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  1. #1
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    I need some advice on a beginning for my novel

    I've heard plenty of times before that people--especially a lot of agents and publishers--aren't hot on the idea of prologues. I'm really neutral on the idea, but lately, I've been wondering if maybe I should go back write one for this novel I'm working on. It would help jump right into my character's troubles and the setting, so it could still have a purpose, just set in the character's distant past.

    On the other hand, since I don't have one now anyway, I thought something else I could do was just have the character dream about the same scene and then go ahead into the first chapter proper. But then, I've been told before that I should never start a story with a dream sequence since it will only confuse readers.

    Right now, I just have the story opening several years down the line when the character's journey picks up. While I like it this way, since it helps me get right to the point, it makes it hard to organically talk about why she's where she is without info dumping in the middle of a chapter.

    Any suggestions or thoughts on what I should do?

  2. #2
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    Keep it the way you have it. No prologue. Getting right to the point is usually a good plan.

  3. #3
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    I suppose that's probably the best. I guess I'll just to find some better way to explain the setting and conflict.

  4. #4
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    I've heard plenty of times before that people--especially a lot of agents and publishers--aren't hot on the idea of prologues.
    But have you heard that from professional editors and writers, or, as rumor passed on by other hopeful writers? That matters, because the pros usually explain why, so you can apply their advice to your case. Fiction Editor Beth Hill, for example, gave one reason: “Readers want to know the now of a character’s life, not what happened to his grandfather 60 years ago.” So if you’re thinking of the prologue as a means of info-dumping history on the reader before you’ve generated a desire and need to know it, forget it. Start your story with story.

    But if you’re writing a mystery, a prologue is often an introduction to the crime, and expected. An editor, on reading one of my manuscripts, told me that in the first few chapters my protagonist felt a bit too passive, and suggested opening with an incident that would show her strength of character before she was placed in a situation where she had little control—a prologue. So editors aren’t against them. They just insist that, like the rest of the story, they entertain on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis.

    The key is to always keep in mind why people read fiction, which is to be entertained. Being informed—having an invisible narrator explain things—is too much like sitting in history class for most people.

    So if you do include a prologue, and it’s longer than a paragraph or two, think of it as a chapter that must stand or fall on its own merit. And keep in mind that the average reader makes a, buy the book or say no, decision within the first few pages, so if you spend that audition spooning dry facts into the reader’s mind, you’re going to be rejected. Ask yourself, as you edit those opening pages, what—on the page they just read—will make your reader want to turn the page to know more.

    In other words, readers are volunteers, not conscripts. They arrive with mild interest that you, and your words, must change to active interest. In the words of Sol Stein: “A novel is like a car—it won’t go anywhere until you turn on the engine. The “engine” of both fiction and nonfiction is the point at which the reader makes the decision not to put the book down. The engine should start in the first three pages, the closer to the top of page one the better.”

    Hope this helps

  5. #5
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    No, not other writers--the first person I can think of who said it was a successful agent, one who had been working with authors in my genre for some time.

    The prologue wouldn't be to info dump, just set up why the character was in the state she's in while also being a bit more organic in setting the scene. Essentially, it'd be something of a cold opening, but the problem becomes that I would then have to skip seven years into the present.

    I guess I can always write up a prologue, but keep it separate from the story until I decide if it works or not.

    Thanks for the advice.

  6. #6
    Member Writers Choice's Avatar
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    My editor told me to change the first chapter of my book to a prologue. The very first chapter opens with a scene which is a peek towards the end of the book; then it goes to the beginning and works it's way back to the first chapter. At least that was her recommendation, so I went with it.

    Yes, my editor is a professional who worked for medium and large publishing companies. She's done several interviews and written articles. Apparently, she prefers picking the type of book to edit vice one being forced on her so she went independent. Anyways, it's in the fourth round of editing; I don't think it's ever gonna end. I want to so desperately move onto the second book in the series but this one keeps coming back with more.

    Getting back on topic, prologue as explained to me isn't necessarily for info dump but can be used as a preview into the story. Who knows, maybe the next editor I get will disagree with her and make me change it back.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Writers Choice View Post
    Who knows, maybe the next editor I get will disagree with her and make me change it back.
    That sounds harsh, but thanks for sharing. I hope you get to move on soon.

  8. #8
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    I have a textbook prologue. It is the pivotal point in the middle of the novel where the protagonist realizes she needs help. Then the first chapter starts the story that leads to the prologue. It seems to work.

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