Start the Beginning of the End Right at the Beginning
Today's Guest post comes from Mr. Marc Mattaliano.
Read some of Marc's writing here: https://www2.xlibris.com/bookstore/bookdisplay.aspx?bookid=72031&pdept=Bookstore%20Homepage&pfind=browseWriting since I was little, the best thing to describe Marc Mattaliano is his analytical nature that knows no bounds. Intelligence is defined as what you know, while wisdom is defined as what you get out of what you know. My personal experiences have been slight, but I have gained so much from each and every one of them by asking questions, constantly breaking things down and wondering if my choices have been the right ones, that I consider myself wiser than some who have endured far more than me yet are completely unwilling to question anything. When it comes to writing, despite having three full-length books (one self-published, one almost ready for queries, and one in need of major updating), my work may seem amateur to some, but I’ve come to find that everything I put together these days is extremely intentional. A lot of people say they don’t want to die with regrets. Personally, I love my regrets. They inspire me to do things better next time. I’m 30, born and raised in NJ, 100% Italian, and I’m a lot harsher in words than I am in person. Enjoy!
Start the Beginning of the End Right at the Beginning
I have always had a problem starting out new stories.
I never seem to know where to begin, and who can blame me, I'm a sci-fi/fantasy author! Topics and subject matter are freaking infinite, thus where to start is practically double infinity! If I were to watch a cartoon about someone sitting before their computer or typewriter to write a book, chances are they'd start right in with a classic first line:
Really pulls out all the stops, doesn't it? You're starting with the lowest positive number known and the possibilities are endless! Chapter 804! Chapter 9,233! I'm kidding, of course, there's nothing at all wrong with starting at Chapter 1, we all know this.
Personally, I absolutely positively love prologues and introductions. They add that little snippet of context that can change everything about how much Chapter 1 really says. Here's an example from my body of work. I'm in the process of editing/updating a pair of novellas I wrote in college into one long collective piece and despite needing some more polish, I think it's going well so far.
The beginning of Chapter 1 sees a woman named Julie Salem sitting at her desk in the offices of the New York Times, as she arrives in the morning. After putting her belongings down and getting settled, she begins flipping through a manila folder of possible applicants for an internship. She comes across one for a young guy named Malik Winston (both have last names that are cigarette brands, not a coincidence), who'd made the bold decision to put in his application that he'd served a short month or two sentence in prison for a small crime. Thinking outside the box, Julie became interested, puts the application at the top of the stack and walks off to her status meeting. Later on that night, she meets her husband, David, at a restaurant. Malik runs into them, chance encounter, and after a brief discussion that cinches it for her, she tells him to come in Monday morning for an interview.
Not a lot of action, nothing super intriguing, nothing to set up much conflict or impending evil. As you’ll see in a future post, taking one’s time getting readers to the action isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but having this distinct a lack of action can be a tad boring.
The prologue, however, starts right off the bat with Malik's friend, Nico, chasing him across Staten Island and holding him at gunpoint! Whoa! Urgent conflict between best friends, and Malik suffering internal conflict, as he says he wants to leave the gang they've been running with for years and have a good, honest life with his mother. Nico pleads with him, as his disappearance will surely sign his death warrant, but Malik stands firm, the friends part ways on good terms and Malik bumps into an odd priest with long straight black hair. The priest somehow knows Malik's name, without ever sharing it or meeting previously, and as Malik leaves, the priest laments to himself how interested he is in Malik's fate, knowing things about the young man he couldn't possibly know!
Action, problems, issues, mysticism, little bit of backstory, everything a good sci-fi story should start with! But one thing it does, as I said before, is give the situation in Chapter 1 context.
If done right, a prologue or introduction can be exceptionally short, vague, and even somewhat uninformative, compared to what Chapter 1 says.
Think of it like "dressing for the job you want, not the job you have." The idea behind that saying is that there is a certain assumption. Somewhere down the road, that nice suit you're wearing to make you look more professional will be the typical mode of dress you'll be wearing for work every day. Ideally, any author wants their readers to not only enjoy their books, but potentially even read them multiple times. A short prologue that adds intrigue can be difficult to put together, but if it's just informative enough to present your book with a catchy premise, a slight bit of context, some morality to play with, possibly introduce a cool villain, readers may in fact be interested enough to see how that information plays out in the rest of the piece.
After all, as obvious as it sounds, when presenting mysteries and problems in your plot, a book is like...well...an open book test!
As your reader travels through different sections of the journey, he or she will surely have various questions about what's going on. And the best feeling you can get is when a reader goes, "hey wait a second...that part...kinda relates to this other part back here, hold on, *flipflipflip* ah ha! There it is, lemme see, *reread...reread...reread* Right, now I remember...oh, but what does it all mean? Guess I gotta find out!" Your book presents both questions and answers to readers at the same time. Same as an open book test. In front of you are a list of questions and a book full of answers. Sure, some dishonorable reader can flip to the back of the book to get the answers, but we all know that person isn't getting the same amount out of a book, or test, as they should be.
In essence, prologues and intros can do a lot to implant a subliminal set of circumstances in the back of a reader's mind to make everything else they read in the book somehow more important. They'll see a name they recognize here, something else they recognize there, and it won't be obvious, but it'll be familiar. Initially, they'll see an interesting situation that, once they get to Chapter 1, will seem irrelevant and out there.
But as they dig themselves deeper and deeper in, the pieces will start to fit together and eventually, that irrelevant piece of nothing at the beginning can combine with the details they gather together later on, like iron and flint crashing together to set alight a grand bonfire.
Tune in 7/20/11 for Marc's next post.