On the importance of prologues

“What’s past is prologue.”
              -William Shakespeare, The Tempest

With my sincerest apologies for the radio silence of late (life keeps getting in the way), I wanted to take a moment to talk a little bit about prologues.

In the process of writing a book, the prologue is the last thing you write.

How many of you have heard this before? I’d heard it a million times, but in my case it turned out not to be true.

Or so I thought…

At the onset of everything, three paragraphs gave life to my book (guided, unknowingly, by the hand of the immodest Mr. Muse). They were not my best work, but they were pivotal; after all, they had been the catalyst for everything. These three paragraphs became my prologue.

As I worked to finish the book, I knew in the back of my mind that I would have to revisit the prologue at some point. That point didn’t come until I was ready to begin submissions. As I am sure most of you know, when making submissions to literary agents you only have a few pages to make an impression. That means your prologue and/or the first few dozen pages of your book need to be good (to say they’re crucial is the understatement of the century). You need to make an impression that sticks.

This is how the first words I wrote of this book also turned out to be the last.

As I’ve mentioned before, the first few chapters of The Butterfly Crest follow Elena’s very ordinary life. The story doesn’t stay ordinary for long, but it just so happened that the submission lengths were never quite long enough to reach the extraordinary parts (in most cases you get 10-15 pages, that’s it!). This meant I somehow needed to find a way to infuse the beginning of the story with some of the magic of the rest of the book.

Enter new prologue.

I initially played with the idea of doing away with a prologue entirely (better no prologue than a weak one) but I got over that pretty quick, because it still didn’t solve the issue of making an impact with the first few pages. So I pondered my options for a few days. At some point between frustration and utter hopelessness, it hit me—I had already written the prologue.

Halfway through the book, I had written a passage that broke from the narrative of the story. For the first time in the book, Elena’s consciousness was not the point of view. Like a tear in the fabric, the reader is given an insight into what’s going on behind the scenes. The same thing happened three or four times throughout the story, and one of those moments was a perfect fit.

With that brief introduction behind us, I’d like to share the final version of the prologue with you. It’s short, but I think pretty effective. What do you think? Comments are welcome.

As the fractured light of dawn breached the threshold, two voices spoke in whispers in the fading dark.

“Are you going to coddle her the entire time?” hissed the female voice, the quality of her tone brittle and wispy, like the rustle of desiccated leaves. She was the Keres, the goddess of violent death, believed by humans to be three spirits but in truth was only one.

Death, her brother, sat across the room from her, holding a mortal woman in his arms. The woman writhed and twisted, struggling with the demons in her sleep. With careful hands, Death brushed the hair out of the woman’s face and then lifted his icy gaze to his sister’s.

“Why do you care?” he asked.

“Because I do not want you to end up like Dionysus. She’s going to die just like the rest of them,” the Keres said.

“Up until a few decades ago, you were all certain the bloodline had died out. And yet here she is, the Heir of the House of Thebes.” The sarcasm was lost in the apathetic tone of his voice. Death brushed his fingers against the back of the mortal woman’s neck before continuing. “If I was a betting man, Keres, I would bet you were wrong again.”

“I am seldom wrong, Thanatos.”

“It is of no use to me when you are wrong at the most important times.”

The Keres hissed, and the shadows trembled in the dark. “I grow weary of this side of you. I have been asked to inquire as to your intent.”

“Isn’t it obvious, sister? I intend to bring her to Tartarus.”

The Keres laughed, the sound hollow like the rattle of bones. “Are you mad? It is forbidden.”

“It is the will of her father, and I intend to see it through. Tell my mother, we should not be long.”

With a baleful cry, the Keres was gone.

**Copyright © Eva Vanrell, 2011 – 2012. All rights reserved.

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