The Prologue

Does anyone else hear the phrase “The Prologue” in the voice of Frankie Howerd? No? Just me then.

Anyway, end of term at the writing group and we’ve got to the prologue. After classes on finding inspiration, describing places and characters and discovering the difference between story and plot.

We looked at different types of prologues and found there are three main types:

A hook – short, full of action and ending with something about to happen.

A generalized framework – looking back at the story, establishing the feeling and tone of the main plot

The teaser prologue – a highly charged scene from your book, but left without resolution.

Note: Some of this class was based on the ideas of James Scott Bell.

In class I wrote some good prologues for my second book. I can’t wait to read it. Don’t know what it will be about, I haven’t started writing, but it sounds exciting!

I have already written two different prologues for my present WIP. I think they are the second, generalised, type, but I have a problem,

Which to use? – or none?

Can you help? I will share them here and you can vote on which you prefer at the end of the post.

First is the start of the book, without any prologue:

He had come a long way. He was tired and hungry, but he had arrived at last. Was this the right door? The building stretched away into the darkness. There must be some other, smaller entrance. Surely they didn’t expect him to enter the hall through this door.
He had never seen a door like it. Where he came from you were lucky to have a door at all, perhaps a piece of hide to keep out some of the draughts or a couple of planks of wood. This was so big.
He stared up.It was several times his own height and heavy. Good solid oak, thick enough to keep out an army. There was metalwork on the door as well, fantastic interlaced patterns. Was that real gold? Who owned enough gold to use it to decorate their door? The hinges were massive, to match the size of the door, and great ornamental handles. The blacksmith back at the village sometimes made ornamental work for the lord’s hall, but nothing like this.
The posts enclosing the door were covered in carvings. Animals climbed to the top. There were horses and dragons. Birds flew upwards or fought with mythical beasts. They were painted in bright colours, and there was gold here as well. At the top of the door was another carving, a ferocious beast, the sign of the king who owned the Hall.
He sniffed and wiped his nose with his sleeve. It was so cold out here and he heard sounds of feasting inside. It must be warm in there, and he might manage to grab some food. He tugged at the bottom of his tunic. It was so short it was barely decent. His mother said he grew out of his clothes as soon as he got them. He sniffed again, but this time to hold back the tears. His mother wouldn’t be moaning at him any more.
He realised another boy was standing beside him. If anything the newcomer was even thinner than him. He was smaller as well and stared up at him with scared dark eyes through long, straggly black hair.
“Are we supposed to go through there?”
“I don’t know”
At that moment the door was flung open and a man stood there, a big man with a greying beard and a red face.
“What are you doing hanging around out here?” He bellowed back at someone out of their view “There are another couple of starvelings for you, that must be the last of them”
He held the door open for them.
“Well, are you coming in then?”

At some point I decided this was not interesting enough so I wrote the prologue that appears as the first post on this blog. Find it here.

Advice from the Arvon course forced me to write something more dramatic:

Where was it? He had to find the body.
The day had been long and the battle lost. The sun was nearing the horizon.
The land beside the river was soaked in blood. There was blood in the river too, but that merged into the reflexion of the crimson sun.
He must reach him; before the ravens and the wolves.
That must be the place, where the pile of dead was highest. His closest companions would have died beside him.
He slipped and nearly fell. A foul stink rose up, a pile of guts. He followed them back to a body. He recognised the face, put it was not that of him he sought.
He stood up and looked around. Dark figures moved among the dead. There would be nothing to scavenge, if that was what they seeked. The Vikings had taken everything of value. Perhaps they were searching for relatives, or like him, for a friend.
The sunlight caught on something; a piece of gold embroidery. Was that the trim of the tunic he had put on that morning?
It couldn’t be him. His friend was taller; a giant among men. He started to turn away, but something made him look again. He dragged bodies from the heap. His personal banner; never far from him. He recognised a hand. So often he had seen it wielding a sword. A bloody wound near severed it from the arm. Nothing less would have caused him to drop that sword. Where was it? Taken by the enemy.
It was growing dark. He pulled on the arm and the great body followed. He tried to touch his friend’s face, but his hand found nothing. He felt the broad shoulders and then, above the neck, nothing. He felt a blood soaked flap of skin and a hard knob of bone.
They had taken his head. Chopped clumsily from his body by the stroke of an axe. Taken as a token of their victory.
He sat back on his heels, oblivious of the blood that soaked his rough robe. His first reaction was relief. At least he would not be forced to look into the dead eyes of his friend.
He shouted for help and people came with a bier. He would carry his friend back to the monastery at Ely. He would wash his body and anoint it with expensive oils. He would wrap it in the finest linen cloth and lay the broken body in its grave. He would mourn his friend until he himself died.
Better than that, he would write the story of this man’s life. This was the last thing he would do for him, his lifelong friend.

Which do you prefer? Which makes you want to continue reading?


Feel free to add any comments below.



Christine Hancock has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

Please do not reproduce or copy without prior consent from the author.

The Last Kingdom, Book v Television

I have now watched the first four episodes of the BBC2 series of The Last Kingdom. Halfway through the series and it’s about time to voice my opinion. How does it compare with the books by Bernard Cornwell?

I started reading the Sharpe novels long before they were televised. I knew what Richard Sharpe looked like – he was tall and dark.
Then he appeared on TV in the shape of Sean Bean – this was not right. But after a while I got used to him, I saw the character in that form in the later books.

Sean Bean. Put him in a saxon tunic, change the sword and he’s Uhtred

Now, exciting as Mr Cornwell’s books are, the same characters turn up with different names. In the Grail Quest series, Thomas of Hookton is Sharpe with a bow. When Uhtred appeared in The Last Kingdon, the first of The Warrior Chronicles, he was Sharpe with a sword – and looked like Sean Bean! When I first heard that the book was to be made into a TV series I have been looking forward to it. I realise that Uhtred would be played by a different actor – Sean Bean is too old now (at least for the young Uhtred) and has become known as a character in another, slightly similar, series.

When Alexander Dreymon appeared, he was all wrong. Too dark, too pretty and as for that silly goatee beard and moustache, words fail me.

Alexander Dreymon. Stand well back Brida or he#ll have your eye out

Alexander Dreymon. Stand well back Brida or he’ll have your eye out.

One of the most distinctive characters in the books was Father Beocca – very ugly, with red hair, a squint, palsied hand and a club foot. Couldn’t they have given Ian Hart a limp in the TV version? I will probably get used to him, but he’s not “my” Father Beocca”.

That brings me on to the costumes. What on earth are they wearing? What is that strange tunic with the toggles on the shoulder. Once I spotted it on Beocca, it was everywhere. King Alfred’s dressing gown (well it looks like a dressing gown!) Oda, senior & junior, even Uhtred’s father. All slightly different. There are a couple of monks that appeared in several scenes – I am waiting for them to be joined by Rasputin. Are the costumes based on Russian jackets? Chinese? All I know is that they are not Saxon. Do the producers think we won’t be able to tell one character for another unless they are all dressed differently? Unfortunately that is probably true.

Typical Anglo-Saxon warrior

Typical Anglo-Saxon warrior

I don’t think I have seen one genuine Saxon tunic and as for winingas (leg windings – described here as “almost ubiquitous on manuscript depictions of men during the Anglo-Saxon period”) not a sign.

Then there is the equipment. I am waiting for the moment when Uhtred turns round suddenly and knocks someone out with that lump of amber on the end.
And the shields. I suppose they decided no-one would be able to tell the Danes from the Anglo-Saxons if they all had the same round shields (Hint – that’s why they painted them with different designs.). The unwieldy rectangular shields, described somewhere as redundant picnic tables, must have been left lying around by the Romans when they left 400 years earlier – together with instructions for the testudo or tortoise formation.

They can’t even get the basic facts right. In the fourth instalment, Uhtred is given some land. Wife and debt come attached – I’m OK with that. But that now makes him a Thegn, not an Ealdorman.

I could go on, but I’ll leave it there. After all the whole point of a book, or a film, is the story. The original books were (are) exciting and entertaining. The TV series has, thank goodness, stuck fairly close to them. By the end of the series I will probably come around and enjoy watching it.

After all I watched The Tudors for the pleasure of shouting at the screen
“He didn’t look like that.”
“She wouldn’t have done that.”
or “that didn’t happen there, and where did that wisteria come from?” or was that Wolf Hall?