1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

Normal beginnings

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Garren Jacobsen, Jun 14, 2017.

  1. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    2,430
    1,512
    163
    I'm sure we do, but the difference between a traditional prologue, which is truly outside the story -- see Tolkien's rambling about Hobbits -- and a chapter prologue like GoT, are profound and represent the changing definition of "prologue". When a lot of modern writers like GRRM use the word prologue, it means something different than "by definition" because definitions change over time. The chapter prologue is a strategic choice in publishing/writing that might happen for a variety of reasons, but it isn't necessarily outside the story, but it can be. In order for GoT to hold the same effect, if the prologue were cut chapter 1 would have to change. And not in a good way, otherwise GRRM likely would've done it. Love him or hate him, he knows what he's doing.

    Why is the prologue called a prologue? Because a chapter 1 where the POV character is executed in chapter 2 would horrify publishers, because readers naturally glom onto the first character they see and the fear is they'd feel cheated (and they would). And GoT is already horrifying to publishers in this regard, but at least in this instance the Chapter 1 character manages to survive despite being shoved out of a tower, heh heh. Chapter 1 needs a recurring POV character, and that's why the prologue is a prologue instead of chapter 1, not because it becomes before the story.

    But in the end it's a rather pointless discussion, it sure worked for GRRM, no matter what you call it.

     
    Heliotrope likes this.
  2. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    2,935
    2,013
    263
    One of the ways showing a slice-of-life in the first chapter can go wrong: "It'll have resonance later."

    No, it needs to have resonance now, even if later it's a bigger deal.

    An example would be showing that kid playing Minecraft for eight hours simply because "I want to show how he's addicted to the game. That'll become more important later, at the end of chapter two or beginning of chapter three."

    Spending the entirety of chapter one having the kid play the game, with perhaps only incidental interruptions (kid sister keeps coming into the room, bugging him–"I want to show how he doesn't get along with his sister."), could be incredibly boring if it goes on for ten pages. Especially if you are describing the kind of city/base he's building in the game.

    You could show the kid being addicted to the game with fewer words devoted to that game play while showing other things about his life. Let's say you decide to show his addiction by introducing family conflict and kid's personality that combine to prevent him from playing it. Mother yells from the other room that he needs to come out and eat dinner with his family, kid keeps saying, "In a minute!", Mother finally opens the door and says, "Now!" There's an argument that involves some hateful words/attitude from the kid, so the Mother grabs up the PS4 and says, "You're not getting it back for a week." Kid stews in his room–doesn't actually go out to dinner–until he hits on an idea. He calls his father, who's divorced from his mother and lives a few miles away, and asks if he can borrow his laptop for a school project he needs to write. Actually, he's planning to use that laptop to play Minecraft until he gets his PS4 back. Now you can plot all kinds of consequences from that, heh.

    I think that showing is good, but often the "I want to show..." reasoning can go awry. Also, I think that even with the mundane, you need the same kind of try/fail cycles, obstructions, conflicts, what I redundantly called "tiny little wrenches" in another thread recently. These make the mundane feel real and active, plus those wrenches are occasions for showing something about the milieu and personality traits of the MC. How an MC reacts to the mundane can have resonance later when he's dealing with bigger, more serious events, obstructions, conflicts, wrenches.

    Edit: Or let's take the Indy-esque example I mentioned in an earlier comment. "I want to show that my character regularly goes to wild and weird places to collect artifacts." Fine. But when we see Indy, we see the obstructions, conflicts, his reactions to things that happen, and this gives us insight into the character. But showing the character breezing through the scenario–with only the occasional incidental "Oh crap" internal dialogue–could be incredibly boring. "Oh crap" is generic, how anyone would react to any number of obstructions.
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2017
    Penpilot and Heliotrope like this.
  3. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

    2,662
    1,953
    163
    Yes. I want to thank ^^^ a thousand times. This is exactly right.
     
  4. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    11,318
    3,745
    413
    I'm curious if there is a basis for this, or if it is an assumption. I ask because I've seen this sort of thing happen quite a bit (more often, POV character in chapter 1 dies at the end of the chapter). Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child do it from time to time, and they label the opening as chapter 1, not a prologue, at least in the ones I looked at (I think they use a prologue in some, for example when there is a huge time gap like from the 1800s to the present time).

    Maybe it has to do with reading a lot of thrillers, horror, and the like, but I know I've read plenty of books where chapter 1 introduces a POV character who is dead by the end of it, and then chapter 2 starts with the main characters being pulled into the events of chapter 1. The idea that publishers are horrified by this concept doesn't seem to hold up. It all comes down to whether an author can pull it off effectively, and for some stories that kind of opening is quite effective.
     
  5. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    11,318
    3,745
    413
    I suppose it is worth mentioning that the type of novel you are writing impacts these decisions. This is a site for genre fiction, so the advice given throughout this thread applies well. If anyone here is writing something more along the lines of literary fiction, you'll find that tolerance for the mundane aspects of life for a fairly prolonged portion of the beginning of a novel is greater. Even then you're likely to get some hint of conflict early on. Ms. Dalloway takes place, I believe, entirely over the course of a rather mundane day. The first sentence hints that there is some conflict going on, but it is understated and largely internal throughout, and really the "day in the life" of Clarissa is much the same as any other might be, except for certain internal realizations she has arrived at.

    There's a lot of what I see as "just another day" at the beginning of that novel, and we're well into it before Clarissa's realizations start to turn the day into something a bit more.

    On the fantasy side, and which probably qualifies as literary, Peake's Gormenghast books have a lengthy establishment of the status quo, which plays into the theme in those books.

    In the end, there isn't a right or wrong answer as to how you have to start your novel. It's been done different ways, many times, and quite successfully. I think you have to decide for yourself what your vision is for how your novel unfolds, then write it and determine whether what you've produced is effective or not. If not, then you go back and try again.
     
  6. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    2,430
    1,512
    163
    GoT was an example given (without full knowledge of course) to me when chatting with an agent and discussing the start of my epic WIP, and then when talking to an editor this topic also came up. It lead to my "prologue" being turned into chapter 1, because he became a recurring POV. I'm not trying to put words in GRRM's mouth or his publishers, editors, or whatever. Thriller and horror genre fiction would be far more tolerant of first chapter POV deaths. But as or more importantly, these are "one off" characters for POV. Death or otherwise, the word prologue almost becomes shorthand for "do not get too invested in this character".

    But, that said, I've had 3 or 4 chit chats with folks in the pub world who, when talking about nobody writers like myself, would get nervous with a chapter one apparent MC/POV character dying. Or for that matter, with any writer, not that it couldn't be done. It's just a risk. Heck, they don't even love books that don't start with the protag, which is the safest route... get your readers into the protag. Of course, once you sell a million copies all bets are off, LOL.

    Additional evidence for GRRM:

    Prologues-- Character

    Game of Thrones-- Will
    Clash of Kings-- Cressen
    Storm of Swords-- Chett
    A Feast for Crows-- Pate
    A Dance with Dragons-- Varamyr

    To the best of my memory, none of these characters are ever seen from POV again. While "death" isn't always a determiner, being a one off character POV is.

    But ran out of time, LOL.
     
    Steerpike likes this.
  7. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    11,318
    3,745
    413
    @Demesnedenoir

    I can see where it could be a risk for new authors. I suppose anything that doesn't conform to the greater expectations is risky. Then something like House of Leaves comes along and makes me wonder if all advice for new writers goes out the window.

    When it comes to risk, it raises an interesting question, because it seems to me you're always having to balance competing interests. On the one hand, you have those who are put off by a point of view character being introduced and killed in a "chapter 1." On the other hand, you have those who simply dislike prologues and are inclined to avoid them.

    One is hit with so much competing information and advice, it seems as though the best course, ultimately, is to simply follow one's own vision for the work at the outset. At the point an editor or agent is involved, changes to that vision can be considered then.
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2017
    Demesnedenoir likes this.
  8. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    2,430
    1,512
    163
    I can't disagree with a thing here. But, it's never bad to err on the side of caution, or you may never get that agent to give you advice, LOL. The world of writing is whatever works, works, but one must still get people to read far enough to realize it works. And that could come down to pure luck, the mood the reader is in that day, LOL.

    The "brilliance" of the movie Scream that folks in the H'wood world were discussing after it came out was killing off Drew Berrymore in the beginning (if I'm keeping my memories straight). Killing the "name" actor. It worked. Whatever works, works.

     
    Steerpike likes this.
Loading...

Share This Page