The Dreaded Prologue

This weekend I was working on the beginning section of The Oathbreaker’s Shadow and ended up reminiscing over some old drafts.  As I was opening documents cryptically titled things like TOS-mostrecent.doc and TOS-noTHISismostrecent.doc [note to self: devise better electronic filing system], I noticed one point of difference between my current manuscript and almost all of the previous drafts: the dreaded prologue.

Yep, I am guilty of committing that newbie author sin (especially prevalent in fantasy novels) of starting my novel in a completely random place for no good reason at all.

My first prologue (there were, in fact, five incarnations of the terrible beast) was in a completely different voice/point of view than the rest of the novel, from a character who only gets one line of dialogue again over the course of the next 80,000 words. Why did I ever think that was a good idea? My entire book is written from one point of view – Raim’s – so why should the opening of the novel be any different? And why would I assume that that character (who, as I said, only gets one other line dedicated to him) would be more interesting that the one I dedicated an entire book too? Nonsense.

Still, I persisted. Another incarnation was in the form of a flashforward. Woot, I’d gained enough sense to realize I had to stick to Raim’s point of view. Boo, I still used a prologue. This was, in fact, a vanity prologue. What is a vanity prologue, you say? Well, I basically picked my favourite section of the book and stuck it in front as a ‘prologue’ which foreshadowed where Raim would end up. (In fact, that section was vastly overwritten, and wow did it ever show looking back on it.)  

Then I even got sneaky with myself. I read about agents hating prologues, so I changed the word ‘Prologue’ to ‘Chapter One’ and thought: Ah, problem solved.

La la la la I will have a prologue no matter what you say!

Turns out? Still a bad beginning to a book.

Eventually – and on the very wise advice of my agent – I just highlighted that entire prologue-slash-first-chapter and hit delete. Gone. It felt painful – like I was taking the crutches away and seeing if the book would still stand up.

Luckily, it did – and that’s how I sold it: dreaded Prologue-free.

Just please don’t make me get rid of the epilogue!

(ETA: As one colleague quite rightly pointed out, sometimes prologues work incredibly well, especially in complex narratives – hey, George RR Martin has one in A Game of Thrones – but in my case it was only obscuring what the true start of the novel was!)

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