Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Beginnings: Prologues

Ready! Set! Go!
(Image: © Gualtiero Boffi |
When I was contemplating this topic, I did an image search for the words "start" and "beginning."  I found thousands of photos showing people crouched down in the starting position, but, unlike track and field sprinting, there are many different ways to start a story.    

That is what makes it so tricky.

In my Six Sentence Sunday postings, I recently posted three excerpts (First, Second, Third) from one of my works in progress, Unavoidable Legacies.  I finished a rough draft of this story several years ago, but I saw that it needed some major rewriting.  So, I decided to let the story simmer for a while while I moved on to new projects.  Every once in a while, though, I'd remember that story and think I should take a stab at revising it.  The SSS was a first step. 

The snippets I posted for SSS were all from a prologue that I wasn't sure would make the final draft.  I love that prologue. It includes the first scene that came to me when I started to write that story, and the rest of the story evolved from that one scene.  But, it has a few challenges. 

I've identified the following challenges with my prologue
  1. First, it is a prologue, which right from the start can be a problem.  It is a bit like a false start.  I personally enjoy prologues - any chance to find out more about the characters and the story is a good thing to me - but not everyone does. Several of my friends skip the prologue, and I don't think they are unusual. 
  2. The prologue is about two secondary characters.  The main characters do not make an appearance.  So, as a reader, do we even care about these characters? 
  3. Both secondary characters are dead by the end of the prologue.  Another opportunity to ask: why would a reader care?  In this instance, I think the prologue is handy because their deaths set the rest of the book in motion, aka the inciting incident.  However, as a writer, have I risked alienating the reader by killing all the characters I've introduced?
  4. The scenes that comprise the prologue are very intense - there are hearts being broken, faces being slapped, cars plunging into icy lakes, and characters dying.  This is one of my biggest difficulties with the prologue.   According to Nancy Kress in Beginnings, Middles and Ends, the beginning of the book makes a promise to the reader that is developed in the middle and resolved by the end. This promise extends beyond the characters' goals and motivations, it encompasses the entirety of the book, including the tone.  So, with my prologue being so intense, what implications does that have for the remainder of the book?  Is it possible to carry that intensity forward?  And, the climax will need to be even that much bigger and more intense...
I probably won't be able to make a decision about the fate of my prologue until I get through the first wave of revisions (or later).  In the meantime, though, I'm curious...

How do you feel about prologues?  Do you love 'em or do you skip 'em? 

1 comment:

Chantel Rhondeau said...

Personally, I can take 'em or leave 'em. But many people have told me they skip them. I was a bit surprised by this. Why skip part of the book just because it says Prologue? Then again, I usually read every word in a book, including the dedications and the author's note (if there is one).

Nice thing about writing, you can always delete the prologue later if you decide it doesn't work once you finish the book! Good luck!