Monday, August 24, 2015

Writing a Prologue Readers Won't Skip

I'm working on revisions for the sequel to Secrets of the King's Daughter, so my critique group has seen chunks of my entire manuscript. The last time we met, I gave them my revised first chapter. Someone asked me, "Why do you mention (character I'll call Jay) here?"
I answered, "Remember he's the one who does (this important thing), and I need to mention him before that happens."
"Oh, yes. Well, then you need to have (another thing) happen later that resolves that character's role."
She was right. Suddenly, Jay took on a bigger role in this story than I first anticipated. This lead me to write a prologue.

Before you walk away, thinking, Ugh. I hate prologues, let me tell you this: That is because you have read too many that have done it for the wrong reasons. Done well, prologues enhance a book and pull the reader into the story.

First off, a prologue is an opening scene that comes before the first chapter. Think of it as an appetizer before the main course. It should not be invented because a writer's first chapter is not hooking enough. The first chapter needs to stand on its own merit. It should not be a bunch of world building, an info dump, or an overload of backstory. It should not be long.

Why do I need a prologue, or in other words, what are some good reasons to have one?
  1. In the first book, the reader assumes a false resolution for Jay. In the sequel, I needed to briefly recap some events and show the reader what really happened to that character.
  2. This is the only scene where we get Jay's point of view, thus it is different from the rest of the book.
  3. There is a gap in time between the prologue and the first chapter. And in this case, a gap between the end of the first book and the beginning of the second. A prologue can resolve an out of time sequence.
  4. The prologue serves as a transition between the two books.
  5. It introduces an adversary that doesn't get an intro later; he simply pops up. It's less jarring with the earlier intro.
A good prologue should not be considered a sin. I hope my critique group loves it.

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