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Ciuva
April 23rd, 2006, 08:07 PM
I have two problems I could need some advice on.

The first one is: Prologue or not prologue? I'm probably not the only one who mercilessly skips the prologue in books and start at chapter 1. I know I'll miss crucial information, but I'd rather read a fun book than the dry prologue. And somehow most I have seen (I'm hoping I've only seen the worst) have a very old-fashioned and dry style no matter how the author writes in the rest of the story. Now, the problem is that my novel builds on a previous novel, a novel that won't be written anyway (really bad plot, among other things) but the events are supposed to have taken place some two hundred years before the story starts. These events are, while perhaps not the basis for what happens in the story, very much a consequence of them. They are the motivation for many of the main character's actions, her opinions, and the relationship between the characters. I haven't really decided whether or not to write a prologue, but if I do, I'm unsure of how what I need to keep in mind when writing it. I've also heard that prologues can make it harder to be published (only a rumour, I have no idea whether or not it is true). What are your opinions on this?

Secondly, I struggle with my beginning. It's not a "straight into the action"-beginning, although there are quite a few things that have already happened when the story starts. The beginning itself is basically the main characters riding into a town and meeting a man who talks with them and gives them the first pieces of information that makes them realise that things are not really the way they should be in their world. But I can't write it. It feels so dry, so dull, and the dialogue is forced. I'm told I write good dialogue, but it just can't seem to get onto the screen the way I've always pictured it in my head. How do I know how much information to include? Should I at all write the entire conversation, or just the beginning and let them tell the rest to another character that weren't present? And how do I make such a beginning interesting? I feel I can't really have a different beginning either. I have read "Beginnings, Middles & Ends" and a few articles, but I don't feel I am any closer to any solution. It doesn't exactly help that I haven't written properly in a few months either. What do I need to remember? I know there aren't any set solution to it, but I need advice. What traps are there to avoid?

Sorry if this is incoherent, I've been struggling with my writing for a few hours now and my brain has timed out, it seems...

GhostShell
April 24th, 2006, 10:18 AM
I'll try to adress some of your probs here, pardon if they are a bit incoherent.

While i've never heard the rumour that prologues make it harder to get published; it wouldn't surprise me if editor were wary of it those most of my favourite novelists (martin, salvatore, etc.) use prologues and are going fairly strong.

It is important that if you do a prologue you don't give away too much info, in my work on this site (trying to write fantasy) i learned that there are many types of prologue that just don't work. My most recent has gained a great deal of enthusiasm and as a prologue is meant to be it preceeds the story by a fair bit, it is short (because long prologues are things i've always hated - like you i wanna get to the story) and i tell it like i tell the rest of my story only from the "bad guy's" perspective and i set up the idea that he is after something, and that he is determined to get it. He makes a pact with extremely dark forces for aid and they require a price - this price will cause him to kidnap children from the holy city in my world and this sets up the majority of how things get started. My actual characters then have their own motives for getting involved and each is different. Also the prologue ends (after 1 and 1/2 pages) with the bad guy deciding that he will break into the holy city and then it ends and the first chapter is over a week later (i've been tinkering with the idea of using the attack to introduce two of my characters - because i wanna see the battle but it works well without the battle and i can introduce the idea of the fight through conversation.)

Basically prologues are what you make them (cop-out, lol) and when i write i deliberately leave out or don't do those things i hate about novels (long prologues etc.) If you write it well it will come out well.

As for having problems at the beginning; why not pick a part of your story you have decided of already that you really like and write the pieces you enjoy. I personally didn't think that my writing was working for me, but then i knew much of what was to happen already, and when i put it up critique i discovered that things were working and that people really do enjoy how and what i write.

Write it as if the beginning and how you start the story doesn't matter, then go back and have a look at it from a reader stand point - would you enjoy it as a start. To make slower starts work you have to still have a hook (that's why i use a prologue, my 1st chapter is a slow introduction and i've balanced it with the prologue). Give us some reason to like or identify with the characters, an argument or exchange of words that leaves one character thinking how she hates it when he acts like that because it reminds her of....etc. Also the entrance into town doesn't have to happen, they could simply enter the old man's house and then have him mention their trip, "the trip wasn't too difficult i trust?" etc.

Finally, the reasons for thestart of the journey have to be realistic - you have to be able to agree with their choice or understand it, they also must make the choice and the information about what is wrong has to be a hook, something to make you think and wonder what will happen later. You most often will follow a character see what happens to them than you would follow a story arc.

Look at (lord save me) harry potter, nothing too incredible of a beginning but you get an brief idea that something has happened and you feel for the baby, you now have a stake in what happens to it and you hope things turn out okay.

I don't know if this will help you but hopefully my examples have given you a ceratin understanding that you can use.

Last point: If you can't do the beginning, start later on in the story and have
them look back at how it started (a "how did i get into this" bit). But we have to have a stake in the characters and who they are and why they are doing this mission or else most will drop the story. Hope this has helped.

Good Luck,
Chris

KatG
April 24th, 2006, 10:46 AM
The first one is: Prologue or not prologue? I'm probably not the only one who mercilessly skips the prologue in books and start at chapter 1. I know I'll miss crucial information, but I'd rather read a fun book than the dry prologue. And somehow most I have seen (I'm hoping I've only seen the worst) have a very old-fashioned and dry style no matter how the author writes in the rest of the story. Now, the problem is that my novel builds on a previous novel, a novel that won't be written anyway (really bad plot, among other things) but the events are supposed to have taken place some two hundred years before the story starts. These events are, while perhaps not the basis for what happens in the story, very much a consequence of them. They are the motivation for many of the main character's actions, her opinions, and the relationship between the characters. I haven't really decided whether or not to write a prologue, but if I do, I'm unsure of how what I need to keep in mind when writing it. I've also heard that prologues can make it harder to be published (only a rumour, I have no idea whether or not it is true). What are your opinions on this?

Having a prologue has no effect on your publishing prospects. Prologues are common in sff. They are difficult to do, and sometimes unnecessary, so people get warned away from them, but if you feel that a Prologue is the best way to deliver critical backgrond info, then you can do that. Consider though whether you can provide the same info through dialogue, flashbacks and pov character thoughts instead. As you note, many readers will skip Prologues, so you have to weigh that factor into the equation.

There are as many different ways to write a Prologue as there are to write a novel. Robert Jordan's for instance, are really just like a first chapter. Other, shorter Prologues may give just a scene or a fragment of a scene, an excerpt from some invented ancient text, or a description of historical events. A lot of Prologues are timeframes, meaning they are set in the future or present, and then invite the reader to go backwards in time to the beginning of the story, or that they involve a past event that then will become important later (the sword getting stuck into the stone, etc.) You can also consider having a Forward or Forward Note instead of a Prologue, if you just want to convey some quick historical background facts -- imaginary historians are good for this sort of thing.


Secondly, I struggle with my beginning. It's not a "straight into the action"-beginning, although there are quite a few things that have already happened when the story starts. The beginning itself is basically the main characters riding into a town and meeting a man who talks with them and gives them the first pieces of information that makes them realise that things are not really the way they should be in their world.

Most novels, including sff novels, do not start straight into the action. The straight into the action school of thought is a particular stylistic choice. It can be effective, if your story is the type of story that gives itself well to action plunging, and if your natural style runs that way. But in most sff stories, a certain amount of orientation info may be needed in the beginning, and so starting off with a battle or a spaceship chase is not necessarily the best plan. The beginning can still have drama and mystery and be engaging; in fact, we tend to think more of a writer's abilities when he does not have to rely on the crutch of action to catch our interest. A man travelling alone on a road or a slave dealing with her morning chores can still be made interesting. Your characters, finding out ominous information, are certainly being plunged into a dramatic situation, even if they don't have their swords out swinging.


But I can't write it. It feels so dry, so dull, and the dialogue is forced. I'm told I write good dialogue, but it just can't seem to get onto the screen the way I've always pictured it in my head. How do I know how much information to include? Should I at all write the entire conversation, or just the beginning and let them tell the rest to another character that weren't present? And how do I make such a beginning interesting? I feel I can't really have a different beginning either. I have read "Beginnings, Middles & Ends" and a few articles, but I don't feel I am any closer to any solution. It doesn't exactly help that I haven't written properly in a few months either. What do I need to remember? I know there aren't any set solution to it, but I need advice. What traps are there to avoid?

The main trap you have to avoid, I would say, is that you have your Editor's Hat on and your Inner Weasel going at full bore, and it's mucking up your ability to write a draft. Your Editor's Hat, which you'll need later on for revising, is sticking his nose in early, telling you that you have to get your beginning perfect right now and no moving forward till you've got it. Your Inner Weasel -- the slimy fellow -- is telling you that everything you write is no good anyway, and whatever made you think that you could do dialogue. Both of these need to go. Give yourself permission to write a really sucky first draft of the beginning, with a scene you're not even sure you're keeping for the beginning. Move foreward, with the promise to the Editor Hat that you will fix it later in the second draft, and could it please keep quiet in the meantime. Boot the Inner Weasel out the door -- takes practice, but it gets fun after awhile.

Another potential trap you may be suffering from is stylitis. This is when your brain tries to write in a style that is not your own -- and which is usually much more formal and dry than your own -- because it thinks that's the way that fantasy -- or sf or whatever -- should be written. In fantasy, it can also be called Tolkeinitis, the urge to write like Tolkein and assorted Oxford dons, even though you are not one and his writing is fifty years old. Again, with stylitis, you have to give yourself permission to write stuff that's looser, poorly thought out and possibly greatly lacking in large words, as well as not being upper class British in nature. If you want, run the dialogue past your friends who think you write good dialogue and see if they think what you have is not your usual best.

But remember, it's a first draft. Worse, it's the beginning of a first draft. It doesn't matter what it's like. That's my new rule. If you're writing a first draft, you can complain if you're stuck and have a plot problem, but you can't complain that the writing is awful. Once you complete the first draft, then you can complain, but until then, it's just too early and I shall smirk at you. :)

Ciuva
April 24th, 2006, 01:23 PM
Thanks, both of you. I don't really know what to reply except that I have miraculously enough gotten back my inspiration for the whole project, and have realised that there was more than one trap I went straight into. Even though I sort of knew about them already. I think I had entirely forgotten how satisfied I was with the plot and how much I actually enjoy writing the characters. It became such a chore when I tried to get everything perfect at first draft. As my former teacher said, a draft is only a draft. I already have some ideas for a prologue (I have reached the conclusion that it's necessary after all). Maybe I've read too many books with the stiff prologues that are supposed to be chapters out of a holy book and that sort of thing.


But remember, it's a first draft. Worse, it's the beginning of a first draft. It doesn't matter what it's like. That's my new rule. If you're writing a first draft, you can complain if you're stuck and have a plot problem, but you can't complain that the writing is awful. Once you complete the first draft, then you can complain, but until then, it's just too early and I shall smirk at you.

I should really print that quote out and tape it to the wall in front of me so I'll remember it.

KatG
April 24th, 2006, 07:08 PM
Will it help if I mention that I go through this conversation with my Inner Weasel about twice a week, and my Editor Hat has at times been so bad about getting on my head, I had to nail it to the wall?

I should say, again, that these are not my terms originally. They come from the defunct AOL Writers Club Message Boards SFF writers, but I have always found them very useful. And I am available for smirking most days. If for some reason I am unavailable, I would suggest Hereford Eye or Rocket Sheep as excellent substitutes.

MrBF1V3
April 25th, 2006, 01:49 AM
Oh I must respond, though I suspect your questions have already been answered.

For the main question, to prologue or not. I am a fan of starting a story when the story starts. Whether it all began fifteen years ago, or fifteen million. I am also a fan of interesting writing, if a prologue is dry, it does not deserve to be read. (IMHO) If a prologue must be written, write it well.

I am also a fan of jumping right into the action at the beginning of the story, but I have redefined "action" to mean that something is happening, and it could be as simple as two people walking down a street and talking. I can jump into the action because I decide to NOT explain very much of what's going on until the action, whatever form it takes, has been established. Even then, I will let the reader figure things out over the course of the story. (I have been known to take this too far, which is one of the many reasons why people who will critique are so important.) I only infodump when I can't figure out a way around it.

I suspect there are very few people who write who do not struggle with their writting at some point. I identify with those who do, and feel envious of those who do not.

For what it's worth,

B5

Expendable
April 25th, 2006, 03:03 AM
Sometimes the best time to write a prologue is afterwards. Then you'll know exactly what you need. But don't let that stop you now.

Now to handle your inner editor and inner weasle, I suggest giving your muse a spiked baseball bat. Also listen to music that inspires you and your muse - that bat gets heavy after a while.

Gag and handcuff the inner editor first, you might need him later.

Dawnstorm
April 25th, 2006, 07:53 AM
Sometimes the best time to write a prologue is afterwards. Then you'll know exactly what you need. But don't let that stop you now.

That's true.

Sometimes, while writing, a structure emerges, and it's easier to fit in a prologue, then.

***

Example:

I'm currently writing a novel I've been incubating for years (it's older than my SFFworld-membership; and I have 3 false-starts already).

When I started writing it, there was no prologue. I just started at the beginning (for most characters it's the beginning, although for some it's the middle). Then, there was talk about prologues, and that scene came to me. It's a key-scene in the world's history and may help understanding the situation at the start of the story. So I basically added it to the front and called it a prologue. Just for fun, really.

It's a bit thin, and a bit random, for a prologue, though, so I'm not sure what to do with it. I might keep it as it is, I might expand it, I might delete it, I might re-write it into a history document and include at some point into the story proper (say excerpts read in a library). The information's helpful, but not vital.

There's this idea I'm toying with, currently, and that's not calling it a prologue, but somehow integrating it into the structure of the novel. The novel could look like this:

Part 1 (Weaving the Threads)

Prologue 1 (with no heading; not referred to as Prologue; perhaps written entirely in italics?)

Chapter 1 - X

Part 2 (Threads run together)

Prologue 2

Chapter (x+1) - Y

Part 3 (Fabric emerges)

...

Part 4 (Fabric tears at parts)

and so on...

How exactly that would look I can't know until the story's written. A lot depends on pacing. What I've noticed is that the pacing changes; there's no single dramatic structure, but there are micro climaxes, and then the story runs off into a different direction. So each part could have some sort of unity (Part 1 would be drawn together by theme; the theme would feed Part 2, so Part 2 would be drawn together by character interaction; then Part 3 might focus on plot/elaboration of themes...); and each prologue to each part would then reflect that "unity".

No idea if that will come together or not. But I'm not really worried. Finish the story first, then arrange the parts.

***

My inner weasel?

More like an inner hyena: laughing as I struggle, consuming me if I quit. *grins uncomfortably*

TheGhost
April 25th, 2006, 08:56 AM
Heed KatG. If you become obsessed with trying to perfect chapter 1, you'll never get to chapter 2. And I see no reason why you can't decide the prologue issue (i.e. to prologue or not) when you're done with the story. You'll know if you need it later. There is no rule that says you have to write your story in logical order.

As to how you begin your story, I do think some thinking about structure and setting would be of benefit beforehand. Part of it depends on the pacing that you want: are you aiming for the book equivalent of the 90-minute action movie, or something slower and more sumptuous? Also, if you're having trouble with the dialogue, perhaps there's something wrong with the man your characters talk to. Is he an omniscient device to get the story moving, and nothing else? If that's the case, I could see why the dialogue might be boring and dull to you, and I could see that a reader might feel the same. If so, perhaps you could change this character in ways more positive to your story: he's not omniscient, maybe just a farmer who's seen some intriguing things, maybe the other townspeople think he's strange, and still he relates some of his limited knowledge to your characters, and then they draw conclusions from this in a discussion among themselves. This moves your dialogue from a process of question and answer to a process of mystery, deduction, and collaboration that has the benefit of quickly characterizing your main characters.


Ghostie

Dazzlinkat
April 25th, 2006, 01:09 PM
One of my WIPs is a novel with a prologue. Its a fight to the death between two dragons. What the reader learns is only a HINT, and rather slight, of what's at the root of the story. Also, the fight leads right into the first chapter ( not in time but in context), so the prologue does double duty. (This is also a way to disguise the hint from the reader).

Dont worry about dumping too much data in your prologue, or the wrong stuff, just write it. As you progress your story and things change (why stories REFUSE to be written the way they are planned is a mystery and vexing :mad: ) you can always go back and change the prologue. It isn't written in stone, ya know ;)

As for the dialogue, just plow ahead. A solution will come to you in time ... dont force it. The farther you go, the more comfortable you will be with writing your characters, feeling how they think and talk.