Novel Writing – Should you include a prologue? #WritingTips

 

I began writing my debut, ‘The Sister‘, for fun. It was meant to be a short story. I hadn’t written any fiction as an adult and I hadn’t any qualifications other than a clutch of GCSE’s. I never believed I could write a book. I had always thought that to be a published novelist you needed a wealth of experience and a degree in creative writing.

When it got to the point that my ‘short story’ had reached 90k words I began to tentatively hope I could edit it to a high enough standard where I’d dare to submit it. Out of my depth, I was so grateful when a writer I met at an event offered to read the opening 3 chapters for me. I didn’t check where she was published, or how she was published. The fact she was in print led me to believe she knew absolutely everything.

Her overriding feedback was that my prologue was a huge mistake, ‘”readers hate them, agents hate them and publishers hate them. If you submit something with a prologue it won’t be read.”

I felt my face burn with embarrassment. I didn’t know the rules and I’d been found out for the imposter that I was.

Immediately I deleted my prologue, but now, several books on and with over a million copies sold I’m familiar with most of the rules and (whispers) here’s the thing. There aren’t any.

That writer, as it turned out, was right that ‘The Sister‘ shouldn’t have a prologue, but not for the reasons she said.

The prologue wasn’t needed. It didn’t serve a purpose and in a novel, every single scene, every single word needs to earn its place, prologue included. After The Sister spent two months at No. 1 I found the confidence to include a prologue in my second psychological thriller, ‘The Gift‘, because no matter what that writer said about people hating prologues, I don’t and first and foremost I’m a reader. I don’t write one for every book because not every story warrants one.

So how do I decide when to use one? ‘The Family’ is my latest thriller and I’ll use it as an example, I’ve included the prologue below.  The Family is a book about brainwashing, about a mother, Laura, and her daughter, Tilly, who inadvertently find themselves joining a cult.  Laura realises there is something very dangerous about the situation they find themselves in but Tilly has already fallen for the charismatic leader, Alex, and doesn’t want to leave. It’s important for this story that we see how Laura and Tilly find themselves in such a terrible situation so this wasn’t going to be a story that flings you into action on the very first page.

I wanted to give the readers an indication that the pace will increase throughout the book.  The prologue begins in the future and then chapter one begins several months before this. We can initially see the horrifying situation Laura and Tilly are in and then we work back to see how they got there. I enjoy this set up as a reader, forming my own conclusions as to what’s going on and why. I wanted this novel to open with a question. For the readers to feel involved, part of ‘The Family’ from the beginning so when Laura and Tilly get sucked into this tight-knit, claustrophobic group they can feel themselves there too.

We can see, when we read the prologue below, that someone has been shot but who has been shot and who has shot them? I love nothing more than a mystery and it’s been such fun hearing reader’s theories at the beginning of the book and then their reactions at the end (nobody has guessed both parts correctly as yet…)

Prologues are a great tool for grabbing attention, giving background, creating a twist (as the mine below does), and for providing a hook. A question. Writing from a different point of view or a different time – past, present, or future, something that sets it apart from chapter one.

I asked my son once, who is an avid reader whether he read prologues as I was genuinely shocked to hear some readers don’t.

‘Of course,’ he said, ‘but I never bother with the things at the end. The epilogue.’

‘Why not?’ I was horrified.

‘Because I already know how the story ends,’ he said.

Not in my books. There is often, as there is with ‘The Family‘, a twist on the very last line in the epilogue, but how to end a story is another blog post entirely.

Download ‘The Family’ for only £0.99 as part of the Amazon kindle monthly deal here and read the prologue below.

 

 

 

The FamilyPrologue

NOW

LAURA 

It all unfolds with cinematic clarity; the gunshot, the scream. Every detail sharp and clear. Time slows as her eyes plead with me to help her. In my mind I bundle her behind me, shielding her body with mine, but she is too far away and I know I cannot reach her in time.

But still I try.

My legs are weighted with dread as I run towards her; the fist around my heart squeezing.

A second shot.

Her knees buckle. She crumples like a paper doll.

The ground falls away beneath my feet and I crawl to her like the animal I have become. My palms are sticky in the arc of blood that has stained the floor red. Blood is thicker than water they say, but hers is thin and beacon bright. Adrenaline pulses through me leaving numbness in its wake as I press against her wrist, desperately seeking a pulse. With my other hand I link my fingers through hers the way we used to before I brought us to this place that has been our ruin. A lifetime of memories strobe through my mind; cradling her close in the maternity wing; Easter eggs spilling out of the wicker basket looped over her pudgy arm; her first day of school, ribboned pigtails swinging as she ran across the playground.

She can’t be gone.

Can she?

Fingers of panic press hard against my skull. The colour leeches from the room. A black and white hue descending upon me. I tighten my fingers around hers, afraid I’m going to faint. Afraid I’m going to let her go.

But then.

A flicker of eyelids. A murmur from her lips.

I lay next to her, gently rolling her towards me, cradling her in my arms. I can’t, I won’t leave her. Family should stick together. Protect each other. Instead, I chose to come here.

This is all my fault.

The drumming in my head grows louder – the sound of footfall. I don’t have to look up to feel their anger, solid and immovable.

The acrid smell of gunpowder hangs in the air along with my fear.

Looking up, my eyes meet the shooter’s, they are still holding the gun and sensations return, hard and fast. The pain in my stomach is cutting and deep and I am no longer sure if the blood I am covered in has come from her.

Or is coming from me.

Her top is soaked crimson, as is mine.

The pain increases.

Terrified, I tug at her clothes, my clothes, searching for the wound. Praying. Let her be okay. Seventeen is no age. Let it be me.

At last I find the small hole where the bullet has torn through flesh but before I can apply pressure to stem the flow of blood there are hands on my shoulders. My elbows. Pulling. Pulling.

Darkness flickers at the edge of my vision but still I fight against it. I fight against them.

My feet kick out, my teeth sink into flesh, but it’s fruitless. I am growing weaker.

Her fingers twitch. Once. Twice.

Nothing.

‘Tilly!’ My scream rips through me as I am yanked to my feet. ‘Tilly!’ I scramble for traction, every fibre of my being straining to reach my daughter.

I can’t.

I am still wrestling to be free as I am dragged, my feet scraping the ground.

But I know they’ll never let us leave here now.

Not alive anyway.

 

Download ‘The Family’ for only £0.99 as part of the Amazon kindle monthly deal here.

The BEST publication day present EVER & the launch party!

 

Yesterday was paperback and audio book publication day for my 5th psychological thriller ‘The Family’ and you can read the background of where the story came from in my earlier post, here.

I was incredibly excited from the second I woke. It’s been over a year since I was last published and the delicious feeling of gratitude, pride and relief all threaded with nerves, never gets any less intense.

The day kicked off with deliveries of gorgeous flowers from my mum, my husband and my publisher and so many cards the postman wished me happy birthday!

My sister’s homemade publication day gifts are legendary and she really upped her game again with this gem for The Family. The scene is taken from page 56 of the book, where Laura and Tilly first approach the commune, which will become their dream home and then their worst nightmare. Below is the passage

We’d been driving for forty-five minutes when, almost too late, I noticed the opening in-between the trees. I swung a hard left, bumping down a rutted track that tapered until hanging twigs scraped against my paintwork. I thought I must have taken a wrong turn. Slowly, I edged forward, looking for a place to turn around. The track widened again. A weatherworn sign speared the ground, a crow perched atop so still at first I thought he was a statue. ‘Tresmasers yn Ofalus’ in black peeling letters and then almost as an afterthought, the English translation, ‘Trespassers Beware’. A second sign shouted ‘Ffens Trydan’, ‘Electric Fence’, and a third, newer sign, ‘Oak Leaf Organics’. I’d found it. Gorphwysfa. Resting place.

Publication day wouldn’t be publication day without seeing my book on the shelves so my friend and I went to Tesco and it was so overwhelming to realise that my story is actually really out there I shed a little tear in the supermarket. Not embarrassing at all…

The evening was ALL about the launch (and a lot about the cake!) On the way to Waterstones I felt incredibly anxious – I’ve always been open about my mental health battles and despite it being a happy day it was the worst I had felt for a long time. I could barely speak, felt faint and there was such a strong desire to run away I almost, almost considered it. But then the people I love most in the world began to arrive with hugs and good wishes and I realised that everyone had come to support me and then I was so grateful for the people in my life I had to have a minute alone to compose myself.

My editor Manpreet Grewal, and my agent, Rory Scarfe had both travelled up from London and it really meant a lot to me to have them both there.

As well as my family and close friends there were people I hadn’t seen for years but had reconnected with via Facebook: Mark who I went to school with 30 years ago; Paul, one of my teenage best friends; Suzi who I met when I’d had a baby 13 years ago. It was wonderful to catch up with everyone.

One of the best parts about being published is the new friends I have made online, who have turned into real friends offline, some of whom came to celebrate include the inspirational Madeleine Black, Darren O’Sullivan and Jane Isaac.

The Fiction Café Facebook Book Group is run by the lovely Wendy Clarke and she and her members are always so supportive it was fantastic to have some of them at the launch.

Adam Chappell the magician came to entertain us all with close up magic. I’d really recommend him for events, his tricks were amazing (although I was better at making cake disappear…)

And then came the speech (drops head into hands with despair).

At the launch for my debut, The Sister, I was too nervous to say anything coherent. I stood and gushingly thanked a random person who’d wandered in off of the street to see what was going on and completely failed to mention my children. Last night I was determined to nail it. I bullet pointed the things I wanted to say and I felt confident talking about my book and acknowledgements. Afterwards I was super relieved it had gone so well until my friend whispered in my ear “that was great, but you thanked everyone except your husband…”

Next time I’ll get it right!

HUGE thanks to everyone who supported The Family yesterday, both online and at the launch. It’s available now at Tesco, Sainsbury’s & all good bookshops and will be stocked in Asda nearer to Christmas. For a limited time only the digital version is just 99p across all digital platforms. You can find it on Amazon here.

**Cover Reveal** The Family!!

I am SUPER excited to reveal the cover of my forthcoming psychological thriller, ‘The Family,’ which will be published on 3rd October (6 weeks!!) is available to preorder now here.

My fifth book – (fifth!!) – is the dark, emotional story of Laura and her daughter Tilly and has been getting some amazing early feedback.

Creepy & compelling, another great impossible-to-put-down thriller from the fabulous Louise Jensen.’ B A Paris

‘A clever, addictive thriller about family, loss and lies. Packed full of secrets and twists, it will keep you guessing until the final page.’ Alice Feeney

‘Wow! What a book. I loved it, the pace was fantastic & the relationship between Tilly & Laura was gripping & the love really stood out. I thought I had it all sussed, but didn’t see how neatly everyone was connected. This book is going to fly!’ Darren O’Sullivan

‘Cements Louise as THE writer of beautiful, character-led, yet still page-turningly-good thrillers. This will (and should) be huge.’ Louise Beech

I’ll be sharing more about why I wrote this book and what it means to me, but for now, here’s the blurb:

ONCE YOU’RE IN, THEY’LL NEVER LET YOU LEAVE.

Laura is grieving after the sudden death of her husband. Struggling to cope emotionally and financially, Laura is grateful when a local community, Oak Leaf Organics, offer her and her 17-year-old daughter Tilly a home.

But as Laura and Tilly settle into life with their new ‘family’, sinister things begin to happen. When one of the community dies in suspicious circumstances Laura wants to leave but Tilly, enthralled by the charismatic leader, Alex, refuses to go.

Desperately searching for a way to save her daughter, Laura uncovers a horrifying secret but Alex and his family aren’t the only ones with something to hide. Just as Laura has been digging into their past, they’ve been digging into hers and she discovers the terrifying reason they invited her and Tilly in, and why they’ll never let them leave…

Publishing 3rd October – preorder now.