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"Hard is not hopeless." - General David Petraeus

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Perfect Prologue

Had the privilege today of attending a book-signing of fellow ACFW author Patti Lacy ( just a few miles up the road at our local Barnes & Noble.

Patti is here promoting her latest book, What The Bayou Saw, as well as her first book An Irishwoman's Tale. Of course I couldn't pass up a chance to attend a fellow writer's book signing in my own beautiful city. I'll wait to hear Patti's take on the day, but the B&N was quite busy so it seemed a perfect day for an author event.

Patti and I had never met in person before so it was a treat, and after I came home I was reading the prologue of An Irishwoman's Tale. I was so impressed by it, I knew this had to be the first post of 2010.

I can't count the number of times I and fellow authors in crit groups have struggled with the question, "What makes a good prologue?" Also, "How long should it be?" Well the prologue of Patti's book answered it perfectly for me.

Her prologue is one page long.

Yep. Just one page. In fact, it doesn't quite take up the full page, but it packs quite a punch. It reaches out and grabs your emotions right from the first line. You actually feel a lump in your throat by the time you reach the end of the prologue. You can't help but want to turn the page.

After reading this, I see how far off base any prologues I've written have been. And now, when this comes up with fellow writers whose work I am reading, I have a story to point them to as an example.

Part of the problem with prologues is we writers feel we need to explain our story. I mean, this complex ball of many yarns is tumbling around in our head and we're certain it can't possibly be understood without a prologue. A nice meaty prologue. Most of the time, however, that's not the case. Often, it can be omitted entirely. But there are times where you still feel it's necessary.

Patti's prologue teaches me a couple excellent pointers:

Keep it short: Now maybe you don't have to confine yourself to 1 page, but it seems like no more than 1-3 pages should be necessary (I shudder to tell you how long some of my prologues have been!)

Cut. Cut. And cut some more: I'd like to ask Patti how long her original prologue draft was. But looking at how compact it reads in the published version, my guess is she went over it many times until absolutely nothing was left that wasn't crucial to setting up the story. 100% lean.

Pack a punch: It's not easy to grab somebody emotionally right off the bat. But for prologues especially, this is crucial. A lot of people skip reading the prologue. No, I'm not one of them, because if the words came in the book I bought, then I want to read them. Leaving them unread is like not petting a dog within arm's reach. Banish the thought!

So if you've struggled with "to prologue or not to prologue" and decided to prologue, I highly encourage you to read the prologue in An Irishwoman's Tale as a how-to guide.

Here's a link to it at Amazon:

Happy reading and writing!

1 comment:

Kathleen L. said...

this is sooo timely, Brenda! I'm starting revisions on my Civil War novel and it has a prologue. Thanks!