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View Full Version : Prologue or foreshadowing?


jbal
07-13-2006, 04:01 AM
Obviously this question depends to a degree on the specific work, so let's get that out of the way. I posted the first chapter of a novel on SYW, and a response that I got from more than one person (and what I was concerned about anyway) is that there's not much indication in the first chapter of what type of book it is or where the story is going. This shows particularly in the fact that it's a horror novel, but there's not an indication of that even extending to the first few chapters. However, there is a lot of setup in those chapters that will come into play later, and also I wanted the book to slowly build to its climax, sort of like this post seems to be doing. So here's the question (at last): Would it be best to streamline the first few chapters and add a prologue? I've seen this in quite a few novels in the genre where it begins with some event that serves mainly to say: "you're reading a horror novel", and then moves on with the more or less mundane events that serve to set up the rest of the story. Instinct tells me to go this route, but I also don't want to fall into the trap of doing something just because I've seen it elsewhere. Even in other genres, how do you handle this sort of thing?

Siddow
07-13-2006, 04:21 AM
Here's my thoughts (and I'm in the same predicament as you right now): you need to grab in the first chapter, the first page even, if you're not an already established writer. Even then, a quick grab in the horror genre keeps readers. But for a newbie, you've got three to five pages (or a paragraph even) to nab the editor's or agent's attention.

It's really tough, too. I cut out the first five chapters of my novel because it started too slow, and it still starts too slow for horror. It's newbieitis...an irrational fear that the reader won't understand unless we set up every last detail. I hope we get over it.

jbal
07-13-2006, 04:40 AM
Yeah, that's why I'm thinking prologue, with some unrelated character experiencing something that the mc will experience later on. Then hopefully people will stay for the setup if they know a little about what's coming. I don't want to thrust anybody into terrifying circumstances too quickly without giving a reader a little time to get to know them/identify with them. Otherwise why should anyone care if something bad happens to them? Also, it's all about atmosphere, and I feel like if it builds up more slowly, it will have more impact when the goods are delivered at the end. Sort of like...no I won't use that analogy.

maestrowork
07-13-2006, 05:18 AM
Your idea of starting the book slowly and building up to the climax concerns me. It doesn't mean it won't work, but nowadays readers (and agents, who are basically super readers) want something to start off in media res -- and have enough to hook the readers and string them along. If the beginning of your book is nothing but set up, you will lose the readers quickly.

It's a common mistake for new authors to want to let the readers "get to know" the characters first before presenting them with something significant. The typical "crane shot" approach of movies. Unfortunately, commercial fiction is not movies. You need to get your readers involved in the characters first, then you can let them slowly get to know them. Put them in a situation, etc.

It doesn't have to be the first terrifying experience. It doesn't have to be death, or anything traumatic, but it has to be something out of ordinary to get the readers interested, even if you start with an ordinary day. For example, you could have a character reading the newspapers at home, eating breakfast (ordinary day) but he got an emergency phone call... the readers don't have to know what it is, but they will ask questions: What is the phone call about? Who is it from? What is going to happen next? Once you get them hooked, you will be able to let them spend some time with the character.

The best way to learn is to read your favorite horror writers and see how they do it. And don't read their later books because when they're famous, they can afford to do whatever they want. Try to read their earlier books, the ones that made them famous, and see how they started their stories.

LightShadow
07-13-2006, 10:20 PM
since I often write political thrillers and political satire, I sometimes have a prologue - but it isn't necessarily back story in the traditional sense - instead it is a list of historical facts that support the story the reader is about to engage.

Jamesaritchie
07-13-2006, 10:38 PM
Throw away your first two chapters and start the novel with chapter three. Now work whatever information you need from teh first two chapters into the novel.

Siddow
07-13-2006, 10:39 PM
http://wyliemerrick.blogspot.com/2006/06/horror-writer-me-no-i-write-dark.html

I just came across this, and thought you'd like to read it. Enjoy!

LightShadow
07-13-2006, 11:00 PM
Throw away your first two chapters and start the novel with chapter three. Now work whatever information you need from teh first two chapters into the novel.

good point, I've actually done that a few times. Sometimes the re-write is actually a cut and paste and cut some more session.

MidnightMuse
07-13-2006, 11:08 PM
The first few paragraphs are SO important - really. How often have you picked up a book, started with page one, and halfway through couldn't find good enough reason to continue?

I like the suggestion of tossing out the first chapters and beginning where there's conflict or drama - very good advice and something to try.

jbal
07-13-2006, 11:11 PM
Throw away your first two chapters and start the novel with chapter three. Now work whatever information you need from teh first two chapters into the novel.
You know, this is probably the way to go. The more I think about it, the more I realize that there's not much in those chapters anyway. But I never heard of a book that starts with chapter three...
Thanks for all the good advice.

Bufty
07-13-2006, 11:31 PM
You really answer your own question, JBAL. If it's mundane, drop it.

....I've seen this in quite a few novels in the genre where it begins with some event that serves mainly to say: "you're reading a horror novel", and then moves on with the more or less mundane events that serve to set up the rest of the story. Instinct tells me to go this route, but I also don't want to fall into the trap of doing something just because I've seen it elsewhere. Even in other genres, how do you handle this sort of thing?

maestrowork
07-13-2006, 11:32 PM
Throw away your first two chapters and start the novel with chapter three. Now work whatever information you need from teh first two chapters into the novel.

I actually threw away 7 chapters. :)

Jamesaritchie
07-14-2006, 01:30 AM
You know, this is probably the way to go. The more I think about it, the more I realize that there's not much in those chapters anyway. But I never heard of a book that starts with chapter three...
Thanks for all the good advice.

This is actually very old advice. I wish I knew who first gave it. Most new writers begin their novels too early in the story, and getting rid of the first two chapters usually eliminates this problem.

Most published novels begin with chapter three when compared to novels by first time writers.

jbal
07-14-2006, 02:47 AM
Yeah, ok, my mind's made up. God bless this board and all of you folks more experienced than me. So here goes:
"Novel" by Jon Baldridge
page 1: chapter three...