Wednesday, March 12, 2008

12 Points on the 12th with Kate Walker

For today's point, I want to take a look at Prologues and Epilogues.

Recently I had a writer email me and ask me whether she should start her book in a certain place, and then jump forward a couple of years to tell the main story, or whether she should start at that point a couple of years later - or should she put the past into a Prologue and then move into the main story.

Some authors love Prologues, some- and I'm usually one of them, will avoid them like the plague. But in a recent book of mine (Sicilian Husband, Blackmailed Bride) my editor really wanted a Prologue showing the hero and heroine happy together so that the events of a year later (the ones I had as the starting point of the book as it was ) hit home with more impact.

I'll admit I wasn't keen. I argued, almost dug my heels in, but then I rethought. And I saw what she was trying to get me to achieve with this particular prologue and I realised she was right. So I agreed, and wrote the Prologue. And I'm really glad I did because every time I open that book, I'm very happy with the impact it has. But, as a general rule, I don't really like Prologues.

The first thing to be sure of with a Prologue is that it's really necessary.

Because one of the real problems with a Prolgue is that by it's very nature it usually involves writing something that delays the start of the 'real' book - the reason why the reader has picked it up in the first place - and that is the development of the romance between your hero and heroine. A romance is a short book and the reader expectation is that it will concentrate - guess what - on the romance story.

Prologues usually set up something that one or other of them is unaware of and so you need to be careful that it doesn't have the reader hanging on, wondering justwhen the other central character will come in

The other problem that I have with prologues is the same as the one I have with too much back story. Obviously if the past has a major effect on the actions and feelings of the characters in the present time, then that needs to be shown - but it doesn't necessarily need to be acted out. It can be explained by one of your characters - bringing in much needed dialogue or you can use (carefully) flashbacks. But again the reason why the reader is reading your book is to see the relationship developing in the present - and how they move on from that past.

I'll be honest and say that when I see the word Prologue - which inevitably means something before the real action of the book starts, then I'm always wondering just why this couldn't be woven into the main story. It can look like the author 'writing themselves in' to the main story which doesn’t take off until the next section.

Epilogues are slightly different. I completely agree that where. there has been a lot of emotional damage, there is a need to show that the healing has worked. But again I do think it's very important to show a lot of that healing in the actual main body of the book. It's part of the Black Moment/satisfying Happy Ending combination that needs to be there not just to bring you characters together but to show that they have grown and moved on emotionally so that they are ready to overcome the fear, the guilt, the doubts. If there is so much of that that the HEA has to be 'proved' later by showing how they are still together you need to be careful that there hasn't been enough healing in the book itself.

Sometimes I have used an epilogue - for example, when the plot hinged around the death of a baby as a result of Cot Death/SIDS - the reader needs the reassurance that in the future this tragedy did not happen again.

But the epilogues I really dislike are the ones that look like padding - the detailed description of the elaborate wedding/christening/whatever when this feels like padding - bringing the word count up to requirements when that could have been used so much more valuably by adding to the conflict or the resolution of that conflict - something that showed character development rather than embroidered the already happy ending.

Now for some news. I spent this weekend working with the publisher of the 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance. Ever since we had the news that the first editon of this book had sold out, we've been planning a second edition and that will be coming very soon. And in order to launch it I will be running a special week long (or perhaps a bit longer if there's enough interest) Writers' Q&A over on my blog. This will probably be coming up in April but obviously I have to have some questions to answer if I'm going to run it.
So if you have any writing questions you'd like me to answer then email them to me . Please put Writing Q&A in the subject line. And then I'll answer them on my blog - or maybe here in one of the 12 Points.

And don't forget - the contest to win one of the remaining of the 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance is still open over on My Tote Bag. Lee has two copies to give away together with a Kate Walker tote bag and some other goodies. Entries need to be in by March 15th, so get your entries in today.


Donna Alward said...

I agree with prologues and epilogues. I had a prologue for my current release, and then split it up and wove it throughout. I also started one for another project I'm working on and found that when I went to start the actual body of the book, the prologue had sucked all the conflict and tension out of the "real" beginning scene. So I think a lot of times they are things the author needs to get a firm grasp of the thing...but the reader never needs to see.

And yes, epilogues are different. I used one in Hired By The Cowboy because the heroine was pregnant at the end and there was also a loose end with what had happened to the ranch and those last few pages explained it all.

Estella said...

It doesn't matter to me if there is a prologue or not.

Michelle said...

I have to confess, if I'm aware that a book has either a prologue or an epilogue (and for some reason epilogues in particular irk me) then I won't buy the book.

After reading your explanation, though, Kate, perhaps I've only had experience of the unnecessary or poorly executed one.

Michelle Douglas

Gigi said...

Hi Kate,
I really don't like prologue either. If a book does need one I like for it to be short and to the point.

Now I do like a good epilogue.. I consider the icing on the cake. Especially when if seems like a book was shortened a bit to soon for the actual story. An epilogue ties up all the loose ends.

Michelle Styles said...

I think prologues need to have a purpose. For example, to show the possiblty of a character being redeemable. Or perhaps a relationship. Think say Sweet Home Alabama. yes, they may not have needed that prologue, but it does whet your appetite. It makes you understand some of the things that happen more.
And sometimes you do needto show your hero or heroine in a bad light in the first part of the book, a good prologue will ensure that the reader already finds the character empathetic.
I also think they should be written AFTER you write the first draft as then you are far more aware of what needs to be there and why.
And I do love epilogues. They can help bring everything to satisfactory close and can be used to tie up threads that were not able to be included in the climax of the story.