This Christmas I received a copy of The Irresistible Novel by Jeff Gerke. I’m just getting around to working my way through this book. It’s been perfect for this season of editing as each chapter is centered on an issue in writing. With each chapter the author explores how to add to your own writing using the principles discussed therein.
At the conclusion of each chapter the author shows you what publishers are looking for when it comes to that issue, but then he ultimately presents you with a choice of whether or not you want to include that idea in your own writing. One of my favorite quotes thus far in the book is born from the idea that in the end you are the author of the book and whatever you feel comfortable with is how you should write.
“Why would you include for other readers the very thing you hate as a reader?” (Gerke 19)
Today I am going to summarize some major ideas from Chapter 1: Prologues. Judging by comments and responses that I’ve received from followers I can tell that many of you are working toward a writing project be that a novel, short publication, or article so I hope those of you who do dabble in writing will find ideas presented in this book helpful. I plan to continue to share ideas with you as I read my way through The Irresistible Novel.
The big question posed in this chapter is the relevance of including a prologue in your book. A prologue is the background story necessary for understanding the major conflicts and problems in the novel. The thinking behind this question is that all novels should begin in the exposition phase and so all books should technically contain a prologue. However, is it necessary to truly set your prologue apart from chapter 1? Or is chapter 1 of every book a prologue?
There are a few schools of thought on this topic. Some say that prologues which explain time prior to the time period are necessary. They believe that in order to engage the reader on the proper level that the reader needs the background knowledge presented in this chapter. Another thought is that prologues which just unpack information and tell the reader what they need to know as opposed to showing them throughout the story is actually detrimental to your writing.
Good writing shows the reader what they need to know through demonstration. Poor writing just tells the reader what they need to know.
The principle above is a fine line. Anytime you cross over from showing into telling the quality of your writing begins to decrease. So, the big issue here is not necessarily should you have a prologue, but rather what do you include in the prologue. If you plan to just unpack facts about the characters and their pasts then maybe rethinking your novel structure is necessary. Is there a better way to reveal what you plan to discuss in the prologue in another way throughout the book? If so, then I would personally recommend foregoing the prologue and just starting with chapter one.
On the other hand, I recognize that there are times when a prologue is necessary. There are stories (mysteries popped into my head first) which sometimes do show a scene and use the prologue as an element of foreshadowing. So if you can build the prologue into your story using showing techniques then I can see it being beneficial to your overall novel.
According to Gerke, many publishers are looking to avoid the prologue these days. But, if deleting the prologue takes away from the story you’ve created don’t sacrifice your writing style. If you have written a truly irresitible novel someone will recognize the gem you’ve produced with or without the prologue.
My Current Project…
For the novel I have written I chose not to include a prologue. This was an idea I thought about for quite some time. Originally I did have a prologue, but as the story continued I recognized ways to input the backstory of my characters into the plot. I did so using dialogue. Many of the conversations throughout the book reference things that originally were found in my very telling prologue.
Dialogue is a great tool for showing your readers what they need to know. Characters divulge information with emotion in a way that pure narration never can. As I’ve gone through the editing process the idea of showing and not telling has been on the forefront of my mind. I’m constantly reworking sentences and scenes to depict a more descriptive format. I’m glad that I’ve found many articles about how rubbish first drafts are for even the best authors because I would have lost hope without that encouragement. Editing takes a while. It’s a process which includes long reflection on every chapter, every paragraph, every sentence, and every word.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the prologue and how you do or don’t like to include it in your novel writing.
The Ameri Brit Mom