Ah good old Shakespeare, there for writers to appear sophisticated and intelligent as they quote or reword lines from the legend’s wonderful plays. I have great respect for the man because in a way I want to emulate his rise to success. People still cannot believe that a man with no prior experience or tuition in writing (well there’s no record of his training but for the sake of this post and my aspirations, let’s state he had no advanced training in the English language) was able to create several plays by the age of 28.
Many lack of a better word, fools believe that someone else must have written these beautiful plays, people like Francis Bacon or Edward de Vere the Earl of Oxford instead of an unknown novice. But if William had a dream, a desire to make some of the most beautiful stories the world had ever seen then he would study day and night, read the works that came before him or the ones that have recently started; learning how to start and finish a masterpiece.
Which he did, many times over.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my short prologue to this post where I gush over one of my idols and is also a nice segway to this week’s lesson. Prologues are an interesting part of a novel because a lot of people—myself included—skip the prologue and jump right into chapter one where the true story begins.
You see a prologue is there for one of two things.
A) Set up the history or gravitas of the world the novel is set in; usually used for Sci-Fi/Fantasy stories or those that are set in an alternate universe to our own.
B) A section of information that is important to the characters within the story but do not conform to the linear timeline of the novel; usually used in Romances and Dramas.
I think a lot of people write prologues for the main reason of letting their audience understand as much of the world they have willingly ventured into as possible. They don’t want their readers to feel lost or unaware of how the universe the author has created functions. For example, if your world has magic, can only a select group of people use it or can it be taught to the everyday man or woman; if so what energy or action is needed in order to perform this magic and so on and so forth.
However, I have learned two things on my journey to write a novel(Actually I've learned a lot of things, it’s just these two points can be applied both to writing a prologue and just a random point in your novel you are unsure about.)
The first is…
The Audience has an imagination, let them use it!
I’m still learning this lesson as I go about editing my book, I’ve finished editing it as an author now I have to edit it as a reader. What I’ve noticed is that authors have this fear that if the world is not fleshed out enough, forcing the reader to work in order to understand the words, then they will not like the book. So to compensate they write up heavily descriptive prologues and chapters in order for the reader to understand why the world is the way it is.
But we need to trust the reader, let them go on an adventure and discover the information on their own.
You see a book is sort of like a work of art, the imagery the genre and the art style the technique—even though each artist has their own creative flair that makes them unique. Anyway, too much description and control over the display of the world falls under the style of realism as we gasp at how a few brush strokes could take a snapshot of their surrounding life yet at the end of the day no matter how many times you look at it—a beautiful sunset will remain a beautiful sunset.
While less descriptive such as the works of Cubism and Minimalism takes away the author’s control of the world and hands it over to the viewer as they make assumptions about the design of your universe. However this is a double-edged sword, the reader could make a guess and enjoy the ideas that your masterpiece of a yellow dot on a blue background could be the sun…Or a pancake.
I’d suggest that if you had to choose a style of art to emulate, Impressionism would be the best.
Not only because of how they paint, but why they paint. You see Impressionists aim to capture the scene in the moment. They don’t care about perfection or making a point they just followed their gut, adding what they believe to be enough description and leaving the rest to the viewer as they wonder if they’re looking at a sunrise or a sunset.
Which leads to my second point…
When you criticize your work, ask yourself ‘Does the reader need to know this?’ If not, take it out.
We love words, we love words so much we decided to make a career from the use of them. So we tend to get addicted to their use such as overcomplicate mundane things for example…
We could describe the sky as…
“The morning dew cast a haze across the ocean of sky as if the perfect day was merely a façade, trying its best to hide the approaching storm clouds, licking the horizon.”
“The sky was surprisingly blue.”
Both are alright lines… well, I think they are, but does the reader need to know all that information. Maybe the mention of the word façade could indicate future events or characters altering their course within the story, an act of betrayal or the death of a loved one… Or it could just be a normal day.
So when it comes to your prologue you need to weigh up the importance of the information that the prologue gives. If the information has no sway on the reader’s mind or if the information could be learned or found throughout your novel, then take it out. If the information is important but disrupts the general flow of the story or the timeline of events then write a prologue; if it doesn’t disrupt the timeline or flow how about making your prologue, chapter one.
If I have to leave you with one bit of advice when it comes to writing at any point within your novel it would be to…
Trust your gut!
You know how all this works you were once readers, and now your love for words has forced you to create a few of your own as you venture into the world of writing. So when it comes to writing your story you need to trust yourself in the notion that you will do the right thing to create the best work of art that you could create. Maybe it will be finding the ability to separate your author side from your reader side and view your work from the different aspects of the two worlds as they weigh up skipping the prologue you have written.
But a lot of us find that difficult and so the best thing to do is to give your work to a fellow reader or if you’re rich enough and editor and you can discuss with them the next course to take on your prologue and future chapters within your world.
In fewer words—you know what’s right, so do it.