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.

Giveaway! Signed copies of The Date!

**GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED**

CONGRATULATIONS TO THE WINNERS (PICKED BY MY SON) OF RACHEL GILBERT FOR THE WORST DATE AND SUE BARTON FOR THE BEST

Firstly, a huge thank you for all the support for my latest psychological thriller centered around Face Blindness, The Date. Since its summer release I’m thrilled that it very quickly sold in excess of 100,000 copies, was nominated for The Guardian’s ‘Not the Booker Prize’ and to now learn that it is in the top 10 biggest selling books on Apple’s iBook store this year is phenomenal, particularly since it wasn’t released until halfway through the year.

The mass market paperback doesn’t hit the shops until next Spring, but as it’s Christmas I thought I’d give away a couple of signed and dedicated copies, along with postcards and bookmarks. If you already have the ebook or have listened to the audiobook, this could make a perfect gift for a friend.

To enter please comment below with either your best or worst date. Competition will run until Tuesday 11th.

Good luck!

Louise X

Here’s the blurb: –

One night can change everything.

‘I know it as soon as I wake up and open my eyes… Something is wrong.’

Her Saturday night started normally. Recently separated from her husband, Ali has been persuaded by her friends to go on a date with a new man. She is ready, she is nervous, she is excited. She is about to take a step into her new future. By Sunday morning, Ali’s life is unrecognisable. She wakes, and she knows that something is wrong. She is home, she is alone, she is hurt and she has no memory of what happened to her.

Worse still, when she looks in the mirror, Ali doesn’t recognise the face staring back at her

You can also find The Date on your local Amazon here.

The BIG editing lesson I learned writing The Surrogate #WritingTips

Today is the UK paperback publication of my third psychological thriller, The Surrogate (US paperback publication will follow later this year).  Although I’ve learned from every book, it was this one in particular where my editor gave me a piece of advice that has always stayed with me.

When I shared with my sister that I’d be writing a book about surrogacy she told me that she though the subject was too limiting. That the story would be predictable. I was determined to prove her wrong.

The Surrogate features Kat and Lisa, childhood friends, and Kat’s husband, Nick. They are all keeping dark and damaging secrets. I never plan when I write. I had a vague idea of who might be bad and who might be good but as I got deeper into the story the characters pulled me in unexpected directions. The plot became more complex than anything I thought I was capable of constructing.

As the ending gathered pace I layered twist upon twist, they tumbled onto the page as they tumbled out of my head, until finally the story reached its dramatic conclusion.

Nervously, I sent it over to my editor.

‘This is a phenomenal story’ her feedback began, ‘but…’ my heart sank ‘you’re not giving your twists time to breathe.’

I wasn’t entirely sure what she meant until I reread my manuscript. There wasn’t time to process each revelation before another one hit. It had been exhausting writing it. It was equally exhausting reading it. Rather than the pacy, hard hitting ending I thought I’d written it was confusing, lurching from one reveal to another.

She suggested taking out several twists which I was reluctant to do, so I set about rewriting the end.

For the twist she’d classed as ‘the big one’ I ensured I had no other reveals in this chapter. For other twists I moved a couple so they were away from the end. For most I lengthened the chapters so they weren’t so crammed together, particularly the epilogue which contains several.

Rereading it, I could see the difference. There was time to rest back, to process the turns of the story before it once more turned on its head.

There’s nothing I like more than pulling the rug from under the readers feet. To lead them to think they’ve got it all figured out when they haven’t. My stories always contain multiple twists. Now I’ll always give them time to breath.

You can read the opening of The Surrogate here and buy it on your local Amazon here. It is also now available in Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s & all good book shops.

Off on a writing retreat

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I will be getting up at some ridiculous time in the morning tomorrow and heading for beautiful Yorkshire where I will be lucky enough to spend five days on a tutored novel writing retreat at Wentworth Castle

I am really grateful for this amazing opportunity and so excited about the thought of staying in a castle. I am secretly hoping every attendee is issued with a tiara and I can spend the week masquerading as a princess. Now where did I put my ball gown?

 

 

Soooo, writing a novel?

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I have only been writing a few weeks, and flash fiction at that, but after gaining a place on the WoMentoring Project I thought why not throw myself in at the deep end and really challenge myself.

So, I want to write a novel. (It’s only been the last few days I can say that out loud without either a) laughing somewhat hysterically, b) breaking into a sweat or, c) pouring a large glass of wine. Often all three).

I am completely ignoring all the negative chatter in my head telling me I can’t because, I haven’t done any writing courses; My technical knowledge is zilch (I have had to google what exposition, protagonist and adverbs mean after receiving feedback); I am unclear on grammar (I am inserting semicolons with my fingers crossed) and I have never written anything more than 200 words before.

But (yes you probably shouldn’t start a sentence with that either), I have an idea, passion and after tentatively starting, fully intend on giving it my best shot.

So wish me luck, offer advice if you can and accompany me on my journey, I will appreciate the support.

Author Interview with Louise Walters

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Louise Walters is enjoying well deserved success with the phenomenal reception of her debut novel Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase. She found time in her busy schedule to answer a few questions about the writing process.

What was your starting point for your book? Did you have a firm idea of the plot when you started or an idea you played around with developing?

I had a few starting points: a suitcase I own with a label with “Mrs D E Sinclair” written on it; my experiences of working in an indie bookshop, The Old Hall Bookshop in Brackley, which my bookshop in the novel is based on; and a letter I once found in a book from a Polish squadron leader written at the end of WW2. I put them all together in my imagination, mixed them up, tweaked stuff,  and ended up, eight years later, with my first published novel.

How did you develop your characters? Did they evolve naturally or did you start off with a character sheet?

I thought about them for quite a long time and just tried to “see” them. Along the way I did a character questionnaire, similar to those that actors use, to try and sort the characters out in my mind. But that was quite late in the eight year process. I just had to get to know them first, and write about them and re-write, and re-write…. I regard them as real people, which sounds strange, but that’s the only way for me.

I see you graduated from the OU was that in creative writing? How important do you feel writing courses are?

My degree is in Literature but the last two courses were in Creative Writing. They were pretty useful, not least because they introduced me to new writers.

How structured are you when you write? Do you have set days and times. Do you set yourself word or time targets per week?

No targets. With five kids life can be hectic and unpredictable, as you know, so I don’t have daily word counts. I write most weekdays for anything from 1 to 5 hrs. School holidays are a bit different… then I switch to working in the evenings and sometimes at the weekends.

Not having an office at home I tend to have to room hop according to what my family are doing, although I do like it to be pretty quiet. What environment do you like to write in?

I can work pretty much anywhere as long as I have my laptop.

Could you please tell me a little about the drafting process, i.e. do you just write anything and then review it when finished or try to get it right as you go along?

Hmm. I try not to be too picky with a first draft, especially if I’m feeling “inspired” and want to get that story written down. But sometimes I edit as I go. The bulk of my writing on Mrs S was actually re-writing, editing, polishing.

If you think of something that would fit in later in your book would you write it out of sequence or just make notes.

Whichever. I have ideas in the strangest of places and at odd times, I’m sure you do too! I do go back and forth in my editing too… I have a notebook full of stuff like “chapters 37, 40 and 42 too weak. Nothing happens. Add stuff.” That’s a genuine example from my current notebook for my Work in Progress (WiP).

How many drafts of your book did you do before you were happy with it.

I’m not sure I am happy with it! There are always things I think I could have changed – but it’s too late now. It went through several edits… I didn’t completely re-write, but changed enough things to warrant saving it as a new draft. I got up to 22 of those. Then I had further edits to do once I found an agent, and then a publisher. It can feel as though you’re going to be stuck editing for ever. But working with an editor was the best experience, and I learned a lot about writing from that. An editor really helps to whip your work into shape.

Thanks Louise, it has been really interesting to hear a published author’s perspective on the writing process, it has given me plenty to think about.

The WoMentoring Project

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I have recently (and tentatively) entered the world of creative writing and subsequently felt slightly overwhelmed at times, both by the amount of words in my head and what I should actually be doing with them.

A fellow writer told me about The WoMentoring Project and when I checked it out and saw Louise Walters, author of the amazing Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase, was volunteering her time as a mentor I couldn’t resist applying.  Ignoring the little doubtful voice in my head which was telling me not to bother, I will never be able to write a book, I pressed the send button.

Applying for a place on this scheme was a pivotal point for me. I was finally acknowledging to myself (even if I didn’t share with anyone else) that I was ready to work towards turning my dream of being a published fiction author into a reality. I made a conscious choice to no longer pay any attention to my insecurities. We are what we believe we can be, our thoughts create our world and the inner me is now offering a high five and a “you go girl”.

I was more than a little bit excited to hear on Friday evening that Louise Walters has agreed to be my mentor. Cue a celebratory bottle of wine, a take out and much happiness. It wasn’t really until Sunday that it suddenly dawned on me that I haven’t actually written or published anything yet. Best stop dancing on the table and crack open the laptop rather than another bottle then.

Yesterday was spent scrambling around trying to find discarded envelopes and old post it notes with odd ideas frantically scribbled on them (I really must develop a system). It was a challenge to say the least, trying to decipher my handwriting and attach meaning to random words, which I am sure at the time were integral to the story, but now make no sense to me. What I lack in a plot I make up for in enthusiasm though and a willingness to work hard, take all constructive criticism on board and learn a craft I have loved for as long as I can remember.

Whatever happens (and I am putting no pressure on myself or my mentor to produce something spectacular**) I am so grateful for this opportunity.

Wish me luck.

 

** I want to produce something spectacular 🙂