Tagged: writing style

Prologues kill novels


The title of this entry is a bit of a spoiler, so it will be no surprise to you that I have a very low opinion of prologues. In fact, my opinion is so low that I’ve been known to close a book and not read it if it starts with a prologue.

Years ago I came to the conclusion that not a single novel I’d ever read had been improved by the prologue it started with. I later confirmed this by skipping prologues and only reading them after I’d finished the rest of the book and – without exception – I found the prologues to be unnecessary. Since then I haven’t found a single novel that I ruined or rendered unreadable by skipping the prologue.

Later, when I began to write, my relationship with books changed (sadly, in most cases, not for the better – but that’s for a later post). I began to analyse the mechanics of prologues and found, in most cases, the author had included one just to prop up shoddy writing. There seem to be two scenarios that convince an author that a prologue is not actually a hideous wordy pustule but something like a good idea.

One: Apparently, sometimes an author feels it’s so important to state a vital piece of information, up front, that they’ll add a prologue just for that purpose. Such prologues often appear as nothing more than info dumps, which are a kind of literary cancer anyway (so why you’d do this as the first thing anyone would read is beyond me). This either shows poor planning or the author’s lack of faith that their own writing is understandable, or worse, they don’t credit the reader with the gumption to understand what they’ve written in the main text.

Two: More often, an author seems to feel the need to include a prologue simply to make their book begin at a more interesting point in the story. If the author recognises the first half or their book is dull and in need of perking up, then as a potential reader, I’m not going to be fooled by an action filled prologue they’ve just tacked on the front to try and disguise the fact.

Neither gives me any confidence that the writer knows what they’re doing, and that’s why I will close the book and read no further.

However, I have made the odd exception, usually when I’ve been persuaded by a friend, as with the Belgariad series of fantasy books by David Eddings, and the Millennium trilogy by Larson. In both cases I was coerced into reading beyond the prologue and I was glad for it, but I would still maintain that these examples would have been just as enjoyable without the prologues.

There may be good prologues out there, I wouldn’t know because I’ve been avoiding them. I’ve heard that the Harry Potter books have well written prologues, that they serve as abridged summaries to ease the reader into the new book?

But these examples do not convince me to change my opinion, life is too short, and reading time is too precious. Unless I have persuasive evidence to the contrary, if I see a prologue I will automatically assume that the text that follows is not worth reading.

In the future, my reader will no doubt criticise my writing for many things, but my inappropriate use of prologues will not be one of them.

Web Presence

DSCN5277As you might have noticed, I’ve been slowly growing a web presence as a prelude to actually publishing a real book that a real person will want to buy. It might come as a surprise but I have given the matter some thought, and will continue to do so, but much of what I’ve done has evolved naturally from the intent to simply entertain. But I don’t want to get all preachy, these are just my thoughts so far, that you may or may not find useful.

I haven’t figured out Facebook yet, or how to make the best of it, and this website and blog is still developing. However, I’ve found Twitter accessible and I’m having a lot of fun building what I hope is an interesting Twitter personality. I don’t just want to post endless tweets about my new book, or about my latest book reviews. Although, I will post some tweets like that, but hopefully not too many. But why? Isn’t that what social media is for? To help you sell stuff? Well, yes, partly, but what is it that I’m trying to sell?

I’m a writer, and soon I’ll be an author, the former because I can’t help it and the latter because I want to share. I’m writing my books to entertain, and here’s the crux of the matter because I want everything I do to emphasise that. I want my web presence itself to be entertaining. I don’t want a potential reader to look at my blog or twitter feed and think – blimey what a bore, I bet his books are just as dull, because if they do then I’ve torpedoed myself. I think this is so important, and it adds value. So yes, I want my reader to buy my books – when I publish them – but I don’t want that to be all I do.

I’m not saying for one minute that I’ve got all the answers, or that I’ve got it right, but I am saying that I’m trying to make everything I do as interesting as possible. That’s not such a bad goal is it? I just want to entertain.

I suppose it’s up to you, dear reader, to decide if I’ve actually been successful so far.

Why do I write these things?

As you’ll discover when I publish later this year, thlaptop_wineere is a dark vein running through all my fiction, a core of old heart wood that seems at odds with my personality.

Over the years it’s something I’ve come to terms with and accept, but that’s not been so easy for those that know me. When they get me talking about my writing, always reluctantly at first but then quickening with enthusiasm until it’s like trying to jam the cork back into a bottle of Prosecco, I finally realise I’ve gone too far, revealed too much and they’re all staring at me with open mouths, with some even shuffling back a step.

To give you an idea of the usual reactions, here are three.

The first was uttered by my wife after she read the book I’ll be publishing soon.

“What the hell did you write that for?”

This from my mother, spoken with a slightly bemused expression on her face.

“Why can’t you write something like Catherine Cookson?”

And finally from my concerned mother in law.

“Why do you feel the need to write these things?”

The truth is I’ve always been interested in the macabre, grisly things and the suspicion that the world is far stranger and darker than would first appear.

I vividly remember when I was about eleven; my friend and I discovered a dirty hessian sack filled with bloody maggot infested body parts. For several incredibly intense heart-stalling moments I thought we’d found a dead body, or more than one, victims of some rampant serial killer. The truth was a little less sensational, but nonetheless irresistible to a young boy, the sack of bloody bits had been left by sheep rustlers – legs and heads, hair and offal. I remember the police were quite interested in our find, but I never found out if the sack and its gruesome contents had ever led them to make any arrests.

As a child I remember being fascinated by death and used to draw violent and horrific images, and I remember my mother being particularly worried, I just found them compelling. I suspect my teachers too probably had concerns about my imagination, and I’m sure they must have approached my parents, although I can’t be sure. Today, everyone would probably blame it all on the influence of television, but I’m sure the most disturbing thing I watched was Saturday morning Swap Shop.

My love of Hammer films came later, and later still I was the victim of an attempted murder: I’ve seen the fevered but dethatched stare of a would be killer up close, and I know how close I came to ending up on a slab.

These things might have been forgotten had I not been born with a writer’s brain, these days, the haunted house of my earlier life with its occasional dark and creepy interludes are the raw materials that I draw on.

As for books and fiction, I do have a predilection for the darker material. It’s the disturbing stuff that sticks in my mind the most. Since I want to write fiction that lingers in the mind of my reader, I have to use my own relationship with fiction as my guide. Thus, if I want to be honest and write with conviction, I have to aim for the dark side.

I’m afraid that’s how I roll.