Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Hurdles in Writing: Avoiding Prologues




It's been a while since I wrote the last hurdles in writing post. This one is pretty huge for some people, and others tend to ignore this piece of craft. Not writing the prologue was never a real issue for me, but the problem it causes for many writer's, including myself at times, is the same, 

Then how will the reader's know the premise or background, and where do I start my story?

I'm going to start off by reminding you that I believe in craft. There are reasons that some things work, and others don't, but I've never been taught to see them as rules. Every writer has their own thoughts on the issue, and their own style of writing. The comments in this post are simply my opinions. Take what you find helpful, and toss the rest.

So, let's start with some of the reasons we avoid prologues.

I read a post once where someone said this. 
"Writing a prologue is like saying I'm going to tell you a story, but I have to tell you this first, or you won't get it."

Ouch. I didn't like the definition, but seriously thought it hit home. A prologue does sometimes create the ambiance for the story, but if you start with your plot, the ambiance should settle like a blanket, right? 

(I am sorry I can't give the person who wrote the statement credit for it, but it was a bounce around the web when I should have been writing, sort of day, and I didn't catch the name of the person who posted).

So what can we do to add the information the reader needs that would have been in the prologue?

We write it into the story. I was taught to write balanced scenes, and I have found balance a more refreshing read.It usually avoids too much backstory, description, and information dumps, but provides what the reader needs. I could get crazy here with what belongs in a scene, but here it is without too much detail.

  • Action and/or dialogue addressing the issue at hand. These two are usually separate, but there are times when a scene doesn't need both.
  • The setting of your scene so the reader knows where you are.
  • Description, so the reader can see what has up to this point, only been in the author's head.
  • Inner landscape. We want to know what the characters are thinking and feeling.
  • Backstory. Only what's needed.
  • A smooth transition (I added this one myself, but set up where your going to some degree so the reader stays in the story without a bump when they get to the next scene).
Incorporating all of these things will usually cover what information the reader needs right now, and sets up things that need to be set-up for the future. 

Don't misunderstand, you'll still need to be careful about information dumps, and I think description is a personal thing, some people love a lot of it, others hate anything but the most minimal. 

Another reason to avoid prologues is that a lot of people skip them. 

I know a few people who love them, but in reality, usually the prologue isn't necessary to follow a story. I attended a writer's conference a couple years ago where an agent discussed what she did and didn't want from Authors. She said not to send her anything that people might not read. I think that makes sense. 

So that kind of leaves us with where to start.

The best place to start is with the main plot, and hit the ground running. I know writers that argue with this, but I've learned from experience, that people don't always want what they think they do.

When I first wrote The Carriage, it was similar to the way it's written now, but critiquer's kept asking for the backstory about the brother who died. Mom, who died at my character's birth, and numerous other issues. I had a lot of trouble with that advice. I don't like reading a lot of stuff that isn't moving a story, and people that have been dead for years, (aside from the paranormal characters and creatures meant to move a story), make it stagnant. But I'm not always right, and I seriously think a lot of writers would be so much better if they were teachable.Too many of us get defensive, and shut down. I don't want to be one of them, so I took the critiquers' advice, and wrote in the backstory they wanted.

The biggest response was 'whoa, does all this stuff need to be here?' This came from some of the same people who told me to add it. I changed it back, and they all sighed with relief. If I trusted classes and my own instincts, I could have saved a good deal of time and frustration. My plan had always been to write short stories, separate from the novel for fans who wanted them, to download free. One is posted on my website, as well as online retailers now, and has been well received.

I'll remind everyone here, that I said I believe in craft, not rules, and I do feel there are times to do things differently. I have a contemporary NA romance I started when my character's were teenagers, and they grow up together. Their love story is the main plot, but it has a lot of characters and subplots, so I started when they met, and progressed as I moved the story forward. By the time we get to the end, many things will have come full circle, but sometimes the reader doesn't know why something does or doesn't need to be there. The comments and reviews have been great so far, but it was hard to write, and publish it the way I did.

I'll end with this. 

I remember someone telling one of my teachers they needed a prologue because it was the start of their story, and people needed to know it. Her answer was simple:
"Then why not just start there?"

Have an awesome day, everyone.

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