Critique: My prolouge

Discussion in 'Writing' started by ALIP1012, Jan 12, 2010.

  1. ALIP1012

    ALIP1012 New Member

    Jan 11, 2010
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    The air is damp with steam rising from the bog in front of the castle gates. The sound of birds chirping is slowly dying into the night. The deer are running their natural course through the tree infested swamp in search of food, with none in sight. The ground is thick with water and not many plants can survive the harsh treatment.
    At the sound of footsteps, the deer leap away with ease down their chosen path. A bird flies over the head of a cloaked figure wading through the knee high muddy water. He walks with a confidence one can only gain by travelling the path dozens of times before. With his staff in hand he pushes the front door of the castle open and steps in.
    The sound of his footsteps on the stone floor echoes through the massive hallways connecting this room to many others. As he walks forward the torches on the walls flare to life lighting his descent to the statue across the room. The man sticks the end of his staff into the open mouth of the dragon statue. With a twist the statue roars to life stepping away from the podium it was just resting on to reveal a flight of stairs leading deeper down into the castle. As the man steps inside, the statue returns to its podium and becomes still once more.
    The steps become dark as he exits from the bottom. The room in front of him is bare in the middle. The walls are filled with weird machines with lights and different buttons and knobs. On the opposite wall to the stairs is a giant metal gate that has a rope leading to a pulley and wheel. Behind the darkness of the gate is a loud rumbling growl.
    “Quite down Xerteron. Your time will come soon.” The figure said to the Dragon that was slowly coming closer to the gate.
    I want to destroy them now. The voice in the man’s head was obviously Xerteron’s. He has grown used to hearing the deep voice booming in his head.
    “You will bring the destruction of the Earth soon enough. Then you can have your fun with the races.

    Very short, LOL;)
  2. kmtolan

    kmtolan KMTolan

    Apr 14, 2008
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    Ahh, but what does this say? A dragon named "Xerteron" will bring about the Earth's destruction. That seems about it. For me, I want to grasp a bit more from a prologue. It needs to both excite me about the story to come, and sweep me in.

    Now lets talk about that "sweep me in" thing - otherwise known as the "hook". Prologues are tough critters - they have to both impart a perspective not available in the remaining story, and grab the reader on top of that. You start with mostly narrative - not a great idea. You may think not mentioning the fellow's name is a "technique", but all you're really doing here for me is making it impossible to identify with this character as more than a prop. He barely talks, and apparently doesn't do much thinking. Both are ways of grabbing a reader's interest. Of what significance is this wizard's approach to the castle, which you take over half of your prologue to portray? How does it play into the story? It probably doesn't. The only thing that matters is this guy has a dragon under lock and key.

    The way I see it, you don't have enough meat here to warrant a prologue, which is not necessarily a bad thing. An unneeded prologue is a common oops with new writers - 99% of stories don't even need them.

    The best way for me to explain a prologue, I guess, is to use the one time I had to write one. I needed a fast way to catch folks up who did not read the first book in this series - and I still needed to entertain and otherwise hook the reader. I quickly realized that the character had to be other than my MC, and that the scene needed to be short (you did good on that part) and dramatic. Quite a tall order for any prologue (which is why I would rather avoid them when I can). Notice that I provide a complete scene, and just enough details to quickly provide the reader with setting and character - but no more. This is mostly show vs tell - using dialog for the most part to get the job done. Oh, and prologues probably need a hook at the end too, so I slap one in as well.


    Here goes:


    Ryan Donald leaned closer to the screen, his Irish temper barely under control. He wanted to strangle the bastard. “Commander, having your cruiser tag along is sending all the wrong messages, can’t you see that? These people are going to hate our guts for previously siding with the slave race their ancestors created. I’ll be damn lucky to get that princess or whatever the hell she is to give me the time of day without even more gunboat diplomacy.”

    His antagonist, Vice Commander Powel, glowered back over the stub of a cigar he chewed on. Along with the crew cut, the man was all military theatre. “Hogwash, Captain. You equipped those ex-slaves with three times the firepower and still got your butts handed to you by these…what’s that name, again?”

    “Qurls,” Ryan patiently explained again. “Specifically, one of the four subspecies called Datha Qurl.”

    “Oh yeah…them. Walking war machines, you said. Biologically specialized for one purpose. If the claws don’t get you, they act like a goddamn electric eel and electrocute your ass. And let’s not forget that other bunch who practically downloaded your mind.”

    “That would be the Shandi Qurl,” Ryan explained, preferring not to be reminded of how those females had gotten into his head. He was well on his way to losing this argument.

    “How much technology did you end up giving these aliens, Captain? Enough for them to silence those beacons you left behind?” Powel leaned back in his chair aboard the other ship. “We’ll be lucky if one cruiser is all you’re going to need. Hell of a way to make first contact by giving weapons to the wrong side. So who exactly is this contact of yours?”

    “Her name’s Mikial. I saved her life during the war we started, and she saved mine when these Datha wanted to blow my ship and crew to hell and back. I don’t know what kind of leader she’s turned into…it’s all done through some kind of biological transformation. I got the drift that she’s probably going to be influential. I figure we’ll--”

    A loud warble cut the conversation short, similar alarms pulling Powel from his seat as well. Ryan left the briefing room, happy to be rid of that pompous tin pot for a few minutes. He looked up at the tactical screens. He had not seen this much excitement on the cramped bridge since they left Earth.

    “Tachyon emissions spiking fore and aft!” a Lieutenant bawled out.

    “We’re in the middle of a bloody star cluster,” Ryan reminded him with a look of tested patience. “There’s all kinds of crap out…” He stared at the screens again, his jaw dropping at what emerged from sudden flashes of light. “Sweet Mother of God…”
  3. N. E. White

    N. E. White tmso Staff Member

    Jun 11, 2009
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    I'm sorry ALIP1012, but I too didn't get much out of your prologue. It was very easy to read and I got a great picture of the surroundings and the castle. Would have loved some description of the dragon though, but that's just me and dragons (love em!). I like the idea of an evil dragon about to be unleashed on the world, but, well, he's not about to be unleashed, right? He's told to wait. Maybe instead have it end with him just about to be unleashed, and maybe tell it from the dragon's perspective? Just some ideas to think about. Good luck! :)
  4. Window Bar

    Window Bar We Read for Light

    Nov 19, 2009
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    Prologue critique

    Hello ALIP1012 --
    Your prose is vivid, but lacks pace. Did you ever read the book A River Runs Through It? The protagonist, a teen, professes his desire to become a writer and shows a sample to his dad, a newspaperman. His dad says something like, "Great, now cut the length in half." The son complies. The father says, "Umm-hmm, now cut it in half again." That's the prescription.

    I'll limit my critique to the first paragraph, and I have no idea whether I'll get it cut in half, but I'll certainly trim it:

    Before the castle gate, a night-shrouded bog steams. Birdsong fades then vanishes. Deer browse in vain among rank mosses and dying trees, their hooves sunk in the muck of decay.

    Okay, for an example, that will do. It cuts sixty-two words to thirty-one without losing any essential information. It gains pace. How? Much actual description is carried in verbs: steams, fades, vanishes, browse, sunk. Finding exact verbs (i.e.-browse) allows us to shed the long convoluted clauses (i.e.- running their natural course).

    Of course your style will be unique to you, so this short critique must serve as a suggestion only.

    Good writin' -- WB
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2010
  5. ShellyS

    ShellyS Chocoholic

    Jun 23, 2004
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    The problem with it for me is that it's distancing. It's fine to start off from a distance, but to pull me in, the narration should start to close in by the second paragraph, or maybe third. But because you introduce the cloaked figure fairly soon and keep him at a distance from me, my brain couldn't get engaged with what was happening. I don't mind present tense if done well, but here, it wasn't helping and maybe was hindering my potential involvement.

    A hook can be anything, and this could be written in a different way and the hook would be there. The writing style is what isn't working for me.

    The pacing is probably off. I could see this written longer, more drawn out, more description, and yet more involving, ie putting it in the cloaked figures pov, feeling the crunch of gravel beneath his boots or whatever. Or by moving the camera eye in, slowing pulling the reader in.

    Also, with pacing, you provided little actual detail, just a few generic statements that don't make me think of any one place. Not that I want to know upfront where this is, but I want to feel it's a specific place I'll be learning about, not EveryBog, EveryCastle.

    Things I would think about to start:

    1. What pov do I want this in?
    2. What tense do I think will work best for this?
    3. Depending on the answers to those questions, where is the best place to start?

    Good luck.
  6. tdnewton

    tdnewton The Ninth Avatar

    Nov 25, 2008
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    Your prologue lacks a balance of emotional distance. Perhaps it's the impersonal opening, or the general lack of emotion or character.

    I'm with Kerry, though, as usual. Make sure a prologue is vital before you work too much on it. In fact, you might want to think about a prologue down the road rather than work on one now.
  7. JT Billow

    JT Billow Love with Mercy

    Dec 27, 2009
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    For me, I see what can be equated to a grammar issue (in addition to what the previous posters stated).

    Your sentences, for the most part, are all the same length; short. For someone who reads this, they may find themselves becoming annoyed, but yet not know the reasons why. Some people refer to is as underlying repetition.