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Rules of SF/Fantasy to Break

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by KC Trae Becker, Sep 5, 2016.

  1. Malik

    Malik Auror

    The problem with prologues is that they're misused about 90% of the time.

    In epic fantasy, the world has to be changed at the end through the main characters' actions. This is one of the immutable and defining characteristics of epic fantasy. The world is a character with its own arc.

    The prologue is a scene with the world as a character. It introduces the world at the outset so that we can see how much it has changed at the end. This gets overlooked, especially by inexperienced authors who think that the prologue is a story on its own, or a place to info-dump all the backstory. (This is also why a lot of first-effort epic fantasy falls flat; the MC's "win" but don't actually change anything. But that will be another thread. Or, more likely, a blog post.)

    Anyway, the prologue is not backstory. It's introducing your world. There's a huge difference. It can be done through a scene, or a conversation, or a short story, sure; but however you do your prologue, you have to set up the world with it so we know what effect the characters had by the end. If you skip the prologue, you will have a shit-ton of worldbuilding breadcrumbs and Easter Eggs to drop in. Which is cool, too. It's just a lot more work.
    SaltyDog likes this.
  2. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    I am generally against the use of prologues, but as with anything their use can make a large difference.

    In my current WIP, which is still in the planning phase, I've contemplated using a prologue to show an earlier life event for one of the characters. I like the example from Guardians of the Galaxy. Quill's experience in childhood gives us a frame of reference for his life later and, importantly, will play a major effect in the experience of the climax to that story. But that's a movie. We only have 2 hours to go from A to Z, so the prologue will remain fairly strong in memory for the viewers. Many prologues I've read, I've forgotten fairly quickly once I've entered the main story. By the end of the book, I almost always have entirely forgotten the prologue.

    The prologue to the first book of ASOIAF actually sets the stage and plants an idea of the looming, lurking danger that will come later. I think this works well because as we enter the main story we see these nobles going about their mundane lives oblivious to what lurks elsewhere. Importantly, GRRM inserts reminders of that prologue later (from what I remember) but these are cast as tall tales of strange things in the past and stories about previous winters. This works to keep both in mind, what lurks and the obliviousness of the main cast, so the readers don't forget the prologue and continue to move forward in anticipation of what will come.
  3. glutton

    glutton Inkling

    I used my opening scene, which is not labeled as a prologue but pretty much is, to introduce the badass princess who is one of the most important characters way before she ever meets the POV character and show a contrast between her past and current selves.
  4. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

    I'm using the prologue as a means to briefly depict the event that sets everything in motion. No long back story or anything, just one seemingly simple event that has far reaching consequences later on.
  5. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    I regularly break 9 of these rules. In fact, I've never followed those 9 rules.
    Does anyone have a better score?
  6. Reaver

    Reaver Kwisatz Haderach Moderator

    Yes, WHM. My rule breaking amp goes to 11. :D
  7. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    >The problem with prologues is that they're misused about 90% of the time.

    No, 70% of the time. See Sturgeon's Law.
    Malik likes this.
  8. AElisabet

    AElisabet Scribe

    Yes to all of these but especially 1, 2, and 3.

    The ill will towards omniscient never made any sense to me. I always got a feeling from some online writing forums that being able to do 3rd Limited well just became a lazy shorthand for "knows how to do POV," like a secret handshake into the "real writers" club. Yet actual bestselling authors continue to use it and use it well, and there is no actual evidence that readers hate it as much as writing forums do. Yes, please MORE OMNISCIENT.

    Prologues can be good, Prologues can be bad. Ditto for info dumps. Is it interesting? Keep it. Again, I think people have confused cutting stuff that is actually boring (and some prologues and info dumps are) with cutting the stuff that makes a story rich and fully realized. Is the entire first chapter to LOTR, with Bilbo's birthday party or all the local hobbit politics really necessary to the "plot"? Is the prologue to Game of Thrones? Are all the many info dumps through out both? Who cares? It's fun, it's endearing, its scary, its fascinating. I don't read fantasy for a quick bare bones skim of what is "necessary" to the "plot". I read fantasy to be sunk into another world.

    If a 30 page prologue or info dump is well written and interesting and enriches my immersion into the world, then bring it on.

    The key is "well written and interesting". But doesn't that apply to everything in a book?
    Guy and Reaver like this.
  9. SaltyDog

    SaltyDog Sage

    Yep, I agree there. I do like to add the crumbs and Easter eggs, I end up building my world as I write and work on the story. I also like to start the book with something that immediately grabs the reader's attention, say a battle. I give them action and then start dropping the crumbs. Hopefully it will be enough to draw them in, but I have yet to publish, though I do get good feed back. So we'll have to see, once I can finish the rough draft.

    And my method is probably not everybody's cup of tea, but it's my style. Quite excited with the prospects of my series. I do know it'll be a lot of fun writing it, let's hope it will be a success lol.
  10. Malik

    Malik Auror

    1.) Buy my book. I wrote it like I'm in your living room with a drink in my hand. And I had a bitch of a time finding an editor who'd let me get away with it.

    2.) Voice | Joseph Malik ADULT CONTENT WARNING: profanity, literary theory.
    Reaver and Heliotrope like this.
  11. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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  12. Malik

    Malik Auror

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  13. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    Malik, I enjoyed your post. This is something I've been thinking a lot about the last two days since I received an interesting critique on a story. I don't really have writerly feelings when it comes to my work. It's art, therefore tastes vary. What gets on my nerves is when other writers think they can improve my piece by taking out adverbs or critiquing the way I write my sentences.

    Please don't try to make me sound like someone else. Stop trying to make me write the way YOU would write. Just...ugh. After a heavy round of critiquing, my novel is the better for it yes, but nothing irritates me more than when writers go "slash all these paragraphs here, take out those adverbs there, I have no idea why you wrote that sentence in that way, etc".

    I reserve the right to write in the way I believe best communicates the story, gives readers interesting characters to connect with, and a well-written plot that will hopefully stimulate emotions. Everything else comes last.

    (I agree with you about GRRM lol)
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 7, 2016
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  14. AElisabet

    AElisabet Scribe

    Loved your rant :)

    James Wood's book How Fiction Works does a great job talking about the complexities of the relationship between narrators' and characters' voices (he's very "literary" and not as big on plot, but whatever).

    I generally can't get into something written in straight up, no rules broken, close 3rd person limited. I love first, can love second, love omni. But I need a narrator.
    Malik likes this.
  15. La Volpe

    La Volpe Sage

    If I'm allowed to nitpick here: What are the notable differences between 1st person and close 3rd person, in terms of a narrator voice?

    They're practically the same in that regard, except for the fact that 3rd can more easily utilise multiple viewpoints (i.e. multiple narrators). If the multiple narrators are the issue, does that mean that books written in close 3rd limited with only one POV is fine, but adding more POVs ruins it for you?
  16. AElisabet

    AElisabet Scribe

    I would say 3rd Limited and 1st Person are very different. I think 1st is actually closer to Omni in terms of tone - there is a narrator telling the story. They can be funny, serious, unreliable, ironic, etc. But there is a person telling the story. They own that story. A connection with that voice is one of the key joys of fiction for me. I feel that close, limited 3rd is often lacking that voice, and it frequently falls flat. (Not always, but often).

    I don't want to *be* a character. I don't like fiction that feels like a virtual reality escape. I want a character to be their own rich, separate person, who is either grabbing me by the throat to tell their own story (1st) or whose story is so epic and compelling that someone else just must tell it to me (Omni).

    I have no issue with multiple POVs - I like to dip in and out of the perspective of multiple characters. I just want a narrative presence to tie it all together.
  17. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    I think this is very interesting. I don't have a particular preference, or my preferences would be too complicated for me to try delineating them. (Combinations of character type, story type, POV, narrative strategy....) But I think you hit something on the head. 3rd limited always has a narrator that isn't the character, but often that narrator is flat, matter-of-fact, without personality. This is effectively a "stepping back" in order to avoid interfering with the character's voice. There are portions which may seem to be narrated by the POV character, and so will be similar to 1st, but every time there's a pull back and/or "He" or "She" is used, the real narrator becomes visible again.

    In my current WIP, I'd originally planned to write 3rd omniscient. Very early stages, that was my goal. But I have this tendency to write scenes in my head as I'm conceptualizing a project, and for this story every scene kept coming out 3rd limited. I'll begin the actual writing soon, so who knows.
  18. KC Trae Becker

    KC Trae Becker Troubadour

    Thanks everyone for responding to this thread. I agree, rules for writing are mostly stupid. I do like to know what are common objections to different writing devices so that when I decide to use them I can use them well.

    People who feel their opinions and "rules" are set in stone are funny. Successful authors who break the "rules" get "good enough to get away with it" by trying different styles and techniques and seeing if they can pull them off, not by following rules.

    That said, knowing common pitfalls to avoid help us learn from other's mistakes. Not being afraid to make our own mistakes is the fastest track to improving any skill.

    Keep your ideas and opinions flowing. I feel smarter just reading all of your posts.
  19. Rules are made to be carefully studied and evaluated so they then can be skillfully broken ;)

    Actually, I may have missed the careful study and evaluation part. I don't care for rules, and natural rebelliousness+study of logic has left me extremely leery of absolutes. The only absolutes in writing are the basic rules of language, and even those can be bent into pretzels to suit your ends. When someone says "X always..." "You should never do Y..." my first instinct is to do the exact opposite of the recommendation. I question, question, question. Everything.

    This is how I ended up a fantasy writer, anyway. In fantasy you can do anything you want as long as you do it well. In other types of stories you can't have tentacled unicorns or telepathic corals and it's downright frustrating.

    Even the conventions of fantasy frustrate me (elves, magic swords...you've probably heard me talk about those), not because there's anything wrong with those things (there is not) but because I wish more people would step outside of them. Step outside of what people expect from fantasy and bring something completely weird and new.
    Heliotrope likes this.
  20. On the subject of POVs: I have always preferred first person for my long projects, but I usually use limited third for my short stories and more minor projects. I do third omni very rarely. I wrote a short story in third omni inspired by the Two Steps From Hell song "Blackheart," but the narration was something of an experiment. I don't know if I've done something in that POV since.

    My favorite POV is the first person. I like the intimacy. The ability to hear my characters' voices speaking to me brings me close to them in a way that other POV's can't. It gives the characters a tremendous amount of influence over the story. I'm not speaking in "my" voice, but theirs, which makes every story and POV different and unique.

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