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.

Away from the World

For a few days I have been away. Somewhere without family and friends. Out of contact with the outside world – no internet, no mobile phone signal.

Just me and fifteen other writers.

I have just attended my first Arvon Course.

We were at The Hurst in Shropshire, former home of playwright, John Osborne. A wonderful place surrounded by woodland.A

 

Side view of The Hurst. I was in annex on right.

Side view of The Hurst. I was in the annex on right.

 

The course was Historical Novel and we writers were of all ages
Physically – from 17 to “too polite to ask”
Era – Ancient Greece to 1970s.

Why were we there? As many reasons as there were writers. Some were beginners, others were moving from a different genre (science fiction!). One had written 90,000 words and torn them all up. Another had been published but was now frozen by a bad review. Everyone had a problem they need help with.

How did we get that help?

There was the freedom. Freedom from the pressure and restrictions of home, work and life. Time to just sit and think, walk through the woods and just write.

A bed and a desk. What more do you need to write?

A bed and a desk. What more do you need to write?

Early morning walk in the woods.

Early morning walk in the woods.

There was hard work. At 9.30 in the morning we met, in a wonderful room, around a large round table, like King Arthur and his Knights. We were surrounded by shelves full of books.
Here we were set exercises by our tutors; short bursts of writing on what we were feeling, descriptions of objects and people from our WIP, dialogue between people in our own books and once with other writer’s characters. It was scary but exhilarating. Breakthroughs were made. Writers suddenly discovered a surprising new character, a new way of writing, or even a totally new book. There was a break for refreshments, but then back to work, until lunch at 1 pm.

There was advice. After lunch was free time, to write, think or walk. Apart from the tutorials. During the week every writer had two, twenty-minute tutorials, one with each of the tutors. This is when you could get an opinion of your work, ask questions and get advice.

There was food. Once during the week this afternoon freedom was cut short at 4.30 when you reported to the kitchen – to cook dinner (7 pm). Four strangers in a foreign kitchen. Ingredients and recipes were provided – what could go wrong? Nothing. Meals appeared on time (near enough) and the food was plentiful and delicious.

There was relaxation. After dinner we gathered at about 8.30 in the living room. We relaxed on chairs, sofas, even the floor. We read out loud, the tutors work, writing we enjoyed and on the final night, our own work.

The tutors were all excellent.

Manda Scott – writer of contemporary crime novels, who moved to historical fiction with the Boudica series. Her recent book, Into the Fire, brilliantly combines modern crime with the story of Joan of Arc.

Karen Maitland – writes dark medieval crime novels including The Gallows Curse – the only novel “narrated by a root vegetable”

Guest for Wednesday night was Andrew Taylor – three times winner of the Historical Dagger. He read to us from The Silent Boy, set during the French Revolution.

So, what did I hope to get from the course? I arrived at The Hurst with a 50,000 word first draft of a book about the early life of Byrhtnoth.

  1. Was I a writer or should I find another way to spend my time?
  2. To spend the time editing what I had and thinking about the sequel (I was planning a trilogy)
  3. With only 50,000 words, what was my book? Adult, Young Adult, Children?

Result:

  1. I was advised I should carry on – for now.
  2. I got more than halfway through editing.
  3. Considering the length of book and the fact the main characters do not reach adulthood (age 15/16) it is YA. But, my writing style is adult.
    I have to make a decision.
    Either I learn to write YA.  I have been given a book list – (It is not something I have ever read, it didn’t exist when I was young!)
    Or I write a longer book, extending the timeline.

I have a long road ahead. Follow this blog to find out what happens!

Which way to go?

Which way to go?

Where ever I end up. This last week has been an important point in the journey and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Finally. Thank you to the staff at The Hurst – invisible until needed, then there to solve all problems.