Is there a piece of conventional writing advice you take serious exception to?
Editors and agents supposedly hate them.
It’s rule no. 2 on Elmore Leonard’s list of “10 Rules for Good Writing.”
But I can’t. I honestly, from the bottom of my heart, have tried to avoid them. But they’ve somehow crept into my writing and I feel compelled to put them in. IT is a compulsion. I’ve had writer’s critique my novels and advise me to ditch the prologues and I CAN’T.
So far, that’s only been in three books. Confession: I’ve only written six books, so I’m 50-50 at this point.
The first time I used a prologue, I snuck it in. I had a contract for the second book in my series, so I figured it was worth giving it a shot. At that point in my career, it wasn’t TOO much of a gamble. If the editor hated it, she’d ask me to take it out. I already had the book deal so she wasn’t going to reject the entire book because of a sneaky little prologue, would she?
It’s worth noting that this only came with the confidence of a four-book deal. Earlier, when I was slogging through the query trenches looking for an agent I would never have queries a book with a prologue. Even early on, I was very aware of the hatred that existed for these little pre-emptive chapters so I wouldn’t have dared to use one.
But once I had an agent and book deal under my belt, then … no holds barred! Bring on the prologue.
Along with being unable to avoid writing them in my books, I also had some serious heavy hitter role models who used prologues. Many of my favorite writers use prologues.
For instance, Lisa Unger uses prologues LIKE A BOSS.
In fact, a quick survey of my bookshelf devoted to Unger, revealed that all nine of her books that I own begin with a prologue.
So, I must admit I’m of the school of thought that you should dress for the job you want, so because I dream of writing like my favorite authors, I attempted a few prologues, as well. And guess what? I think they worked.
I like to use prologues as a way to foreshadow action that will come later in the book, but I’ve also used them to plop down a mysterious scene from the past that will be explained later on.
I think, like any rules for writing, the best path is to know the rules and then if you are going to break them, make sure you do it well.
Here are a few tricks I have used to try to sneak in prologues.
What I do is AVOID calling it a prologue.
Instead of writing “prologue” I write “Before” or even write nothing. Or I slap down the year something happened where the chapter should be. I’m not Lisa Unger. If I were I would just flat out write “Prologue” and be done with it.
(Note: It’s worth pointing out that in my second book, BLESSED ARE THE MEEK, I was too scared to use the word “prologue” and so just slapped on a date in front of that first chapter and then made the next one, “Chapter One.” But lo and behold when the book was published, my editor had added the word “prologue,” which was fine since she was the one I was trying to sneak the prologue in to anyway and she’s so smart that if she is okay with calling it a prologue, I’m good with that.)
So what do you think about prologues? Love ‘em or hate ‘em?
Kristi Belcamino is a writer, crime reporter, and Italian-American mama who makes a tasty biscotti. As a reporter, she flew in an FA-18 jet with the Blue Angels, raced a Dodge Viper at Laguna Seca, and attended barbecues at the morgue. Her first book, Blessed are the Dead, based on her dealings with a serial killer, is nominated for the 2015 Anthony and Macavity awards. Find out more at www.blessedarethedead.com.
Her latest book, the fourth in the Gabriella Giovanni series, Blessed Are Those Who Mourn, came out digitally Sept. 29 and will be out in paperback on Nov. 3 at your favorite retailer.