I'm always thrilled when Renee Ryan stops by for a visit. Give this woman a craft topic and she's ready and able to discuss it. What's more, she makes so much sense. I'm particularly pleased that her February release THE MARSHAL TAKES A BRIDE is finally here. Today you're in luck because Renee will be drawing a name to give away an autographed copy to one lucky person who leaves a comment. Please welcome The Five Scribes' guest author, Renee Ryan.
Thanks to the Five Scribes for inviting me here today. I love discussing all things writing, especially the controversial. And let’s face it; prologues are right up there in the controversial category. Let me start by saying the only writing rule I ever adhere to is this one: There are no rules. In fact, for every hard and fast rule I’ve seen or heard, I’ve also witnessed a talented author break it beautifully and seamlessly. I could do an entire blog on the many examples that come to mind. But today I’m going to focus on the topic of prologues.
I recently sat in a workshop given by a very well-known author who categorically bashed prologues with a curled lip and vitriolic fervor. He basically said, “There is no reason, ever, to put a prologue in your story. He encouraged us to never write a prologue. Never, never, never.”
Well, I firmly disagree with this famous author. Case in point, I am writing a contracted novel in which my editor is requiring me to include a prologue. That’s right. My editor is insisting I add a prologue. With good reason. The entire story is contingent on a lone event that occurs a full month prior to the rest of the book. In order to make the story work, and not feel disjointed, this scene must be included in the opening of the novel as a prologue. Without it, I would have to add pages and pages of back story dump.
Now, let me state for the record, I hate back story dump, which brings me to my reasons for including a prologue in a book.
- To avoid back story dump. If the opening of your story is dependent on a prior event, and that event is filled with powerful action and emotion, then I say write the scene in real time. In other words, if you find yourself “telling” the specifics of a prior event, you might want to ask yourself, “Would this be more effective written in real time?” If the answer is yes, you need a prologue.
- To avoid a large jump in time between the first and second scene of a story. Whether an event occurs one month prior to the opening or twenty years in the past, if this event is important to the story, write it as a prologue.
- To provide motivation for a character’s actions in the opening of the story. Have you ever had someone say to you, “Your hero (or heroine) isn’t sympathetic?” Well, if a character is acting in a way that seems harsh, but he or she has a specific reason for acting this way, you could “show” the reason in a short prologue. And if this event is linked to the past, even better.
- To present a seemingly unrelated event that will have a huge impact on the external plot. This type of prologue is often seen in mysteries and thrillers. If an event, usually a murder, catapults the external plot but isn’t part of the hero and/or heroine’s main storyline, it’s often effective to present this scene as a prologue. It’s also a nice way to start off the story with live action rather than having to “explain” why this murder or event is important.
If you haven’t noticed already, let me point out something very important here. There is one noticeably similar thread to the four reasons I’ve presented for using a prologue. An event.
Basically, no matter which of the above four reasons you chose to write a prologue, that additional scene must be a specific event. It needs to have a direct impact on the external or internal plot and have a powerful emotional impact on the reader.
If you’re writing a prologue for any other reason than the four I mentioned above, if the prologue isn’t a live action “event”, I highly suggest you rethink it. But remember my only rule, there are no rules. If you want to write a prologue, go for it! Just try to have a solid reason for doing so.
Thanks again for having me here today. I’m a frequent visitor of this blog and always come away with a new insight. I consider it an honor to share my thoughts on prologues with all of you today.
Like I mentioned above, I’ll be giving away a free copy of my February release, THE MARSHAL TAKES A BRIDE. Although there’s no prologue in this book, two of my next four books do have action-packed, emotional prologues. Well, I think so anyway.
Renee Ryan writes for the Steeple Hill line Love Inspired Historical. Her fabulous editor is Melissa Endlich of Steeple Hill. Her first book in the Charity House series, The Marshall Takes a Bride is a February 2009 release. Her next book in the series, Hannah’s Beau, hits the shelves July 2009. For further information check out www.reneeryan.com