Earlier this year, prologues were the topic of conversation amidst one of my writing groups. I thought the topic particularly interesting because my book, Out of the Sea, begins with a prologue. I thought I would share with you my thoughts on prologues, developed both as a writer and a reader:
1. Prologues can take place at any time.
2. Prologues longer than ~1,000 words often seem excessive.
3. A successful prologue is one or two scenes, tops. Any more than that, and it’s giving away too much, too soon.
4. Prologues are designed to give your reader necessary background information, or to bait your reader into diving into the first chapter. If your prologue doesn’t accomplish either or both of these goals, it’s not yet finished.
5. Finally, ask others to read your prologue. Share it with as many people as you care to know their opinions and ask for honest feedback. Share it with a varied group. Ask them if anything seems unclear, too draggy, uninteresting, or if they don’t feel compelled to read more of the story. This will allow you to not only improve your prologue, but also to have a base of readers who will want to read your book.
A few weeks ago I posted my prologue up on my blog. Feel free to take a peek if you missed it the first time around. This prologue is the result of several rounds of drafts and critiques.
A couple of weeks ago it finally clicked: how to show v. tell in my writing. I’d hit the mark here and there before, and I’d read countless articles about this easier-said-than-done practice but like most things in writing, I believe it just has to happen one day. On that day, it suddenly becomes easy to find ways to invite your reader into the story. I thought I’d post some tips up that helped me get into showing v. telling, a skill I’ve been working on for the last year:
1. As an exercise, write a scene with your character in 1st person point of view (POV), even if your story isn’t told in this POV. This has the instant effect of writing through that characters thoughts, actions and experiences. You can always switch it back to 3rd person later, or any other POV you’re using.
2. Take a scene of your story and map out as many of the five senses as you can. What does the world sound like? Smell like? Look like, feel like…is there a taste in the air? For example, if you’ve ever been to New York City in the summer, and have gone into the subway, you might notice that the air feels heavy. It smells–and in some unfortunate cases–like rotting garbage. The breeze when a subway train passes is a hot wind, and sometimes moist. Maybe your character winces as he or she grabs the warm, smooth metal pole because they’re imagining all the germs that must live there. (Disclaimer: Yes, I’m a fan of the countryside. I also think there are some great places in NYC…the subways are not among them.)
3. Comb through every sentence for evidence of telling. Do you have sentences like “Jane felt bad for Joe.” or “Jane ate the yucky food.” and such? These are examples of telling the reader. You can show the reader instead.
4. Here’s the real trick…avoid lengthy swaths of description. These kick your reader out of your story because there’s not actually anything going on. Take all that beautiful and poetic description and drop it in throughout the action and dialogue. Attach it to the goings on in your story and your reader will experience your world and events with your character, instead of being told after the fact.
What exercises and tricks do you use to incorporate showing v. telling in your writing? Or, if you’re more a reader than a writer, which authors/books do a great job of showing v. telling?