Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Two of the first three books in the Bowers series have prologues. What determines whether or not to use a prologue?

Typically, there are two times when I include a prologue: when introducing a subplot and when giving background information on the main character that cannot naturally be woven into the narrative that follows.

So for example, in The Pawn I used the prologue to introduce the plot thread dealing with the Jonestown massacre in 1978. In The Rook, the prologue is used to introduce a plot thread that might be considered the main plot, but because of the time span between that opening scene and the introduction of Patrick Bowers and Tessa, it seemed more natural to call it the prologue (especially since the rest of the story happens without a long span of time between scenes).

In The Knight I wanted to jump right into the narrative, so readers meet Patrick at a crime scene as the book begins.

My forthcoming book Placebo includes a prologue that provides background information about Jevin Banks, the protagonist, that could not be naturally woven into the main story without having a long flashback, which I try to avoid if at all possible because it can kill the narrative momentum.

Some writing instructors will tell aspiring authors never to use a prologue. I think this is just plain silly. If the story demands it, include it. If not, delete it or move the information further into the story.

Finally, if you have a prologue that introduces the main plot and leads directly into the next scene, you can fix that quite easily: just rename it “Chapter 1.”

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What is the strongest aspect for fiction (fantasy) writing: descriptions or dialogue?

All fiction includes narration (which might include descriptions of what is happening, a summary of what has happened, or an orientation to what is about to happen) and dialogue (thoughts—which we call inner dialogue
and conversations).

Both dialogue and description have weaknesses. Dialogue often becomes too explanatory. Descriptions often become repetitive and stall out the forward movement of the story.

That said, much of the strength of fantasy stories is world creation, that is, the ability to take the readers to an entirely different place and give them an immersive experience in a unique world. So, while dialogue is important, when writing in this genre you’ll use more description than boiled down dialogue. When writing about a familiar, everyday world—one that readers will immediately recognize and visualize—description is less important.

I found this out for myself when I was writing my fantasy novel Quest for Celestia. The world I was creating was full of danger and dragons and fantastic castles, and I had to work on the scenes for a long time before I could finally see them and really believe them.

Here’s an excerpt so you can see what I mean. (Kadin and his traveling companion Leira have just entered the infamous city of Wyckell):

The roads and buildings of Wyckell had been designed by someone with an eye for beauty as well as commerce. Most of the structures were made of stone gathered from the high plains and boulder-strewn fields surrounding the city. Many buildings were elaborate and ornate, but even the most modest homes were more beautiful than any I’d seen in Abaddon. The wide, spacious streets could be navigated easily by two or even three carriages at once. On the horizon, faraway mountains created a panoramic backdrop for the resplendent town.
Temples built in honor of a legion of gods and goddesses adorned the main streets of Wyckell. Numerous priests and priestesses in their distinctive gowns, capes, and tunics moved noiselessly between the buildings. Apparently they were here to help the townspeople worship whatever god they chose in whatever way they wished. A series of brothels and taverns were conveniently located beside the temples to make it even easier to indulge in any type of worship you desired. I noticed one temple had a life-sized statue of Apollyon on its steps. Great cries and shouts came spewing from the entrance of the temple as we slowly rode past.

So, when writing your story, if it’s in an unusual environment, you’ll lean more on description to allow readers to see the unique setting; if you’re writing about a place that your readers are familiar with, you’ll need less description.