work if it is for a commercial venture. 

Link sharing and Pinterest pins are most welcome as long as Cate is the attributed Author.

Taking Descriptions A Step Further: Metaphorically Speaking

I  wrote myself off as a lousy fiction writer for years, because I struggle with descriptions. I love to read epic fantasy with settings so vivid, you can smell the air the characters are breathing. However, I am discovering that that kind of writing is not representational of my voice.

Kristen Lamb recently wrote an excellent post which is very helpful for those of us who can’t write like the greatest descriptive writers. She discusses using the character’s point of view, to weave descriptions into your work and how much is enough. Please check it out here then be inspired by this video!


Your First Novel Will Stink! True or False?

Dragon Tree Cover5aaMonths ago I wrote a post talking about why I deliberately stayed away from how-to-write advice, until I got the first draft of my novel written. It was an advantageous decision, as I was able to write without doubts, shoulds and too much technique being stuck in my head. Since then, I have been reading the advice which is available and it’s been a buzzkill.

It’s incredibly hard to finish the last edits on The Dragon Tree, with people yelling “first novels always stink, shelve them and forget it.” Isn’t it funny how you never notice advice like that, until you are in the position where it may apply to you? Then the words appear to be attacking you from all directions.

As much as I love these coaches, I am surprised that I am being told that I’ll be useless at mastering the craft of fiction, until I’ve written a million words, or a few more books. Of course our writing improves over time. Authors should not presume that they will be perfect on their first trip around the sun. However, there is no written rule that first time novelists are inevitably destined to be utter failures, or mediocre shelf-fillers. Leave us with some sense of hope!

I’ve conceived ten books, seven courses, many appalling pieces of poetry, a number of short stories and many articles. I’ve been published and plagiarised all over the globe. Does that count? Apparently not. They are non-fiction. This will be my first novel. The words are jammed in my head. #1 novel = garbage!

Being me, I decided to rebel and look at the other side of the argument. There are many successful first novels which are best sellers, Pulitzer Prize winners and have been made into movies. Here’s a short list:

  • Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights
  • Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason’s The Rule of Four.
  • Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles
  • Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man
  • Janet Fitch’s White Oleander
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise
  • Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe
  • Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain
  • Do I bother or not?

    To bother or not to bother? That is my question.

    David Guterson’s Snow Fall on Cedars

  • Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
  • Melinda Hayes’s Mother of Pearl
  • Marjorie Kellogg’s Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon
  • Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees
  • Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Interpreter of Maladies
  • Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Jay McInernay’s Bright Lights, Big City
  • Brad Meltzer’s The Tenth Justice
  • Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind
  • Laurie Notaro’s Idiot Girls Action Adventure Club
  • Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago
  • Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar
  • Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things
  • Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones
  • Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty
  • Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep
  • Nicholas Sparks’s The Notebook
  • John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces
  • Lauren Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada
  • Rebecca Well’s Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
  • Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • To Kill A Mockingbird
  • Catcher in the Rye
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
  • Gone with the Wind
  • Sense and Sensibility
  • Doctor Zhivago
  • Wuthering Heights
  • The Help
  • The Devil Wears Prada

So what’s your stand on the issue? What success did you have with your first novel? I’d like to hear your answers.


acomm

The book lists in this post come from several sources, including Book Market.com and Stylist Magazine.

This article / blog post is Copyright Cate Russell-Cole 2014. All rights are reserved Internationally. You may not reproduce it in any form, in part of whole, without Cate’s prior written permission. That includes images and text usage in forms such as print, audio and digital imaging including pdf, jpg, png etc. A fee may be requested for re-using her work if it is for a commercial venture. 

Link sharing and Pinterest pins are most welcome as long as Cate is the attributed Author.

Become a Story Weaver, NOT a Story Mechanic!

I think we’ll all wholeheartedly agree with the truths presented here and be inspired by this video. It’s overflowing with practical advice. If you have a Youtube log in, this is a great channel to follow.


I see myself