1st Chapter

Maark Abbott

Journeyed there and back again
#21
Hmm, can that still be called a prologue though? Seems more like a Part 1. Still, I suppose the definition of 'prologue' is not set in stone.
I don't class it as a part 1 because it's the only part of the book (and series) that doesn't take place around the same time as everything else. The prologue happens six months before the start of the main story, and from there, the rest of the series follows a relatively linear timeline. Book 2 doesn't have any prologue to speak of.

Can I skip your prologue and still understand the story?
It'd be a bit Gardens of the Moon-ish if you tried but I suppose that yes, you'd be able to.
 

Bierschneeman

Journeyed there and back again
#22
@Maark Abbott
OK cool. To me that's a mark of a good prologue, if you read it you have all this extra stuff added to your knowledge. Further fleshing out the story.
But if you skip it you lose nothing you need to make sense of the story.
 

Maark Abbott

Journeyed there and back again
#23
@Maark Abbott
OK cool. To me that's a mark of a good prologue, if you read it you have all this extra stuff added to your knowledge. Further fleshing out the story.
But if you skip it you lose nothing you need to make sense of the story.
It's certainly worth reading if I ever get it out. It gives a very big insight as to why my main character is such an unpleasant bitch.
 

Matticus Primal

Journeyed there and back again
#24
Prologues are out of fashion at the moment, I think, but possibly at least partly because so many authors (or so I'm told) try to use them as a place to put all the random boring stuff that the reader doesn't need to know but the author thinks they do. So you tend to get a bunch of stuff and you end up thinking, "Why am I reading this? What's going on? Do I care?"
On the other hand, you've got authors like David Eddings who does the faux-historical thing with his prologues in the Belgariad, where you get a big slice of what's supposed to be an in-world history. And that links in with @Matticus Primal's theory: the history stuff links in with the big, overarching plot about the war between the gods, and you get a different slice in each book.
In screenwriting one of the rules is that voice over exposition just doesn't work and should be avoided like the plague. The one exception* is the very opening of the film where you can exposition all the world history, the opening crawl to Star Wars and VO of LOTR being the best examples. And that's what your Eddingses reminds me of.

Though I think this is a pretty great rule of thumb to define a prologue:

Can I skip your prologue and still understand the story?
* The other exception being if you're named Woody Allen.
 

jo zebedee

Journeyed there and back again
#25
I have prologues in 4 of my 5 books so I obviously don't mind them. But show me a prologue there to deliver backstory or info and the book's back on the shelf.
 

Matticus Primal

Journeyed there and back again
#26
I have prologues in 4 of my 5 books so I obviously don't mind them. But show me a prologue there to deliver backstory or info and the book's back on the shelf.
How did you use them, if you don't mind me asking? Other than introducing your aforementioned hook, obviously. Did you have a conscious checklist of things to accomplish or just write them?
 

Anti_Quated

Journeyed there and back again
#27
To @TomTB 's original query:
First chapter is important, but only as a functional component of the entire work. The focus, if you will, for much of my work, can be found in the first few sentences regarding Coiled Storm and the 'Memory Echo'. My beloved grandfather was the most important influence in my childhood years, the veritable scion of whatever goodness and valuable qualities I have in spite of flaws I developed of my own volition (mostly unwillingly, we'll say), and to see the corruption of his mind due to Alzheimer's was a most unpleasant and unwarranted experience - a calamitous fate he did not deserve as a wonderful man so mirthful, loving, and genuinely alive. My reflections of him inspired the consideration as to what the world might be like if we could retain our memories, and stave off the degradation of our mental faculties as we age and slowly expire, and with it, came the rather vivid dreams that would become the cornerstones and roots of my Anaimon saga.

So, in that regard, the first chapter is crucial to me, as I needed it to capture the fundamental ideas I wanted to explore about memory and destiny. Did I agonise over it? For a time, perhaps, until I sat down after a break. I read it once, and realised that it spoke to me, drew me in and made me want to take the journey, so to speak, and that I would not be satisfied until I had completed the entire body of work. Hopefully it pulls a few readers along as well, but primarily my novels are for myself.

If I didn't enjoy them so immensely as a reader, I doubt I could muster the focus or effort to keep working on them. It's a perverse form of apotheosis, if nothing else. So much power and responsibility for what one has wrought ;)
Though to be serious, that responsibility necessitates one to remain firmly committed to the truths of their artistic vision, and not pull a Black Album/Cold Lake/etc.
 

jo zebedee

Journeyed there and back again
#28
How did you use them, if you don't mind me asking? Other than introducing your aforementioned hook, obviously. Did you have a conscious checklist of things to accomplish or just write them?
Actually the cat stew comes from the one without a prologue! (It had one but I took it out - now I use it as a free short story).

For Abendau there was an important scene where the mother (the antagonist) and father of the protagonist meet. It sets up their relationship, the psi powers, and the world and was needed I felt. It also sets up chapter one and. Plus I return to the sentiments of it a lot so it echoes through the series. And, in a trilogy, where you have one prologue the others follow....

But, more interestingly is Waters and the Wild due out next summer. It starts in a narrator I can't use as part of the central story for plot reasons and forms the first of 3 first person vignettes that slowly reveal what is really going on. So although it's a prologue it'a part of the main story arc.

That, for me, is what makes a prologue work - it should be part of the story not tacked on (and ASOFAI is a great eg of that)
 

Peat

Journeyed there and back again
#29
Yeah, they're pretty important.

The current book I'm working on, I just rewrote the first 350 words in a couple of different ways in the search for the 'perfect' opening. I'll probably do a couple more passes over it, maybe try it a few different ways too.

And its not that they're really important, they're really hard to do as well. Keeping the balance of posing questions, providing background info and some actual action right is difficult. I sometimes get accused of trying to do too much with my openings. Those accusations are probably right.

I also wish I was better at doing slow hooks. Or hooks in general, really.

I'll add another thing. I don't have to be in that fussy a mood before I put down 9 out of 10 books I pick up because I dislike the opening chapter. I'm unusual there I think, but they really are hard to get right.
 

atheling

A Poet of the Khaiem
#30
The movie intro to LotR, about the One Ring and all that, was not in the book at all: the story introduces this material as Frodo learns about it. There was just a Prologue (after a Forward, not part of the story) with the title "Concerning Hobbits". It ends with a short (3 page) summary of everything in The Hobbit you need to know, including his little in-world explanation for why the first edition of The Hobbit was different from the second one. And that's it. The rest of the prologue until then got made into the little Shire intro in the movie, where he shows you hobbits going about their daily lives for a bit before starting the story proper. Chapter 1, IIRC, is just Bilbo's birthday party and disappearance.

It's probably not a good idea to take Tolkien as a model: he was a professor of literature, and not a professional novelist, so he did loopy things that are probably not good for would-be writers to copy. So just talking about the opening, he took his sweet time introducing the inciting incident of the book (namely, that Frodo must take the ring and meet Gandalf in Bree, so they could go on to Rivendell--the plans get foiled, and things get complicated, and the story is off and running). And before that even happened there was a little delay of TWENTY YEARS (in-story, duh) before he actually left--which Peter Jackson & Co. wisely left out of the movie.

That would have been a great time to go on some adventures around Gondor, Rohan, etc., build up some tension with orc battles and such, maybe introduce Moria and the Dwarves who went down there (show some conflicts, leave their fate unresolved)--stuff many modern fantasy writers would probably do with that same story--but instead he has Frodo sitting around like a little prince munching snacks and wondering if maybe he should get off his ass one of these days. After that big doom and gloom stuff, too. It took too many pages to get the story moving. Not a great start to a novel. Don't copy Tolkien.
 

Peat

Journeyed there and back again
#31
And yet Tolkien is lionised sixty-odd years later, a time period in which a number of incredibly talented and important fantasy authors have come to prominence and faded away again, just as I imagine the next sixty will do for a number of well known authors today. My money's on Tolkien surviving those too.

Its tempting - entirely cogent - to say this is all down to factors other than his story structure. Despite it even. But possibly hasty. A number of fantasy's heavyweights got where they are today by copying his slow start (Brooks, Eddings, Jordan). Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone takes up nearly a sixth of the book before we find out Harry's a wizard. A series that also ignores all the many possible side adventures that a lot of modern fantasy writers would jump on. To paraphrase Clauswitz:

Pity the writer who is supposed to crawl among these scraps of rules, not good enough for genius, which genius can ignore, or laugh at. No; what genius does is the best rule.

Slow starts are often wildly successful starts, even allowing for the change in modern tastes. The trick is making sure slow does not become boring. I would suggest a would-be writer is well advised to find out how to do interesting slow starts if they can't and that if they are incapable of doing so, their worlds and characters simply aren't interesting enough.
 

atheling

A Poet of the Khaiem
#32
Sure. I'm a Tolkien fan, too. And I do love slow starts. But remember that you have to earn the patience of the reader: if it's the first book from a new author, you don't know if this guy knows what he's doing or even remembers what story he set out to tell, so if the beginning drags... the book might very well get set aside and never finished. Only established authors, in my opinion, can afford to be lackadaisical about getting into the story.

Also, you know memory sometimes fails, and stories that we may remember being slow to start turn out to have had a hook in you very early on. Besides Tolkien (the scene with Bilbo angrily refusing to give up the ring in chapter 1), one I can think of is Dune (the original): it's maybe a third of the way into the book that the invasion actually starts, after quite a few pages and an awful lot of exposition. But, on rereading, it turns out the first few pages introduce the move to Dune, the brewing conflict with the Harkonnens, and Paul's examination by the Reverend Mother--so there, not a slow start after all. After that intro the author can afford to take his time before turning the world upside-down. In fact, it works better if he does, because we have more sympathy for the characters that way, and more understanding of what exactly they lost. Plus, just the move to Dune feels like a big deal, so something's advancing. Even so, he can't delay too much: if he had dragged it out much longer he'd have lost too many of his readers before getting to the good part.

On the other hand, there's Carrie (I'm thinking of the movie, never read the book): pretty much all "intro" until the very end. But I guess that story has something interesting early on as well: the telekinesis thing, plus the crazy mother.
 

jo zebedee

Journeyed there and back again
#33
Hee. I run a course on writing spec fiction and I use both Dune and LOTR as egs of books with a great, early hook.

With LOTR it's the question of why a magician is visiting somewhere as unassuming as the Shire - and then what this ring is!
With Dune it's who the Bene Gesserit are and what do they want - and a murder iirc.

Which brings me again to the concept that the hook isn't some great wham-bam event. It's the question that intrigues us enough to read on. Who is this unknown man attending an unknown funeral and why is he revisiting his childhood home (Ocean at the End of the Lane), who are that boy and man driving across america, picking up newspaper articles about a small town called 'Salem's Lot and why, who is the detective who can see a ghost (Aaronovitch).

We writers turn ourselves in knots trying to find a perfect hooky start - now, instead, I check that I have asked a question (my current work has the question - who stole the picture an artist painted of a banshee, and why? That will, for sure, hook some of my readers.)
 

Peat

Journeyed there and back again
#34
Well it depends a bit on how we define being lackadaisical to get to the story, but I'd say there's a lot of big name authors who took exactly that approach in their first or second book. Its not just Tolkien. Eddings, Brooks and Rowling are all people I'd name as examples after a quick thought.

Maybe my opinion is influenced by the fact that I am very prone to putting down books after a few pages - the sort of reader whose patience is hard to win - and authors are far more likely to lose me for going too fast than for going too slow. But I do think that the evidence of which books are popular conflicts a lot with the advice of how fast authors should develop their story.

I like the way Jo puts it. Its not about the big bang, its not about getting to the central plot as quickly as possible, its about presenting some sort of initial question that the reader wants answered.

What I would add though is that while I'm okay with the author taking his time to get to the story, the author has a very limited time period to persuade me his characters are people I want to read about. I think we're all looking for a sign of what we like in a book quickly - ts just not always story or action (as fast start proponents sometimes seem to be urging).
 

jo zebedee

Journeyed there and back again
#35
Yes, I think I failed with characters-to-love from the first page in one of my openings and succeeded in another - and there is no doubt which is the more hooky book. But as I get more confident I think I get to the point of strong characterisation much much quicker.
 

Teresa Edgerton

Listens to The Unbeliever whine about life
#36
What serves as a good hook depends on the kind of readers you are trying to hook. Some readers want action and danger from the first page. But if you put that in just because someone told you it will attract more readers, and you aren't going to keep it up for the rest of the plot, the readers you do attract may end up feeling cheated.

As a reader, I am attracted to anything with beautiful prose. A beautifully written first paragraph always seems like a promise of more of the same, so that's a good hook to me. But I am attracted to other things, too, like an intriguing premise, interesting characters, or a plot I haven't seen dozens of times before. I like certain settings, and certain sub-genres more than others. And if I get intimations of any one of those things on the first page that might hook me instead.

As a writer, I do agonize over my first chapters, polishing them and doing endless small revisions. And yet these were the ones I had the easiest time drafting at the first draft stage.
 

Anti_Quated

Journeyed there and back again
#37
Which brings me again to the concept that the hook isn't some great wham-bam event. It's the question that intrigues us enough to read on
I concur. I love a slow-burn that offers a simple yet tantalising premise or enigmatic preposition.
Who is this rudderless hippie?
Does he have a knife in his boot?
Why does he leave bits of egg and toast crumbs in his beard?

The intrigue need only be a morsel sufficient to make the reader ask the question. For myself, the foreword about Hobbits was unnecessary as I'd read The Hobbit before LOTR. Elseways I imagine I'd have paused for a moment of 'Who are these doughy little bastards living an idyllic, agrarian lifestyle and what does this have to do with the gnarly Alan Lee illustration on the anniversary edition cover?'. And thus, I needed to know more.

Probably a fuddled and muddled analogy, but I liken it to unresolved notes or dissonant minor scales in metal - sometimes the jarring effect is precisely what stimulates the ears and mind and is satisfying, other times you just can't leave a bro hanging and need to close out the section/movement/song/introduction with a fitting, balanced dynamic. Both are excellent methods for gaining aural traction from the listener.

Or I'm ridiculously easy to please when it comes to literature openings.
 

Theophania

Journeyed there and back again
#38
I suppose the question every reader has, when they pick up a book, is "Why should I spend several hours of my life, which I'm not going to get back, on this book?"

The job of Chapter 1 is therefore to answer the question.

It might be:
"Because otherwise you'll die never having found out whodunnit," or
"Because it'll be nonstop thrills and spills," or
"Because you'll drown in beautiful prose, but you'll die happy..."
or whatever.

If you're not promising to give the reader something they want, why should they carry on? You've already gained their interest far enough to get beyond title, cover and blurb - now you have to give a more detailed experience. Whatever the reader is supposed to get out of the whole package, it needs to be set up in Chapter 1, like those little taster things at the supermarket... :)
 

GiovanniDeFeo

Has Danced with Dragons
#40
I have to say... even though I agree (mostly) on the hype about the first lines, the hook, the setting, agents, publishers, bored readers and all that jazz... there are good books, and I mean masterpieces, that have very unassuming beginning. Just very quiet, even a little boring, slowly getting steeper as the pages roll. I wonder if with this obsession of 'grabbing' we are not loosing something. Since this is a fantasy Forum, let's not forget that the LOTR beginning is about a birthday party, and uses tens of pages just to list relatives' names and presents...