Welcome back! Let’s get back to talking about prologues!
How do I find the right thing(s) to show in my prologue?
Define your story.
I know I put that in all italics, but that’s because it’s super important. Are you plot-driven or character-driven? We talked about that during the first lesson and this is where that knowledge comes into play.
The best way to know "how" to create an effect is to know "what" effect you're going for, because the shape of a story as you create it (the people, story events and setting) remains constant, but depending on where you put the emphasis and how consistent you are with your knowledge of where you're going, the contents can be anything from experimental lit to a Harlequin.
A plot-driven story focuses on story events, and a character-driven story focuses on people. In other words, characters react to story events in a story where the plot takes precedence, and story events develop out of how a character reacts or interacts in a character-driven story.
If I opened Starr’s prologue with a demon in a truck of illegals—all of whom were really hot women, and ended with a shot of the doors opening, and a makeshift brothel with a lot of blood and dead bodies, or simply a detached hand falling out of the door, it would be the inciting incident for a story about dead prostitutes, demons/fallen angels and human trafficking. If I changed the focus in my prologue and opened with a shot of Starr cutting his wings off and walking out of Hell, it would be the inciting incident for a character-driven story about Starr, and the prostitutes would be my “vehicle” to show his transformational arc.
It’s all part of what makes up your voice. Where and how you start your story—what it’s about and where the focus is, needs to do one of two things—show the inciting incident (or why this particular story is about to happen (think Da Vinci Code/plot-based)), or a change which then leads to this particular story happening (Jane doesn’t believe anyone except her loves Suzy/character-arc based).
If you’re familiar with my character, Mercedes, then you know the inciting incident for Mercedes is the fire where she can’t bring herself to go through the fire into the Play Place to rescue her little sisters from the pedophile—there’s too much backstory giving her a fear of fire that goes way beyond “I don’t like fire” to “I’m terrified and can’t move.”
Pertinent backstory/the start of a transformational arc (or core events) depends on how much motivation you need. Jane (the heroine from post 1) doesn’t need more motivation to protect Suzy’s house than her years of friendship with the older woman, because she doesn’t need conflicting motivation to “not” save the house. Jane is in a character-driven story, which means the story events develop from how Jane reacts to events, and she reacts to events by thinking nobody except her cares for Suzy. Her prologue, showing whatever event I pick from her years of friendship (the emotional punch of Suzy’s death, the emotional punch of hiding in the library (see the pattern?) although in this case, I think the death would work better) sets the stage for her arc. Which means somewhere along the line, Jane needs to meet a guy who she thinks didn’t love Suzy, and her transformation (since she’s in a romance) is to realize he did love Suzy, so Jane can put down her anger and find her happily ever after.
In Jane’s case, her story is a solid whole, from prologue to end.
Mercedes also has a strong arc, and there is no doubt she really loves her sisters—she is a protective, loving older sister with a capital “P.” However, like John McClain in Die Hard, she’s up against a strong plot. I need to stop her from running into that Play Place so the story can start. I need to show her conflict.
I know her primary motivation is to protect her sisters because she loves them. Protective love is not a hard emotion to get across. However, the depth of her fear is difficult to convey.
That means if I don’t want to weave it into the story, I need to show it. A little thought tells me that nothing I can show my reader will be as strong as her imagination, which puts the beginning framework around what, why and how.
In this instance, the prologue should do three things:
· Show the second fire (the what).
· Happen without the twins, since you don’t want them paralyzed, too (how).
· And be as awful and mentally crippling as I can make it (and why).
In other words, I’m going to show my reader "another"fire to increase the intensity of Mercedes's fear, put her into a situation where she’s (surely) going to die, jack up her emotions to the screaming point—and end the prologue, using the Kuleshov Effect.
The reader now knows Mercedes almost died (because she’s alive in chapter 1), it was godawful horrible, and that’s why she can’t force herself into the Play Place, and even though Mercedes would die for her sisters, she can’t. Her body simply won’t move. It’s only when the pedophile grabs them that her love can push through her fear (way too late). And the story starts.
A thought here would be that she needs to be confronted with a fire again, at the climax, to prove she’s changed and overcome her fear (not of the fire but of inadequacy, which is a totally different workshop, lol, and easy to see here in this powerpoint), so she can become the woman who can be with the hero (making Mercedes’s story a unified whole, too).
Which means regardless if it’s the story with the prostitutes and gore, or the one focused on Starr and his wings, it would still open the same, with Starr walking down the road looking for coffee because of the Kuleshov Effect. What you show first, influences what the reader sees next.
In the first story, you already know it's a murder-thriller-paranormal because of the prologue, so it’s pretty obvious if we open with Starr he’s going to play a large role in the investigation.
In the second one, you know who Starr is, what he’s capable of, and something about his attitude. So when we open with Starr walking down the street it means something is about to happen to start him on a journey driven by who and what he is. Strongly plot-driven versus strongly character-driven.
It’s all a matter of voice. Prologues work if they’re a logical part of the story, and provide either a reason for or a jumping off point to the rest of the story.
Thanks for being here.