Monday, September 20, 2010

Secret Agent Message

A slush-reading friend read my last post on openings and asked me to pass along this message.

"And here's what I never want to see again on page one. 1. Heroine driving and thinking about things. 2. Heroine flying and thinking about things. (In fact, no solitary travel in any form.) 3. Heroine staring in mirror and picking apart her own appearance. 4. Heroine being clumsy a.k.a the "adorable klutz" moment. 5. Heroine reminiscing about past lover/dead parent/baby given up for adoption. 6. The word Prologue. 7. Bathing, dressing, eating, cleaning -- all are dull. Of course, now that I list them, someone's going to submit a poignant and heartbreaking prologue where the heroine washes dishes and stares at her reflection in the dishwater and thinks about her past and then drives somewhere."

And that's a valid point. No matter how clear the "rules" and the reasons for them, someone's going to figure out a way to break them brilliantly. (How do you know if you've done it? If you have to ask....)



Jessica Silva said...

GASP. No prologue? Interesting!

A lot of agents seem to warn against them, but at the same time, some want to see it if there is one. I've always been iffy on this subject, because it seems it's a lot about the author's discretion. If it sets the mood and it needs to be there, then it seems agents want to read it (like Nathan Bransford)--because the writer has made an executive decision that it needs to be there. That decision probably tells an agent a lot about the writer (SCARY).

But still, I'm not completely clear about WHAT makes a prologue so bad? Sometimes a prologue can tell nothing about the story until the entire book has been finished, but does that matter to an agent, or to an editor? The prologue shows how well a writer knows her craft the same as a first chapter, so it can't be completely useless, right?

...What even makes a good prologue, anyway?

Anonymous said...

My take on the matter:

If you think your writing is at such level of jeeeenius that you can get away with it, then odds are you can't.

Rule of thumb:

'Yes, but...' always, always applies to writers much better and more inventive than you. Also note that at least 50% of the 'yes, but...' novel starts were written in times when feelings about over-used scene types were different.

elfarmy17 said...

Damn it. Mine starts with heroine on a train. However, I (and I'm SO biased) think the reason she's on a train definitely makes up for it. But it also looks like the agents I've been querying don't like it so much (then again, I've only sent out about ten so far, so I've nothing to worry about yet.)

gj said...

Years ago, I heard a bestselling author (in romance and mystery) speak about first pages. She'd just been judging a contest - mystery, I think - and I remember her first bit of advice, culled from the experience of reading a hundred or so entries in rapid succession, was to avoid "planes, trains and automobiles" in that first page.

Since then, I've seen a lot of those "planes, trains and automobiles" beginnings in novice writers' work, and while I hardly ever see a metaphor until someone slaps me upside the head with explaining it, even I can see the travel metaphor there. In most cases those beginnings are a form of traveling to the real beginning of the story and need to be cut.

Edittorrent said...

Gj, good point-- the travelling opening is a metaphor for the journey to the REAL start of the book.

Jami Gold said...

Yes, I totally agree! In fact, several weeks ago, I'd posted an article on my blog - "Unlike Life, Stories Aren't a Journey." :) It's all about skipping to the good stuff.

Unknown said...

I think it depends whether those activities are divorced enough from normality to be interesting.

I'd be interested if the heroine were flying and thinking about things if there were no plane involved, if she were a lone space captain or had wings, and this was the way to introduce that.

Or if breakfast involved green slimy bugs. Or daily chores included coaxing the house pixie out of the mouse hole where it was having a tantrum.

Or even in real space, if a woman was re cleaning already clean dishes to try and avoid thinking about her husband not coming home from work that night - again.

There does have to be something notable about that sort of opener though.