As Goes the Prologue, So Goes the Plot

When I think about it, it all comes back to the prologue.

The prologue was the first thing I wrote on November 1, 2011. I knew as I was writing it that it wasn’t going to last. I knew it was clumsy, exposition-heavy, and boring – but it got me started on my 50,000 words in 30 days. It was like that bit of a roller coaster when you’re being cranked up…and up…and up…it’s not the fun part, but you have to go through it before you get to the exhilaration and terror to follow.

When I finished the draft – when I finally knew, beginning to end, what I wanted the fate of my characters and their story to be – I knew I was going to have to rewrite that prologue. The trouble was actually doing it. What was the purpose of the prologue? What was I trying to tell the reader? What sort of mood was I trying to set? Did I even need a prologue? Was its sole purpose, perhaps, just to launch me into writing?

I decided pretty quickly I did need one. It allows me to introduce the characters, to create the setting, and to do a little foreshadowing – in short, to set the mood of the novel.

The trouble was, even after all those words, I still didn’t know enough to write it.

My writing buddy gave my novel a genre label I quite like: space opera. It suggests a science fiction setting, but probably one that would drive hard-core SF fans insane. I like the genre, because none of the other possibilities really fit: it’s a mystery, and it’s a romance, so maybe romantic suspense; but it’s also set in the future, for all that “science fiction” would be a completely misleading label.

All of which is in aid of saying: There is space, and there is crime, and I needed to understand the who/what/why/when/where/how of the crime before I could write the prologue.

And I didn’t.

I do not have a devious mind. I would be a terrible criminal. I’m a lousy liar, and I don’t like being mean to people, even indirectly. So when I realized I’d need something resembling a plausible explanation for why my criminals would be criminals, I did the obvious: I asked someone else. I asked my husband.

Not that he would be a great criminal – but his mind is organized very differently from mine. He sees different issues than I do. He asks different questions. And most of his questions, when I started sketching out the scenario, were “Why?”

I had been focusing on “How?” But as it turns out, “Why?” gave me a lot of the answers to “How?”

I now find myself in the strange position of knowing a lot of detail about everything that happens before the story starts. It’s great, and it’s necessary – but it’s only half the battle. I know how we got where we are – but now I need to make sure everybody figures it out in a way that makes sense, and flows with the story.

I’m in love with a couple of scenes. This is almost certainly going to be a mistake. I had to jettison my very favorite line in the whole book a while back, because I realized it just didn’t work. I’m guessing at least one of my favorite scenes is going to have to go, but in the meantime, I’m twisting my plot into a pretzel. How many of my complications are realistic, instead of just diversionary? Are my characters too stupid, or too smart? Do I really want my hero to get beaten up so many times? (And really – won’t he need a hospital at some point? Poor guy.)

Finishing the first draft was an amazing milestone. Doing this edit…may possibly do me in. At least I still like my story – which is a good thing. There’s no way I’d be able to put this kind of energy into something I didn’t like.

 

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