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.

A Million Sales & a HUGE Thank You

 

As many of you know writing The Sister was a way for me to cope with losing my mobility, to attempt to take my mind off my chronic pain. To try to claw my way out of clinical depression. Grace and Charlie, along with the other characters in the book transported me to a different world. A joyful world. And little by little I began to feel better.

When Bookouture offered to publish my debut I felt a mixture of excitement and terror. Before I accepted the deal they were proposing I had a long and frank conversation with my prospective editor. I told her I wasn’t really a writer. Shared the reasons I had started writing and admitted that to me the story was real and all I had to do was to type it up. I wasn’t sure I could ever write another novel again. She reassured me that she thought I could but before I would sign I sat and made a list of everyone I thought might buy the book, I really didn’t want them to invest time into me if no-one would ever read it. I told her I was confident of seventeen sales. She told me Bookouture would try to get me a ‘few more than that.’

This week it’s been exactly two years since The Sister was published and thanks to my editor having more faith in me than I had in myself I’ve since written The Gift, The Surrogate and The Date. Today, I’ve learned that I’ve surpassed the million sales mark in English language books (my nineteen translation deals aren’t included in that figure). You can read the official announcement here. Although I should have the words to express how I feel, I just can’t. As much as I try, I can’t envisage a million anything, even chocolate hob nobs. I’m happy, tearful, and incredibly grateful that at a time in my life when I’d really hit rock bottom I decided to tell a story.

This achievement is very much a team effort so a huge thanks all at my digital and audio publishers, Bookouture, my paperback publishers, Sphere and to my agent Rory Scarfe. I’m also very grateful to my family for their continued support.

But most of all, thanks to the readers who have read, reviewed, shared and brighten up my day with emails and messages, not to mention hanging out with me daily on social media. None of it would have been possible without you.

Louise X

Bookouture Publishing Director Jenny Geras said ‘What Louise has achieved in just two years is incredible. What Louise’s readers constantly tell us is that in a crowded genre, her novels stand out as being the most gripping, the hardest to put down, with the best twists and the most standout hooks. We congratulate her on this amazing sales milestone, which couldn’t be more deserved.’

 

Paperback publication day & my hopes for this story!

It’s paperback publication day for The Gift, my second psychological thriller which has already been a global e-book No. 1 Bestseller. I’m SO excited for this book to reach a whole new audience.

The Gift is a story based around cellular memory, the concept that the cells of the body can store memories, and if organs are transplanted, these memories could also be transplanted with them. I first stumbled across cellular memory about fifteen years ago and was intrigued with the concept. Although this isn’t scientifically proven, there are an increasing number of doctors and scientists supporting this theory and further research is being carried out.

Endlessly fascinated I’ve spent years researching, reading up on real life cases where recipients have received donor organs, in particular hearts, and inherited some attributes of the donor whether it is a craving for the donor’s favourite food, or, in more extreme cases, speaking a different language after the surgery that the donor could speak, or suddenly being able to play an instrument the donor could play.

Could this really be happening? Is the heart just a pump or is it something more? It wasn’t that long ago the heart was thought to be the centre of all knowledge and wisdom. Is it more than we think?

I desperately wanted to write a novel around cellular memory but I was wary. It is a subject I felt that deserved sensitively handling. Where there is a transplant, there has to be a loss. A grieving family. A recipient who has perhaps been ill for a long period and the impact that has had on their family and friends. I considered all of these points four years ago when I wanted to start writing a novel and I decided I didn’t have the experience to approach a story that included organ donation with the sensitivity it deserved.

Instead I wrote The Sister, a psychological thriller based around a grieving girl and I found that despite the genre of the book I was able to write it with raw emotion and when readers read it and fed back how connected and empathetic they felt towards the characters, I decided to tentatively start to write Jenna’s story in The Gift.

Jenna is a 30-year-old woman who receives a new heart and begins to have disturbing thoughts and dreams. She becomes obsessed with her donor, Callie’s family, and she doesn’t believe Callie’s accident was as innocent as it was purported to be. Jenna is determined to uncover the truth behind Callie’s death, to bring her bewildered parents the closure they deserve, but as she begins to dig and discover the secrets surrounding Callie, she finds there is someone who wants to silence her, at any cost.

The Gift is fiction, and of course as an author I have taken artistic license with the subject of cellular memory and I’m sure readers will understand the need to do this but I hope I have handled the medical aspect and the loss with accuracy and respect.

My family and I have been on the donor transplant list for years. I know it’s not always something families discuss and it has been humbling to receive emails from readers saying after they read Jenna’s story they sat down and discussed their thoughts and wishes with their loved ones. My hope for The Gift is that it can continue to spark conversations about donation and perhaps encourage someone who might not have previously thought about it to sign themselves up to the register. Signing up really could save lives.

The paperback version of The Gift, published by Sphere (Little, Brown) is now available in all good bookshops as well as Asda, Tesco & Sainsburys. The Tesco version includes an additional short story written exclusively for their customers or you can order the paperback, digital or audio version from Amazon here