Archive for the 'Prologues' Category

Dec 20 2011

Don’t Let Information Take a Dump On Your Dialogue

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

Prologues should be hunted for sport.  They should be in season all year round, and whenever someone brings one down they should take pictures of themselves grinning like idiots over its fallen and bloodied body.  I’m sure many authors would agree with me.  In fact, there are probably several who jumped up from their computers after reading those first few sentences and started chasing their manuscripts through the house with a rifle.

 

When I read a piece of fiction, I’m trying to be transported into another world through the power of imagination.  I want characters, situations, and dialogue.  Tell me a joke, make me laugh, or let me see a glimpse of something that piques my curiosity as to what may happen next.  I don’t want a history lesson.  If your story doesn’t start at the beginning, that’s fine.  Let the people who have been brought to life through your words explain the beginning to me.  Wait!  Don’t get ahead of yourself.  I don’t want characters sitting me down and reciting a history lecture either.  If you can copy/paste your prologue into the dialogue, chances are it’s terrible dialogue.

 

In my collection of super hero stories, I recounted how the main character met two different people within the confines of one conversation at a house-warming party:

 

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Jul 18 2011

How to Write a Prologue Which Won’t Torpedo Your Manuscript

1. Please don’t just write an infodump of background setup.  If your prologue reads like an atlas entry or history report, you’d probably be better off just cutting to chapter 1 and weaving the background information into the story itself.  Readers will have an easier time learning background information (and will be more motivated to do so) if they see how it relates to the main characters doing interesting things.

 

2. Please make sure the information is interesting.  For example, please don’t start with a prologue about how the worlds were created and/or epic wars that happened thousands of years ago without really making the information distinct and/or fresh. Faceless Evil Hordes getting (temporarily) thwarted by Faceless Good Armies with Elven Allies?  Probably not so interesting.  Unless there’s something so unique to this history that it really sets the tone for the work, I’d recommend just cutting to the story or somehow making it more lively.  For example, if the universe was created by gods on a drunken dare, that will probably intrigue readers more than hundreds of words about how the evil gods created the orcs and how the good gods created the elves.

 

3. Keep the main character(s) as involved as possible.  In almost every case, the main character is a better hook into the story than the setting/backstory.  To the extent that the backstory/setting is a hook, you can cover that in the backcover blurb (“In a city where even the pizza boys have superpowers and the Canadian Mafia sells cocaine-laced mayonnaise on every corner, a schizophrenic bartender and his possibly-sentient goldfish must…”). In your story, please show interesting characters doing interesting things (e.g. trying to accomplish urgent goals) as quickly as possible. If main goals are not immediately available, you can use intermediate goals–for example, before Luke Skywalker fights against the Empire, he fights with his uncle about becoming a pilot, which develops his personality and his urgent goal to pursue adventure. If the main character(s) is not present in your prologue, I would highly recommend keeping the prologue as short as possible or eliminating it.  

 

4. If the prologue functions as a chapter, I’d recommend making it Chapter One.  Mark Evans suggests that some readers are so put off by prologues that they just skip past them entirely.  A commenter below adds that readers might skip over prologues because “if the information was actually important, then it would be included in the main book itself.” I don’t know how common that is, but personally I am so used to prologues being boring that I’m filled with dread, ennui, and an intense desire to flee to Somalia whenever I see one. I have read only 1-2 prologues which have actually contributed to the work.

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