Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Foreword to Prologues

I’ve read too much theory of writing recently. It’s starting to affect my reading.

Not too long ago, I picked up a new book—the author came very well recommended. It was a tad macabre, but the book turned out as brilliant as could be hoped for. Still, when I put it down at the end (and gave a little sigh that the book didn’t last even longer), my brain involuntarily went reeling back to the beginning of the story.

To set the stage a little—this was a detective novel of sorts, with a psychic hero w

ho sees dead people. They never talk, he’s very clear on that point, but they do want him to resolve their problems, solve their murders, and generally make it easier for them to pass on to the next life.

The book starts off with a prologue. No, the author doesn’t call it that, but it is one anyway. I have a prologue at the beginning of my current work in progress, and I call it that very clearly. It’s purpose, though, is to set the stage for the key incident in my story. The prologue in this other book is really just the first couple of chapters, but they aren’t the main story—they’re a little snippet of a story—a short story, really—set there to introduce the main character and set the stage for the bigger story to come.

According to another book, one I read this spring, that's all a prologue really is--a set piece that introduces the main character (or sometimes the villain), or else establishes a degree of tension that will carry the reader into the rest of the story.

In The First Fifty Pages, Jeff Gerke suggests using prologues to show main characters such as action heroes or detectives solving a smaller problem before going on to the big event. It lets readers see who the hero is and how he solves things. That way, they have an idea what to expect when he faces a real challenge, even if the story doesn't immediately turn into booby traps and explosions.

I recommend The First Fifty Pages, by the way. The book explained some things about plot structure that plenty of others have discussed, but it made sense to me in a way that none of the others did.

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