Mr Macguffin, at your service

September 13, 2010 at 10:28 am (Writing Ranting)

The good thing about a prologue is that you can often find and use a crucial incident as a hook, packed with action and characterisation. The bad thing is that when you use a prologue, your readers have to effectively begin a new book when the prologue is done (this is deeply annoying when the prologue is very long). Worst of all, sometimes a prologue is better than the book that follows. Or just so very different readers just get annoyed.

The second book in my kids’ trilogy has a prologue (generally I avoid them).  The book is called “The Princess and the Pirate” and is about a princess (the narrator) seeking out a pirate. The book is a clash between the naiive, optimistic, kind-hearted princess, and the pirate – who is a sadistic killer. The narrator is too innocent to understand where the pirate is coming from, plus the pirate doesn’t appear for the first few chapters. Thus, there is a prologue showing the reader the pirate is evil, and the related danger to the princess. Without the prologue, “pirate” sounds like she’s probably a fun person to be around. With the prologue, you know enough to be frightened for the heroic princess. 

My prologue is in third person, and the rest is in first person. I just read today that it’s a no-no to write a prologue that’s very different in style to the rest of the book. But I think that’s a rule that is best broken in this instance. The darkness of the prologue NEEDS to contrast with the princess’ view of the world. That’s the whole point. It’s the only part of the story she is incapable of telling.

I’m re-re-re-re-reading “Sabriel” by Garth Nix. In my opinion, it is the best book ever written. It also has a prologue, which actually has a similar purpose to mine. The plot is driven by a human macguffin (a macguffin is an item, usually magical, that the characters must find/use/fix/destroy in order to save the shire/world/kingdom), who appears very little in the story. Without the prologue, the main character’s journey would lack emotional heart. Nix’s prologue, like mine, focuses on the macguffin as a human with flaws and attributes and feelings. Mine does too.

I’m happy with my prologue.

Coming soon: Ramblings about the first few chapters.

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