Around a year ago I decided that I finally had to sit myself and down and write a novel (my eventual prologue is at the end of this post). In truth, I had no idea where to start and simply wrote an outline and a prologue on the first night.
Since then I’ve read all sorts of blogs, articles and books on the art of creating a novel. They all had one thing in common – the God complex. All of them were right, which was odd as each piece of advice told me something completely different.
My conclusion to all of this is that a prologue should not be there for the sake of it, it has to introduce the theme of the story, a protagonist or reveal the reason for the plot. It should never be a scene from the middle of the book to get your readers hooked because the book starts too slowly. If you have no hook in your first chapter then rewrite it, don’t cheat your readers.
My real advice to you on Prologues is to do as I did. Read everything from everyone. Look at the books you love – did they use a prologue? Do you think it was necessary? Are you targeting a particular agent? If so, follow them on Twitter, read their submission guidelines and blogs, chances are that they will tell you what they think of prologues somewhere in amongst the vast amounts of information available to you. Above all, do what feels right and what you believe best gives your reader the most enjoyable journey.
After many rewrites, deletions and tantrums I finally realised that I do need a prologue. It was evident to me (a year later) that I haven’t explained a key driving factor to the story. The problem I had was that the reader couldn’t understand why this particular character behaved as he did. I also had no way of getting this into the story without it feeling forced. With this in mind I took my reader back in time to many years before the actual story begins. The result is that the readers now have a completely alternative view of this character. Instead of being seen as a demonic one dimensional bad guy, he now has layers of personality, I quickly realised that I had taken a clichéd fantasy bad guy and completely altered how he is perceived due to a very brief prologue.
Taking this step also changed my novel significantly as I suddenly found myself caring more about how he feels and what I have in store for him – I even made him a POV character.
I’ve added my prologue to my novel, The Unsullied Child, below and would appreciate any comments or suggestions as to how you feel about the character and the plot it’s intended to set up (please forgive the formatting – I’ve had a bit of copy and paste trouble):
The Unsullied Child
The creature appeared.
There is no other way to describe his becoming than this.
Filkyn simply appeared in the sleeping quarters of Pope Thadeus. The guards at the door were not disturbed, the shutters that kept out any hint of moonlight remained firmly secured, yet Filkyn was there. Just being there.
He could not see his own form nor did he know himself how he had come to be in this place, he only knew that he was. He had no past, no memory to call upon, his was a life just born. Nobody had told him, yet he knew his name.
He did, of course, know his purpose. He knew his whole reason for being in this room but if he were to be asked (not that he would have answered without riddle) where he had come from, he could not have honestly told.
Filkyn raised a muscular, long arm toward the shutter, lifted the bar that secured it in place and quietly opened it. The night was warm and clear and the pale light of the moon streamed into the sleeping quarters illuminating ghostly shadows. Filkyn took a step backwards to allow his form to be revealed and took his first look at himself. Repulsed, he stepped away from the light. He did not know how he knew his form was wrong, that he did not hold a proper human form for he had not yet witnessed a human body. Yet, he did, he knew his arms were too long with too many joints. He reached to his face and felt his eyes that he understood were too small and he instinctively knew that his skin the wrong shade of grey-brown. Still, he knew despite this, he was extraordinary, that he would bring revelation and he would bring salvation. He understood that he was a vessel of the Gods sent to save and protect. His shape and ugliness is a test, a test to those who judge. The first test would come soon. How would Pope Thadeus, ruler of the four Regions of Trelista treat him? Would he immediately deride him? Call in the guards of the Black Curate and immediately have him killed? Filkyn could stop them of course but there would be no test in that. He could only wait.
Filkyn stepped back into the light, and this time, he accepted his form as he knew he will need others too. He looked again at the too-long arms, arms longer that were longer than his legs. He realised for the first time that he was naked and looked over every area of his body he could; inspecting himself. He found himself vaguely pleased to find he did indeed have a manhood. His body had a muscular tone to it even if it did look odd. A thin layer of dark hair covered every inch of him.
As Filkyn held out his arms to further inspect them he discovered for the first time that in one hand he held scraps of old yellowing parchment. He immediately understood that this was the key to his acceptance, the missing pages of the Scriptures of The Gods.
Filkyn found himself a blanket that lay folded upon a stone bench in front of the window and wrapped it around himself, more for the sake of the human custom than out of shame or need of warmth. He felt no cold, nor heat. He would not hunger or thirst, this he knew.
Now clothed, the newly born vessel of the Gods crept silently upon the bed of the Pope and placed himself at the foot of the sleeping man. Cross-legged and clutching the parchment that will validate his existence. Filkyn sat and waited for the morning light to arrive. A morning that would not only bring a shock to the face to the Pope but also, although they didn’t yet know it, a future to the people of these lands that would otherwise be ripped from them.
For now, Filkyn waited. Waited for morning and his Pope.