Hi guys! Are you all having a great Saturday?
So all you lovely folks out there. Today I have a new blog tour for you – Caz Frear’s debut novel, “Sweet LittleLies”, was published on 29th June by Zaffre. This book has won the Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller Competition – I have read some books that have won this competition already and they were all brilliant, so it’s already a great recommendation, no? Sadly, I haven’t managed to read this novel in time for my blog tour stop but I am already half into it and believe me, guys – it’s Special. It’s Something. And today I am thrilled to have a guest post from Caz on fascination with prologues – enjoy!
Prologues – what’s the fascination? Should you or shouldn’t you?
Wikipedia states, ‘a prologue is an opening to a story that establishes the context and gives background details, along with other miscellaneous information.’
Mmmm, I beg to differ, Wikipedia. In fact, I’d argue that sums everything a prologue shouldn’t be. More of that later.
But first, here’s a thing: I’m not even sure if my novel, Sweet Little Lies has a prologue. I certainly haven’t called it ‘The Prologue’ and it’s just become known as ‘That Bit at The Start’. If truth be told, I was scared of writing the ‘P’ word as it’s such a divisive term in the literary world. Some people can’t stand them. They say they’re lazy, or indulgent – literary shorthand for “not important.” However, surely the point of a good prologue is that there’s ‘something’ contained within it that’s so damn bloody important that it can’t just be covered casually, in passing, within the main narrative?
But then, as with everything in life, there are good prologues and bad prologues.
Rumour has it that some people skip prologues altogether – all I can say here is that I’m yet to meet one. Then there’s also the slightly skewed myth that publishers and agents HATE prologues. That they’re a fast-track to an auto-reject. While, admittedly, I do know of a few book-folk who definitely aren’t wild about them, who think they’re overused etc, the very presence of the word PROLOGUE usually isn’t enough to make an agent or publisher banish you to literary purgatory forever, not if your writing shines and your characters sing.
They’ll just make you get rid of it in the edit, that’s all.
It’s sometimes remarked that prologues, especially within the crime genre, really took off with the rise of the e-book – the idea being that, with fiction at our fingertips, available at knock-down prices, the reader demands instant gratification in the first few pages or they simply cut their losses and move on. While I don’t doubt there’s some truth in this, I think it does the poor prologue a slight disservice. It plays up to it’s ‘cheap gimmick’ reputation and forgets that if done well, the prologue is an incredibly strong plot device. After all, they’ve been knocking around since the days of Chaucer and Shakespeare certainly didn’t shy away from including one. Also, by way of anecdote, I know of one very successful author who experienced a whole round of rejections when her non-prologued debut first went out on submission, but after a teeny bit of plot surgery and the addition of a killer prologue (literally), the book went to auction in the second round. Pure coincidence – possibly. But she firmly believes the prologue had a lot to do with it.
So, more knowledgeable folk than me have given their views on what makes a good or bad prologue, but hey, it’s 2017 and everyone’s got an opinion, so for what it’s worth, here’s mine…
A prologue should…
- Grab the reader by the throat. It shouldn’t be thoughtful, meandering or abstract. Of course, that doesn’t mean there has to be a car chase or an explosion (although feel free) but it should contain some sort of action and pose an immediate question. Who is she running from? Why is the door locked?
- Be relatively short. There’s no hard and fast rules on word-count, but more than a few pages and it either needs sharpening or scrapping (and calling ‘Chapter 1’)
- Be set outside the main story. A different narrator, a different timeframe, a different continent, whatever. Again, if it’s part of the main story, it’s probably not a prologue, it’s Chapter 1.
A prologue can…
- Be the very last thing you write – in fact, there’s a case for saying it should be.
- Exist without the word ‘Prologue’ written at the top. Prologues can come in the form of a diary entry/a newspaper cutting/a court transcript…
- Be taken from a scene that comes much later in the book – the reader (usually) won’t mind the repetition as it now holds new meaning.
- Allow you to use a very different tone, tense, narrator (not all prologues are narrated by the main protagonist.
A prologue shouldn’t
- Be an info-dump. This is the last thing it should be and it’s my only ‘shouldn’t’. Ultimately, a prologue is all about intrigue – the info and the history can come later (although seeded in gradually – an info-dump isn’t a great at any point!)
There are glorious, best-selling exceptions to all these rules – stream-of-consciousness prologues, fifteen page prologues, prologues that read like text-books until you reach the end and it all makes sense. But remember they’re the exception, not the norm, and while brass-necked originality is what we think everyone craves, there’s something to be said for sticking to the norm – .to giving the reader what they expect.
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