Hatrack River
Home   |   About Orson Scott Card   |   News & Reviews   |   OSC Library   |   Forums   |   Contact   |   Links
Research Area   |   Writing Lessons   |   Writers Workshops   |   OSC at SVU   |   Calendar   |   Store
E-mail this page
Hatrack River Writers Workshop Post New Topic  Post A Reply
my profile login | register | search | faq | forum home

  next oldest topic   next newest topic
» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Epigraph > Prologue > Intro Chapter ?

   
Author Topic: Epigraph > Prologue > Intro Chapter ?
Scot
Member
Member # 10427

 - posted      Profile for Scot   Email Scot         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
The discussions about prologues that I've looked over have been helpful. So thanks to everyone who has contributed to that.

My question is about a specific example --- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. It seems like the story really starts when Harry is a pre-teen. That's when he becomes an active character.

So does that mean that Rowling's first chapter is throat-clearing? Or does it give a benchmark about what kind of intro material can make a successful first chapter?

I'm asking not as an academic exercise, but because I have a story where I've been thinking the first chapter is important intro stuff. It shows how the protagonist arrived where the story picks up in chapter 2. But when I sow how far I am past the typical first-novel word count, I've had to start things on the chopping block.

Any advice would be welcome.

Posts: 114 | Registered: Jun 2015  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Disgruntled Peony
Member
Member # 10416

 - posted      Profile for Disgruntled Peony   Email Disgruntled Peony         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
The important question is whether or not the chapter is essential to the story. If it moves along the plot and/or reveals something important about the character, I recommend keeping it. If not, it might be best to scrap it or pare it down to essentials.

The prologue for Harry Potter serves to establish the fact that Harry is not, in fact, ordinary. I would consider it essential to the story because it sets up a lot of the conflict later on and gives the reader a taste of the strangeness that is to come.

Posts: 723 | Registered: May 2015  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
extrinsic
Member
Member # 8019

 - posted      Profile for extrinsic   Email extrinsic         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
The Potter causal event that starts plot movement is his readiness for Hogwarts. The prologue fills in background, backstory, the time from his parents' death forward to the plot start. The function of a prologue, besides several others, is to introduce information relevant and necessary to understand the main action as efficiently as possible.

Could the backstory have been more artfully interleavened into the main action? Rowling does anyway, repeats the backstory in parts and pieces later, though of stronger detail. One subtle feature of note for the backstory, besides necessary backstory introductions, information and details are pre-positioned for later and further development and those details foreshadow curiosity-arousing events to come.

Posts: 5100 | Registered: Jun 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
MattLeo
Member
Member # 9331

 - posted      Profile for MattLeo   Email MattLeo         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
One could make the argument that the inciting event of the whole Harry Potter series is when Voldemort attempts to kill Harry but fails. In that case Chapter 1 of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone would amount to an in media res opening. It's a mere technical point, though. Opening from other than the protagonist's POV makes Chapter 1 feel like a prologue.

The "prologues are bad" rule is about the most unreliable guideline I can think of. The problem isn't prologues per se, but bad prologues. From what I can see the worse the writer is, the exponentially more pointless and confusing his prologues will be. The real rule should be "don't open a novel with narrative mush." If readers finish the prologue and want to read on, then it's no harm, no foul.

Now I understand your problem is your MS word count is too high. How much too high? What are you aiming at? A lot depends on how over the target your word count is. If it's just ten percent to high you might skim through the manuscript and cut out excess verbiage. If it's 20% too high you do that plus cut out unnecessary scenes (of which the prologue may or may not be one). If it's 50% too high you do all the above plus cut out excess plotlines.

What I think may be helpful is getting someone to read your manuscript. Ask them to particularly note the bits they skip over. Those bits and the bits leading up to them are your priorities for culling or lightening. Of course it's always considerate to edit down your manuscript as best you can first, so you don't make people slog through stuff that even you can see needs to go.

Posts: 1459 | Registered: Dec 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
JSchuler
Member
Member # 8970

 - posted      Profile for JSchuler   Email JSchuler         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I find it useful to break down what we mean by "prologue," which can mean any one of various things.

The most common type of prologue tells you about the setting and sometimes would baldly state what was going to happen in the story. Here's a short but famous version:

quote:
Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents' strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark'd love,
And the continuance of their parents' rage,
Which, but their children's end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

Uh, um, spoiler warning, I guess?

Now, unless you are Shakespeare, I'm going to state do not do this. This was expected practice in Shakespeare's time, and was also fit to serve the stage. In a novel, people can and do skip right passed these kinds of introductions, and I have yet to find a single one that is actually necessary to a book. Even Romeo and Juliet would not be any lesser if this passage was lost to time. (well, maybe we'd miss the star-cross'd bit, but then I read somewhere about killing your darlings)

The example of Harry Potter that you provide is more accurately called a prelude. Although it may not be part of the story proper, it is still told as though it were. There's POV, there's voice, there's dialog and action, and most important, the prelude shows, doesn't tell. Preludes, in my experience, work. People are less inclined to skip them, and you can even label them "Chapter 1" if you so choose. They may not strictly be necessary, but a well constructed prelude can color the oncoming story and foreshadow the major events.

Posts: 388 | Registered: Jan 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Meredith
Member
Member # 8368

 - posted      Profile for Meredith   Email Meredith         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
If it's 50% too high you do all the above plus cut out excess plotlines.


Yes, or expand those plot lines and make it two books. [Big Grin]
Posts: 4377 | Registered: Dec 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Grumpy old guy
Member
Member # 9922

 - posted      Profile for Grumpy old guy   Email Grumpy old guy         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Most aspiring writers use the term Prologue when what they mean is either an introduction to the story's setting, milieu, etc, or a discrete mini-story setting up character or dramatic complication back story.

For my story Æsir Dawn, I needed to set up a link between the fall of Troy, and the associated actions and motives of 'our' mythological gods, and my young protagonist who lived in a different reality where the gods were real and actual. I thought to do this by writing a prologue, with its matching epilogue that would bookend the story. I wrote 4,000 words and it was acclaimed by my test readers as some of my best 'action' writing. But it didn't work for me.

After considerable thought I discovered the means by which I can achieve the same ends by incorporating the information within the main body of the narrative--an induced dream sequence, if you will. And, when I drafted it out, it turned out to be a much more powerful scene than it had been in its previous incarnation as a prologue/prelude.

I guess my point is: unless you have a very strong artistic/structural reason to incorporate a prologue, don't do it. You will end up with a better and stronger narrative by disclosing any prologue information within the main body of the narrative. It may be terribly hard to do it, but believe me, it will be worth it.

Phil.

Posts: 1605 | Registered: Sep 2012  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Robert Nowall
Member
Member # 2764

 - posted      Profile for Robert Nowall   Email Robert Nowall         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Thought as much about that intro in Harry Potter #1...having only read #1, I can't say what or how that intro lays something for the next books. But I did think it made Harry Potter "special" in some way---"special" being defined (by me) as "destined for great things from the fact of his mere existence"---but I couldn't see anything "special" about him in the world he found himself in.

It's also the kind of thing that irritates me. I'm regularly cheesed off when I hear somebody's had some kind of success, and they're the "son of" somebody or other---makes me think it was all fixed in advance and nobody else had a chance. Perhaps that's part of the reason I didn't go further in the series.

Posts: 8717 | Registered: Aug 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Meredith
Member
Member # 8368

 - posted      Profile for Meredith   Email Meredith         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Nowall:
Thought as much about that intro in Harry Potter #1...having only read #1, I can't say what or how that intro lays something for the next books. But I did think it made Harry Potter "special" in some way---"special" being defined (by me) as "destined for great things from the fact of his mere existence"---but I couldn't see anything "special" about him in the world he found himself in.

It's also the kind of thing that irritates me. I'm regularly cheesed off when I hear somebody's had some kind of success, and they're the "son of" somebody or other---makes me think it was all fixed in advance and nobody else had a chance. Perhaps that's part of the reason I didn't go further in the series.

Bear in mind the intended audience. It's not us. There are a lot of things about the Harry Potter series that make regular readers of adult sf/f a little crazy. Like the trivial uses of time turners, for example.

One of the things middle grade (or even young adult) stories have to do is find some way to keep the adults out of the way so the kids can have the adventures and save the day. Orphans--sometimes even special orphans--are common.

Anne McCaffrey made Menolly's parents so rigid they were abusive, leaving her no choice but to run away--thus discovering fire lizards.

Oh, and there were two boys who could have been the prophesied chosen one in the Harry Potter series. It could have been Neville. And, in some sense, it was. Neville destroyed the last horcrux.

Posts: 4377 | Registered: Dec 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Robert Nowall
Member
Member # 2764

 - posted      Profile for Robert Nowall   Email Robert Nowall         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
Anne McCaffrey made Menolly's parents so rigid they were abusive, leaving her no choice but to run away--thus discovering fire lizards.
Thought it wasn't a matter of rigidness, but a matter of barring her from her calling in music...
Posts: 8717 | Registered: Aug 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Grumpy old guy
Member
Member # 9922

 - posted      Profile for Grumpy old guy   Email Grumpy old guy         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
For me, Menolly's father was simply enforcing long held cultural norms: women cooked and cleaned and had children, the idea that they would dare to teach the young their duty: blasphemy!

And he wasn't alone in that thought. Clever use of cultural motifs and stereotypical agrarian segmentation of gender based roles.

Phil.

Posts: 1605 | Registered: Sep 2012  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Scot
Member
Member # 10427

 - posted      Profile for Scot   Email Scot         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Thanks to everyone for helping me hash this out. I appreciate your time and insight!

As to MattLeo's question of how much too much --- when I finished merrily drafting and finally looked back at what I'd done, it was 200+k words. :">

So I've been trying to wrench apart some plot lines and get the first of the 2 books in order. I hope to have some lines up for review soon.

Posts: 114 | Registered: Jun 2015  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
dkr
Member
Member # 10397

 - posted      Profile for dkr           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I am about 80% through CJ Cherryh - Collection of Short Stories. She has been using roughly 20%(+) of each tale to set up the world and introduce the players with a straight up narrative with omniscient POV, no clue given as to who the MC will be until every facet is in place. Could be a place to look to see how it is done correctly. Seems correct to me anyway. Tho I am admittedly a big fan of hers.
Posts: 23 | Registered: Mar 2015  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
extrinsic
Member
Member # 8019

 - posted      Profile for extrinsic   Email extrinsic         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
200,000 words, 170,000 words, to me, is a plot consideration of too much dramatic action or, more often, too little focus. A plot is a single action that should connect numerous events, settings, and characters, though one congruent dramatic complication, a congruency of tangible and intangible action.

John Gardner, The Art of Fiction, labels a multiple-plot novel "architectonic." Webster's provides an architectural definition for the term. Gardner's use fits the second dictionary entry and shows an issue of the type; that is, "having an organized and unified structure that suggests an architectural design." Problem -- if the design is obvious, the artifact's structure exposes the wizard behind the curtain, that disturbs the fiction dream. Multiple-plot novels that expose an obvious organization and unity show the wizard's hand on the reading spell casting, any narrative, of too pat a structure, for that matter.

One congruent tangible (external complication and conflict) and intangible (internal complication and conflict) dramatic complication action is a metric for streamlining a narrative's word count and for avoiding too "on the nose" of a dramatic structure. The intangible and tangible action outcomes are best advised of a skewed quality -- some personal value and maturation gain at some congruent personal cost and loss outcome.

Dramatic complication: antagonal, causal, tensional want and problem forces in opposition wanting satisfaction. Note that want and problem forces are also congruent to dramatic conflict, which is persons and forces (antagonal, causal, tensional motivations, stakes, and their outcomes) in diametric opposition; life and death, salvation and damnation, for examples. Persons of conflict are invariably emblematic or symbolic representations: They represent forces, often social forces though could also represent natural, spiritual, political forces, etc.; emblematic, immutable, not subject to change; symbolic, transformable, subject to change.

[ June 18, 2015, 06:35 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

Posts: 5100 | Registered: Jun 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
   

Quick Reply
Message:

HTML is not enabled.
UBB Code™ is enabled.
UBB Code™ Images not permitted.
Instant Graemlins
   


Post New Topic  Post A Reply Close Topic   Feature Topic   Move Topic   Delete Topic next oldest topic   next newest topic
 - Printer-friendly view of this topic
Hop To:


Contact Us | Hatrack River Home Page

Copyright © 2008 Hatrack River Enterprises Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.


Powered by Infopop Corporation
UBB.classic™ 6.7.2