Friday, 16 September 2011

Where to start that story?

This is perhaps one of the most important decisions to make when starting to write a novel.
Do I start where something “happens”?
A turning point in my main characters’ lives?
Will a prologue decrease having to use too much back story?

These are the questions that are plaguing me right now with this current manuscript. My first draft has a prologue that takes place seven years before chapter one. I decided that perhaps the story should start when Jennifer is no longer a sixteen year old and the hero unexpectedly appears again. But without too much back-story how do I let the reader know about that other traumatic day in her life, why there is so much angst between them still? Trying to weave that back-story throughout in only small chunks is proving a big challenge!

I do seem to be getting later and later with my “Thursday” blog post and perhaps the above may give you some idea of what I have been writing instead of blogging! It was also not very helpful to waste well over an hour yesterday trying to discover just why I could not log on to the internet. In the end I reluctantly rang our computer shop who must be tired of this techno challenged writer’s phone calls by now! And of course I wished I’d rung them first instead of the server help and then the router help! A prompt answer: It was my server’s problem – outage most of day and not back until time to prepare our evening meal.
So, this is a short post but I do need some help here! I’ve used prologues in my books before now and have heard contradicting views from multi-published, best-selling authors about their usefulness. Would really like some comments here on the use of a prologue versus back-story.

Oh, and while this desk is even messier, I’m really not as unhappy as the photo above seems to show! After all, my last novel, Justice at Baragula , and Ray's Children:God's Special Interest have just been short-listed in the CALEB awards.
But there are several other excellent books listed there too and we are all waiting for the finalist list - and that winner announcement at the award evening in Brisbane in November!



  1. Hi Mary,
    That's an interesting question. I enjoy beginning stories with prologues but try not to do every single one that way, as I don't want to be predictable.
    I'm glad we've moved on from the way nineteenth century authors used to do it, with so much back-story. I remember reading "David Copperfield" and finding it took several chapters for David, the leading man, to even get born and enter the story.
    Beginning with an interesting event that brings readers straight into the story must be essential for the 21st century.

  2. I just read a book where the author says her editor/publisher asked her to add a prologue. It gave an insight into why the hero & heroine were rather stiff with each other when they first meet - twelve years later.
    I think, if you need a prologue, you need a prologue - and if you can do without one, you probably don't need it there. I don't mind reading or writing them. :)

  3. Hi Mary, I do think it depends on the genre and the story. The prologue in 'Return to Baragula' worked really well because the scene in the prologue showed important back story.

    Amanda, I'm currently reading 'The Game' and the short prologue was helpful in revealing important character motivation :)

    And Paula, I really liked your prologue in 'Picking Up the Pieces' because it set up the story beautifully. I remember thinking how much stronger the story was because of the prologue left me wanting to read more :)

  4. Mmm. Thank you all for your comments. I have flu right now so not well enough to spend much time here or on that manuscript. Hopefully I've managed to weave the info from the prologue in okay.