Thursday, December 08, 2011

More About Prologues

Monday's discussion of prologues was definitely a lively one, as was Tuesday's discussion about getting out of the box over at Jenny Milchman's blog. Thanks to all who chimed in.

Don't forget - leave a comment on Tuesday's post by Mel Teschco and be entered in a drawing for a copy of her book. You have until Friday. Scroll down. Now! 

Allison Brennan's comment about her "rules" for prologues piqued my interest, and I went back and looked at the one I wrote for DEADLY SECRETS.

I'm copying her response here (with the understanding that she says she's broken all of them for the sake of the individual book):

1) Prologues should be short. I prefer 3-6 pages, but I have written a 15 page prologue.

2) Prologues should happen more than a week before the story begins, and preferably long before with one of the major characters that shows or explains their motivation or conflict, but I've had one that happened immediately before (24 hours) and I'm sure there's one or two from a secondary character's POV.

3) Prologues should hint to something important in the story, preferably a clue or give the reader insight into the character that they couldn't otherwise have in the first 100 pages, that is important for them understanding or enjoying the book.

So, here's my question for you. Does my prologue for DEADLY SECRETS work for you? I'd say it met with Allison's guidelines (Chapter 1 begins 5 years later).

Click to read it, and I'd love to get your take.

Deadly Secrets: Prologue

"You have a visitor. A gentleman. Would you like to meet in the sunroom?"

The old man shook his head. "No," he said, perhaps a little too harshly. He gave a mental shrug. What did it matter? If nothing else, being old and dying excused all sorts of rudeness. "Here is fine." He managed a weak smile.

This nurse's aide was nice, not like the regular nursing staff—fat old battleaxes who acted like you should be grateful they bothered to check on you at all. Or pinched old biddies who seemed barely able to carry a food tray. The young ones were sweet, but they burned out fast. A wave of pain snaked through him, and he wondered if he'd be gone before she quit.

She plumped his pillow and raised his bed. "I'll be back in a jiffy."

She returned a moment later, escorting his guest. After pulling a chair closer to the bed, she flashed a sunshine-bright smile. "Ring if you need anything."

His visitor waited until she left, then closed the door behind her. He introduced himself, handed over a business card. The old man couldn't read the card without his glasses, but he knew the name that would be printed there. And the voice.

Reversing the chair, his visitor straddled it and folded his arms across the vinyl back. "Good news. I found him."

The old man whirred his bed up straighter. After three years of searching, could it be possible? His heart fluttered. "You're certain?"

He studied his visitor. They'd never met face to face. The man appeared older than he'd sounded on the phone. Craggy face, broad nose. A fringe of gray hair circled a freckled pate. The odor of stale tobacco hung like an invisible cloak. The old man inhaled the long-denied pleasure of a smoke.

The visitor nodded. "I've got the address right here." He patted the chest of his baggy tweed sport jacket. "You have the money?"

"You'll get it. But—no offense. I'd like to see some ID."

The visitor shrugged. "No problem." He hoisted a hip and dug a wallet from his pocket.
The old man fumbled through his bedside table clutter for his glasses. Tucking them over his ears, he squinted at the driver's license the man held. "Very good. If you wouldn't mind, there's some stationery in the desk drawer."

His visitor brought the paper, with an envelope and pen as well. Without asking, he sat in the chair in front of the television and picked up the remote.

The old man moved the bed table and tilted it to a comfortable writing angle. He'd written the missive countless times in his head, but had never committed it to paper. Too many snooping eyes.

Frustrated that his hand shook, he concentrated on keeping the writing legible. Twice, he tore the paper into small bits and started again. To the annoying background noise of channel surfing, the old man managed to finish his letter. He folded it in thirds, slid it into the envelope and licked the seal. After taking a sip of water to wash the glue taste from his mouth, he tapped the envelope on the table to get his visitor's attention.

"I need the address," the old man said.

"The money?"

"Like I said, you'll get it." He tore a clean sheet of paper in half, wrote a note, folded it in two, and scrawled a name and address on the reverse. Handing it to the man, he said, "Give this to Phil. He'll get you the cash."

The visitor frowned, but they'd already discussed it. This damn nursing home demanded all his monetary assets. He'd managed to stash some cash before he'd moved in—for personal emergencies.

His visitor took a paper from inside his jacket. "Here it is. Took some doing, I tell you. Mapleton, Colorado is a one-horse town."

Hands trembling from more than infirmity, the old man addressed the envelope. Should he call? An ache that had nothing to do with the cancer filled him. What could he possibly say?
"There are stamps in the desk."

The visitor took the envelope and stuck a stamp on it. "Nice doing business with you."
"Wait. One more thing. When you get the cash, Phil will give you a small package. Mail it to the address you found for me. There will be enough money to cover your fee and the postage."
"Guess I can do that."

"You'll mail the letter right away?"

"Of course." The visitor slipped it into his jacket, tossed the remote onto the bed, and left.
The old man, filmed in a cold, clammy sweat, heart pounding, sank against the pillows. He thought about ringing the call button. No, not now. The nurse would come in with more drugs. He needed to think.

(And if your appetite is whetted for more, you can buy DEADLY SECRETS for only $2.99. Click here for links.)

Tomorrow: Project Feeder Watch
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Karen C said...

Oh, it definitely works for me! I'm hooked - can't wait to read Deadly Secrets.

Allison Brennan said...

Works for me, too! I love mysterious prologues. You've opened up a lot of questions for the reader and I, for one, want to know what happens.

Oh ... another "rule" I heard about prologues. That you *can't* have them in the POV of a character that 1) dies in the prologue or 2) is not in the story. I broke that twice. SPEAK NO EVIL the prologue is in the victim's POV as she's dying. She's the first victim my detective investigates. In the upcoming SILENCED, the prologue is in the POV of a character who dies but she's not important to the story EXCEPT to give my main secondary character a strong motivation. I needed a powerful scene so that readers would understand why my character broke laws and has an overpowering need to protect her sister, even to the point where she might not be thinking rationally about it. Deathbed promises are more powerful when you are with the character at the time. IMO.

Great blog Terry!

Terry Odell said...

Karen - I can't wait for you to read it either! :-) Hope you enjoy it.

Allison - thanks so much for stopping by, and coming from you, I feel very proud that the prologue worked. I'm not telling what happens to the old man here, though! We'll see if I broke another "rule."

SherryGLoag said...

Terry, your prologue works for me, as you've left so many unaanswered questions, starting with will the guy post the letter?
I found your blog interesting,as the argument against prologues raged strong not so many years ago. I have one that is about 1&1/2 pages long in my wip that is immediate but at the same time foreshadows the heroine.

Terry Odell said...

Sherry, thanks. I do think that a prologue needs to be connected to the story, but different enough to justify it being "set aside" instead of being Chapter 1.

Maryann Miller said...

Late chiming in here, but I do like to use a prologue when I need to set up something that is connected to the story and the central character, but not in the timeline of the immediate story. It has always been my understanding that that is why we use a prologue. I agree with the comments that the prologue should be relatively short and should focus on one major thing.