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Thread: Novel openings

  1. #51
    Quote Originally Posted by Terry D View Post
    Prologues get a bad rap because they are often misused. If they can be skipped without hurting the story they shouldn't be written.
    Ah, but you can't know if it's going to hurt the story or help it without reading it. Sure, a reader might understand the story without reading the prologue, but since they can only read it the first time once... the same person can't tell you what it might have been like experiencing it for the first time the other way around.

    It's possibly why I always read the prologue anyway. I paid for it, so I might as well read it (I also read forewords, appendices, other stuff as needed or if they're interesting--but I rarely check author bios because they never really add to the story or even tell neat facts about the person). I know people who never read prologues, too. There's nothing wrong with either approach. It's a would/shoulda/coulda kinda thing. You can't know you've wasted your time reading it until you're done, and you can't know you should have read something until you're lost without it. Some are there for lore dumps; others to provide emotional nuance, direct the theme, provide a short-lived foil or alternate perspective, illuminate a potential hazard for other characters--or even all of the above.

    In general, I don't think most prologues are needed.
    "Ammonia will disinfect sin."
    --adrianhayter

    "Art is life, just add bull****."
    --Chris Miller

  2. #52
    Quote Originally Posted by seigfried007 View Post
    Ah, but you can't know if it's going to hurt the story or help it without reading it. Sure, a reader might understand the story without reading the prologue, but since they can only read it the first time once... the same person can't tell you what it might have been like experiencing it for the first time the other way around.

    It's possibly why I always read the prologue anyway. I paid for it, so I might as well read it (I also read forewords, appendices, other stuff as needed or if they're interesting--but I rarely check author bios because they never really add to the story or even tell neat facts about the person). I know people who never read prologues, too. There's nothing wrong with either approach. It's a would/shoulda/coulda kinda thing. You can't know you've wasted your time reading it until you're done, and you can't know you should have read something until you're lost without it. Some are there for lore dumps; others to provide emotional nuance, direct the theme, provide a short-lived foil or alternate perspective, illuminate a potential hazard for other characters--or even all of the above.

    In general, I don't think most prologues are needed.
    No, a prologue is always needed. If not, as Terry said, they should not be there and if they are that’s evidence of bad execution. Every chapter, hell, every sentence and word should move the story. This is why so many first time novels are far too long and slow.

    One of my biggest lessons (and the wisdom behind “kill your darlings”) is having the willpower to cut things that are well written or even quite interesting but don’t move the story. It’s about honing in on storytelling as a distinct skill from writing. Plenty of good writers are bad storytellers - and vice versa.

    Bottom line: The rules of writing as it relates to moving a story don’t suddenly change because something is labeled as prologue as opposed to chapter.

    As as far as novel openings, I gave my thoughts on “Chase” earlier. I then went and bought and read the full book so I feel qualified to speak to it. I personally felt it to be a slow burning story (personal taste) but certainly captivating and the introduction of character including and beyond what Terry posted here is about as good as it gets in this genre. The “vagueness” for me is not a problem because, well, it’s an opening and what you call vague to me was simply a gentle reveal/emergence into story. Which is how most good books open IMO. A lot of writers could learn from it. Self included.
    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

  3. #53
    Quote Originally Posted by seigfried007 View Post
    Ah, but you can't know if it's going to hurt the story or help it without reading it. Sure, a reader might understand the story without reading the prologue, but since they can only read it the first time once... the same person can't tell you what it might have been like experiencing it for the first time the other way around.

    It's possibly why I always read the prologue anyway. I paid for it, so I might as well read it (I also read forewords, appendices, other stuff as needed or if they're interesting--but I rarely check author bios because they never really add to the story or even tell neat facts about the person). I know people who never read prologues, too. There's nothing wrong with either approach. It's a would/shoulda/coulda kinda thing. You can't know you've wasted your time reading it until you're done, and you can't know you should have read something until you're lost without it. Some are there for lore dumps; others to provide emotional nuance, direct the theme, provide a short-lived foil or alternate perspective, illuminate a potential hazard for other characters--or even all of the above.

    In general, I don't think most prologues are needed.
    Aren't we talking about writing the book in this thread? Readers are going to do what they are going to do. Many readers skip large sections of narration, or description too. We can't control that other than to try and craft those parts of the book in a way which will make the reader want to read them. But, in the end, that's a reader's choice, not the author's. So my point stands, if a prologue isn't essential to the story then it shouldn't be included. Perhaps it should be written if the writer needs it themself to get the story flowing -- many writers start a book well ahead of what will end up being chapter one just get the flow going then they will discard that preliminary piece in subsequent drafts -- but if it doesn't contribute to the story, then including it is just an author ego-trip.

    I read prologues too, because I go into every book giving the author credit for knowing his job and, therefore, expecting the prologue to provide me with information relevant to the subsequent story. Prologues used to give background, world build, or dump information are lazy writing. All that stuff should be done in the course of telling the tale. In my first novel I used a prologue to introduce a character who would be essential to the story's ultimate resolution. I opened with him because I didn't want his appearance much later in the book to appear like a dues ex machina. I wanted him in the back of the reader's mind. I also included a very brief scene with him later in the book, but well before his critical appearance. Looking back, I probably could have included my prologue as part of chapter one and avoided the stigma associated with the term. But it truly was separate and essential.

    Readers have lots of choices regarding their time. Distractions are everywhere and reader attention spans can be short. So, when I write the opening to a novel I may not start out with blazing guns and Apache helicopters, but I also won't waste my reader's time by giving them a history lesson, or a languid description of terrain and weather. Readers want the story to start. They want to know why they should read the next sentence, the next scene, the next page. If you don't give them that, you will lose them.
    “Fools” said I, “You do not know
    Silence like a cancer grows
    Hear my words that I might teach you
    Take my arms that I might reach you”
    But my words like silent raindrops fell
    And echoed in the wells of silence : Simon & Garfunkel


    Those who enjoy stirring the chamber-pot should be required to lick the spoon.

    Our job as writers is to make readers dream, to infiltrate their minds with our words and create a new reality; a reality not theirs, and not ours, but a new, unique combination of both.

    Visit Amazon and the Kindle Store to check out Reflections in a Black Mirror, and Chase

    Hidden Content






  4. #54
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    No, a prologue is always needed. If not, as Terry said, they should not be there and if they are that’s evidence of bad execution. Every chapter, hell, every sentence and word should move the story. This is why so many first time novels are far too long and slow.

    One of my biggest lessons (and the wisdom behind “kill your darlings”) is having the willpower to cut things that are well written or even quite interesting but don’t move the story. It’s about honing in on storytelling as a distinct skill from writing. Plenty of good writers are bad storytellers - and vice versa.

    Bottom line: The rules of writing as it relates to moving a story don’t suddenly change because something is labeled as prologue as opposed to chapter.

    As as far as novel openings, I gave my thoughts on “Chase” earlier. I then went and bought and read the full book so I feel qualified to speak to it. I personally felt it to be a slow burning story (personal taste) but certainly captivating and the introduction of character including and beyond what Terry posted here is about as good as it gets in this genre. The “vagueness” for me is not a problem because, well, it’s an opening and what you call vague to me was simply a gentle reveal/emergence into story. Which is how most good books open IMO. A lot of writers could learn from it. Self included.
    Thanks for the good words, Lucky. I hope you enjoyed the book. Were I to write Chase today, I would probably pare it down some to avoid that "slow burn". It was my second novel and there are lessons I'm still learning from it.
    “Fools” said I, “You do not know
    Silence like a cancer grows
    Hear my words that I might teach you
    Take my arms that I might reach you”
    But my words like silent raindrops fell
    And echoed in the wells of silence : Simon & Garfunkel


    Those who enjoy stirring the chamber-pot should be required to lick the spoon.

    Our job as writers is to make readers dream, to infiltrate their minds with our words and create a new reality; a reality not theirs, and not ours, but a new, unique combination of both.

    Visit Amazon and the Kindle Store to check out Reflections in a Black Mirror, and Chase

    Hidden Content






  5. #55
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    No, a prologue is always needed. If not, as Terry said, they should not be there and if they are that’s evidence of bad execution. Every chapter, hell, every sentence and word should move the story. This is why so many first time novels are far too long and slow.

    One of my biggest lessons (and the wisdom behind “kill your darlings”) is having the willpower to cut things that are well written or even quite interesting but don’t move the story. It’s about honing in on storytelling as a distinct skill from writing. Plenty of good writers are bad storytellers - and vice versa.

    Bottom line: The rules of writing as it relates to moving a story don’t suddenly change because something is labeled as prologue as opposed to chapter.

    As as far as novel openings, I gave my thoughts on “Chase” earlier. I then went and bought and read the full book so I feel qualified to speak to it. I personally felt it to be a slow burning story (personal taste) but certainly captivating and the introduction of character including and beyond what Terry posted here is about as good as it gets in this genre. The “vagueness” for me is not a problem because, well, it’s an opening and what you call vague to me was simply a gentle reveal/emergence into story. Which is how most good books open IMO. A lot of writers could learn from it. Self included.
    I'm fine with slow burns. I've written slow burns. I don't need constant action and stimulation. I'm okay smelling the roses sometimes.

    "Vagueness" is a problem when the author needs the reader to see something a certain way by a certain time in the narrative. I brought up the incongruity between my internal vision of Chase and Terry's in case it was necessary for me to view Chase as a Golden by the end of that opening. The longer an author waits to add description, the more likely the reader is to have an incongruous view, and therefore, the more jarring it will be for the reader when the author finally decides to fill the reader in on what they were supposed to be seeing the whole time. If the reader absolutely has to see the author's exact vision for something, that author has no right to complain when readers don't see it because he or she only has him/herself to blame because it was his/her own inattention to the craft that led to that misunderstanding. I'm fine with intentional vagueness. I've played it to great effect even. But I'm not going to get my proverbial panties in a knot if someone doesn't see my exact vision for a story element (if it's necessary however for some aspect to get across and it doesn't, it's still my fault and not the reader's... unless the reader just isn't paying attention or is skipping parts, but even then, I could still look into tightening things up to keep attention or otherwise work to draw attention to this necessary aspect).

    Quote Originally Posted by Terry D View Post
    Aren't we talking about writing the book in this thread? Readers are going to do what they are going to do. Many readers skip large sections of narration, or description too. We can't control that other than to try and craft those parts of the book in a way which will make the reader want to read them. But, in the end, that's a reader's choice, not the author's. So my point stands, if a prologue isn't essential to the story then it shouldn't be included. Perhaps it should be written if the writer needs it themself to get the story flowing -- many writers start a book well ahead of what will end up being chapter one just get the flow going then they will discard that preliminary piece in subsequent drafts -- but if it doesn't contribute to the story, then including it is just an author ego-trip.

    I read prologues too, because I go into every book giving the author credit for knowing his job and, therefore, expecting the prologue to provide me with information relevant to the subsequent story. Prologues used to give background, world build, or dump information are lazy writing. All that stuff should be done in the course of telling the tale. In my first novel I used a prologue to introduce a character who would be essential to the story's ultimate resolution. I opened with him because I didn't want his appearance much later in the book to appear like a dues ex machina. I wanted him in the back of the reader's mind. I also included a very brief scene with him later in the book, but well before his critical appearance. Looking back, I probably could have included my prologue as part of chapter one and avoided the stigma associated with the term. But it truly was separate and essential.

    Readers have lots of choices regarding their time. Distractions are everywhere and reader attention spans can be short. So, when I write the opening to a novel I may not start out with blazing guns and Apache helicopters, but I also won't waste my reader's time by giving them a history lesson, or a languid description of terrain and weather. Readers want the story to start. They want to know why they should read the next sentence, the next scene, the next page. If you don't give them that, you will lose them.
    My point that "most prologues aren't needed" isn't to say we should write things that aren't needed but rather, that most prologues I've read didn't meet the standards for "needed". Not all prologues out there are required to understand the story, so they probably shouldn't have been written or left in. World's chock full of bad prologues, just like it's chock full of bad books and bad authors. Also, nobody here has the same idea of what constitutes "needed" even, it seems.

    Yup, we're here about writing, but a writer is writing for readers. If we just wanted a nice story, we could tell ourselves our own dang stories. We're in this to tell stories to other people, and that means effectively communicating via print and understanding what will grab and hold the reader. Not all readers are the same, so what works for one won't work for another.

    Some readers need the scenery--especially if that scenery is integral to understanding the story. 1984 needed scenery. The farther something is from the assumed normal, shared human experience of daily living, the more effort we'll need to spend describing it so the reader can understand what's going on. Not all scenery is languid and breathless. Sometimes it's best to set up the weather--especially if it's raining fire and blood, and everyone's running for cover. Weather can be so important that it has its own genre of natural disaster stories. Man vs Nature is a classic plot. Weather can also set a tone and provide foreshadowing. It's got its uses and place. But, if someone's going to use some good ole Man vs Nature action, it's best to foreshadow this early and totally understandable if said weather/terrain feature is fine and lovely in the beginning (and just gets worse and worse as the story ramps up). The moon should probably be alluded to early in the werewolf thriller. The weather might even directly play into the conflict--such as if that dark and stormy night was picked for a murder to cover up the screaming/shot.

    Stories that don't have a huge emphasis on scenery, setting, and weather shouldn't waste valuable real estate in the opening setting such scenes. Words shouldn't be wasted on things that aren't needed--be it weather or otherwise.

    I am guilty of skipping Tolkien's seemingly endless chunk of description. Was so sick of Elves so quickly in LOTR. I guess if they've got hundreds of years to waste, they can afford to read and write that kind of lore... but as a meager human, I can't be arsed to care.
    "Ammonia will disinfect sin."
    --adrianhayter

    "Art is life, just add bull****."
    --Chris Miller

  6. #56
    This

    Quote Originally Posted by seigfried007 View Post
    Yup, we're here about writing, but a writer is writing for readers. If we just wanted a nice story, we could tell ourselves our own dang stories. We're in this to tell stories to other people, and that means effectively communicating via print and understanding what will grab and hold the reader. Not all readers are the same, so what works for one won't work for another.
    Doesn't seem to jibe with this

    Ah, but you can't know if it's going to hurt the story or help it without reading it.


    As writers we better damned well know if it's going to help or hurt the story.
    “Fools” said I, “You do not know
    Silence like a cancer grows
    Hear my words that I might teach you
    Take my arms that I might reach you”
    But my words like silent raindrops fell
    And echoed in the wells of silence : Simon & Garfunkel


    Those who enjoy stirring the chamber-pot should be required to lick the spoon.

    Our job as writers is to make readers dream, to infiltrate their minds with our words and create a new reality; a reality not theirs, and not ours, but a new, unique combination of both.

    Visit Amazon and the Kindle Store to check out Reflections in a Black Mirror, and Chase

    Hidden Content






  7. #57
    You guys write to be read, but there are all sorts of writers, I have plenty of stuff I have never shared, and not all of it because it is no good.
    Visit my website to read and connect to my 'soundcloud', where you can listen to stories songs and more
    Hidden Content

    A thread of links useful to writers wishing to learn
    Piglet's picks. Hidden Content

  8. #58
    Quote Originally Posted by Terry D View Post
    This
    Doesn't seem to jibe with this

    As writers we better damned well know if it's going to help or hurt the story.
    Only because you're reading it weirdly. Those comments weren't even directed at the same aspect of writing in the first place because one was plainly addressing prologues specifically and in regards to not knowing how necessary a prologue is (in someone else's book) until it's already been read. It's like knowing if a movie is good before you've seen it. How could anyone know how good or bad something really is if they haven't experienced it yet?

    As writers, we haven't agreed on hardly anything yet, and yet we're both published writers. What I think might help or hurt a story obviously isn't what you think, so why even use that tact with me? Writers can't agree on anything anyway; it's why we discuss and argue about everything.

    You know what you think will help or hurt your story, but as every single person has a different set of criteria, no one's going to agree on what objectively helps or hurts the story. It's why we need test readers--to help us figure out what actually works for readers. There's no challenge in communicating with youurself--it's when you try to cross that divide and communicate with someone else that all the misunderstandings happen. Of course we're going to read our own story and pick up exactly what we've intended to put on the page. As the "big muscles" illustrated, however, not everyone is going to read the same words and get the same thing out of it. Nobody intentionally hurts their own story, but we all sabotage our own stories unintentionally. The story could always be better subjectively to somebody out there. Most people don't set out to write garbage (unless in parody or protest), so of course I'm not talking about intentionally hurting our own sense of our own stories.

    Quote Originally Posted by Olly Buckle View Post
    You guys write to be read, but there are all sorts of writers, I have plenty of stuff I have never shared, and not all of it because it is no good.
    Writing for yourself can still help you learn how to craft it better. I've written a ton of flash on prompts that will never, ever get published. I view it kind of like all the weightlifting professionals do before they're in shape to compete. We're just working out, getting better, honing our craft a little bit at a time. Even if we know it's never going to be seen by anyone, it's still a valuable experience for ourselves just to write.

    I haven't had any long fiction published--lots of reasons, but foremost because I've never sent anything out for a publisher to see. For some, it was actually because I was so poor that I couldn't afford the postage. I've also received some terrible advice from professional writers (like "If you've got a 12-part novel series, and you're a first-time author, have the entire series completely written and ready to publish before you even query or you'll never be published". Without reading any of my long fic, she gave me a lot of soul-crushing advice, and I, as a very new writer and a student of hers, took it all to heart and haven't been able to put anything out since because I get into this self-destructive never-ending-editing cycle. It's just never going to be good enough). Now I'm basically back to square one because all of my older long fiction is gone. Vanished with no trace. Nobody can find any of it anywhere. So.... that's about 6 novels (one was 200k, and three were from a projected four-part science fiction series)... totally gone. As Wiley Coyote says, "Back to the old drawing board." If I write any of them again, they'll hopefully be better, but I'm a very different person than I was even 10 years ago, and certainly than I was 20 years ago when I started writing long fiction.
    "Ammonia will disinfect sin."
    --adrianhayter

    "Art is life, just add bull****."
    --Chris Miller

  9. #59
    Quote Originally Posted by seigfried007 View Post
    "Vagueness" is a problem when the author needs the reader to see something a certain way by a certain time in the narrative. I brought up the incongruity between my internal vision of Chase and Terry's in case it was necessary for me to view Chase as a Golden by the end of that opening. The longer an author waits to add description, the more likely the reader is to have an incongruous view, and therefore, the more jarring it will be for the reader when the author finally decides to fill the reader in on what they were supposed to be seeing the whole time. If the reader absolutely has to see the author's exact vision for something, that author has no right to complain when readers don't see it because he or she only has him/herself to blame because it was his/her own inattention to the craft that led to that misunderstanding. I'm fine with intentional vagueness. I've played it to great effect even. But I'm not going to get my proverbial panties in a knot if someone doesn't see my exact vision for a story element (if it's necessary however for some aspect to get across and it doesn't, it's still my fault and not the reader's... unless the reader just isn't paying attention or is skipping parts, but even then, I could still look into tightening things up to keep attention or otherwise work to draw attention to this necessary aspect).
    I think you're overplaying the impact of 'incongruity' here. We are discussing novel openings: Novel openings don't have to offer a fleshed-out image of who/where/what/when. They can, but they don't have to, and often description is boring. Actually, a lot of times maxing out the detail in the image in an opener can lead to an overload. Possibly an info-dump.

    I think what's important in the beginning passages is to achieve three things;

    (1) Voice of character
    (2) Some sense of the emotional state
    (3) A sense of place/time

    ^ None of those things require the reader to know if the dog in question is a golden retriever or a pitbull or a shih tzu. All that is needed is to know it is a dog (the voice) who is in some state of distress (emotional state) because they are trapped somewhere infested with their own shit (place).

    Let's compare this with a more objective example, and one that cannot possibly be labeled as bad writing...the opening from Stephen King's The Shining:

    "Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick. Ullman stood five-five, and when he moved, it was with the prissy speed that seems to be the exclusive domain of all small plump men. The part in his hair was exact, and his dark suit was sober but comforting. I am a man you can bring your problems to, that suit said to the paying customer. To the hired help it spoke more curtly: This had better be good, you. There was a red carnation in the lapel, perhaps so that no one on the street would mistake Stuart Ullman for the local undertaker. As he listened to Ullman speak, Jack admitted to himself that he probably could not have liked any man on that side of the desk - under the circumstances."


    In this example we get almost no detail at all. We don't know anything about Jack other than he is called Jack. We can't really see him, just like we can't perhaps really see Chase, but we DO get an immediate hit of his voice (Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick) and a sense of the emotional tension in the scene (As he listened to Ullman speak, Jack admitted to himself that he probably could not have liked any man on that side of the desk - under the circumstances) We also get a sense of place - the mentioning of a desk and the description of Ullman's appearance clearly implies this is an office environment.

    In short, it's a strong opener, despite the fact there is very little shown and surely a decent amount of 'incongruity' as a result of that 'vagueness'.

    Which leads me to my point: That story openings are ultimately about setting an emotional scene more than they are a physical one. Now, in reality, the physical environment must be at least hinted at, lest the whole thing becomes a mess of abstractions. But there's no way to 'jar' a reader in a couple of paragraphs simply because of a lack of clarity of the physical space or the physical beings inhabiting it.

    On the other hand, it is very easy to bore a reader. In order to avoid boring a reader there must be an immediate emotional connection between the reader and the scene. That's not just part of it, that's all of it. Terry's opener works not because it tells me a lot about the dog or where he is but because I can feel the animal's pain.
    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

  10. #60
    I figured I'd post the opening to a current WIP now that I've done my due diligence and at least tried to help the previous posters who were gracious enough to offer their work for dissection. I don't begin all of my stories or even all of my long fiction the same way, and this story is no exception. It's a different kind of story, so I gave it a very different beginning than most.

    ************************************************** *******************************
    Pinocchio

    EPILOGUE
    To love him is death.

    If someone had told me this ten years ago, I would have listened.

    But, faced with his silver eyes tarnished and etching me as we stood on the pier, a streetlight making his ivory skin gleam in hues of sadness and hate, I could not pry myself away. Every fiber of me knew that he was death, that I should turn around and salvage what was left of my life. But I could not move.

    To love him is death.

    BOOK I


    Welcome to December

    I woke strapped to a hospital bed, an empty IV bag hanging over me, its machine beeping to be reset, refilled. No family or friends sat vigilant near me. Curtains had been drawn over the boarded windows to my right. At first, I wondered if I was dreaming, but as I lay, just short of screaming, the door swung open slowly, and a shaft of harsh fluorescence fell over me.

    A hefty nurse, clad in sea foam scrubs and a piqued expression, pushed the door open with her backside. She turned and stared at me a moment before blinking a few times. “You’re awake, Mr. Surrey!”

    “I guess so,” I said, trying to lift my head from the pillow. “Could you get these straps off me?”

    “Um, well, I’ll have to clear that with Dr. Havens,” she said as she held the door open for a smaller, scrawny nurse whose sharp nose jutted like a knife into her mask, “but I’m sure he’ll be fine with releasing you if this bug has run its course, Mr. Surrey.”

    She flipped a switch on the wall, and the room was bathed in a sickly, greenish light.

    “Why am I strapped in, or can you answer that?”

    “Well, you had a very high fever, Mr. Surrey, and sometimes people with high fevers aren’t themselves,” she said, sporadically making eye contact with me as she set to checking my vitals.

    The small, rat-like nurse refused to talk to me but dropped a load of linens in a chair and changed the soiled bedding under me, her face hard and skeptical, her hands cold as she refused to look at me with any more warmth than one gives a mosquito before smacking it.

    I asked if I might be able to watch the television hanging over the foot of the bed, but once again, she said that she would have to have permission cleared.

    Hours later, the large nurse returned. She changed the IV bag and, before she left, turned the TV onto a round-the-clock aquarium channel.

    "Ammonia will disinfect sin."
    --adrianhayter

    "Art is life, just add bull****."
    --Chris Miller

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