Writing

WORDS FOR WRITERS: How to Get People to Read Your Work Online (Guest Post)

WORDS FOR WRITERS: How to Get People to Read Your Work Online (Guest Post)

With the advent of the internet, there are now more ways than ever to reach potential readers. However, the World Wide Web is a vast space, with more than a billion websites competing for attention. For instance, Facebook alone has at least 2 billion users, while platforms like YouTube and Instagram all clock in at more than a billion users each. It can be overwhelming for an author to market a book with little to no budget. That being said, here are a few ways to get more people to read your work online:

Tap influencers in the relevant industry

Social media influencers tend to get a bad rap for being superficial, but there’s no denying the impact they have on brand recognition and consumer purchases. And with an abundance of influencers in all sorts of niches, it could be a good opportunity to work with them to promote your books. You don’t need to partner with a celebrity with a million followers either. According to a blog post on myths about working with influencers by Later, nano influencers — those with less than 10,000 followers — actually have higher engagement rates on sponsored posts than influencers with more followers. This makes them a good choice if what you want is meaningful online marketing that also sparks discussion and conversation.

Build your network

In a previous ‘Words for Writers’ post, we highlighted the importance of networking and community when it comes to marketing your book. Friendship with both readers and authors will go a long way towards creating word-of-mouth buzz. Fortunately, there are many online avenues through which you can cultivate these connections. Online forums such as Reddit or Goodreads are good places to start. Alternatively, social media makes it easier to befriend fellow authors with a single message. A good rule of thumb is to reciprocate: if an author promotes you, buy copies of their books and leave sincere comments as well. In line with tapping influencers, you can also reach out to book bloggers and send them copies of your book to review. Remember to approach them respectfully and professionally, however, as they likely have other reviews to work on already. Minding these details will ensure you have a solid professional network as you progress through your career.

Consider mounting ads

If you have the resources for it, mounting online ads can give your book a lot of mileage. For example, platforms like Amazon make it easy to advertise if your book has a listing there. You have the option to control the amount you spend, and only need to pay once your ad is clicked. This makes it a good option for authors on a tight budget. Similarly, Facebook ads can boost your visibility by a lot, thanks to the robust analytics that aid in targeting and reaching potential buyers.

Maximize your social media presence

Writing for the internet is much different from writing a novel. Social Media Today’s online writing tips explain that readers’ attention spans are shorter when browsing. As such, you must craft compelling copy to make sure they don’t just scroll past you on their feeds. To that end, make sure your content is high quality. For instance, create polls about to stimulate discussion, or post quotes from your book that might resonate with your readers. Don’t just post for the sake of posting, but try to provide value to your audience as much as possible instead.

 

*

Have a question about the craft or business of writing that I haven’t answered? Ask it here!

Read more Words for Writers articles here.

 

No comments
JM FreyWORDS FOR WRITERS: How to Get People to Read Your Work Online (Guest Post)
Read more

WORDS FOR WRITERS: The Value of Fanfiction

WORDS FOR WRITERS: The Value of Fanfiction

There’s been a lot of chatter on social media these last few weeks, recycling that trashy, self-aggrandizing, tired old “hot take” that reading and writing fanfiction is somehow bad for you as a writer.

 

Before we go any further, let me give a clear and definitive answer to this take:

Middle Finger on Google Android 11.0 December 2020 Feature Drop

No, reading and writing fanfiction will not make you and does not make you a bad reader or writer.

 

Period.

 

Why? Here’s the TL;DR version:

 

  • Reading and Writing, any kind of reading and writing, will make you a better reader and writer. And it’s enjoyable, to boot.
  • Fanfiction has been around as long as Original Fiction, so we’d know if there was any negative impact by now (spoiler alert: there isn’t.)
  • Practice is Practice, so matter what medium you get that practice in.
  • Comprehending and writing fanfiction is harder than writing original fiction because you have to hold the Source Media Text in your head at the same time as you’re reading/writing a different story. It improves your understanding of storytelling.
  • No hobby, no matter what it is, so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else or yourself, is bad. And that goes double for if you decide to keep it a hobby. Not every fanfic writer wants to write original fiction, and that’s just fine. Not every hobby has to be monetized.

 

Okay. But what do they mean by “fanfiction”?

 

“Fanfiction is fictional writing written by fans, commonly of an existing work of fiction. The author uses copyrighted characters, settings, or other intellectual properties from the original creator as a basis for their writing.”– Wikipedia

 

Basically – it’s when you take elements (setting, characters, major themes or ideas) of a Media Text (a novel, a movie, a podcast, a comic, etc.) and create a different story with those elements. You can write a missing scene, or an extended episode, or a whole new adventure for the characters of the Media Text. You can even crossover or fuse multiple Media Texts, or specific elements, to create a whole new understanding of the characters or their worlds.

 

Similar to fanfic, you can also create fanart, fancomics, or fansongs (“filk”), fancostumes (“cosplay”), and fanfilms. These are called Fanworks or Fancrafts.

 

Fanfiction is usually posted to online forums, journals, blogs, or story archives and shared for free among the public. Before the advent of the internet, fanfiction was often printed or typed, and hand-copied using photocopiers or ditto machines, and distributed for free (or for a small administration fee to cover materials) among fans at conventions, or through mail-order booklets (“zines”).

 

Fanfiction has existed pretty much since the beginning of storytelling (A Thousand and One Nights, Robin Hood, and King Arthur all have different elements attributed to them by different authors retelling, twisting, adding to, or changing the stories; there’s no single-origin author of those tales.)

 

There are billions on billions of fanfics out there in the world—and while a majority of them are romance stories, there are also adventures, comedies, dramas, thrillers, stories based on case files, stories about the emotional connection between characters when one is hurt and the other must care for them, historical retellings, etc. There are also stories for every age range and taste, though be sure to take heed of the tags, trigger warnings, and age range warnings as your browse the archives and digital libraries.

 

As a reader, it’s your responsibility to curate your experience online.

 

So why are people so afraid or derisive of fanfic?

 

People who are hard on fanfic say that…

 

  • It sucks.
    • Well of course it sucks! As it’s a low-stakes and easy way to try out creative writing for the first time, the majority of fanfiction is overwhelmingly written by new and young writers. Everything you do when you first try it sucks a little bit. I’m sure no figure skater was able to immediately land perfect triple axels ten minutes after they strap on the skates for the first time in their lives. No knitter has ever made a flawlessly perfect jumper on their first try. No mathematician has ever broken the code to send a rocket into space after having just been taught elementary-school multiplication. So why on earth do people think that new writers don’t need to practice? I can promise you that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first rap was probably pretty shaky.
  • It’s lazy or it’s cheating.
    • Listen, anyone who tells you that writing anything is lazy clearly has not sat down and tried to write anything. Writing is tedious. It is It takes hours, and hours, and hours to get anything on the page, and then once it’s on the page you have to go back and edit it. UGH. There is nothing about being a writer—even a fanfic writer—that is lazy.
    • And anyone who tells you that trying to tell a fresh, new story within the limits and confines of a pre-existing world and have it make sense is cheating, then they have no freaking clue how hard it is to be creative with that kind of limitation placed on you. It’s harder when you have a set of rules you need to follow. What you do come up with is often extremely interesting and creative because of those limitations, not in spite of them.
    • The argument that using pre-made characters, settings, tropes, and worlds to make up a new story is cheating is also complete bunk. Do those same people also expect hockey players to whittle and plane themselves a whole new hockey stick from scratch before each game? No, of course not. And yeah, a baker can grow all their own wheat, grind the flour, raise the chickens and cows so they can get eggs and milk, distill the vanilla, etc. Or a baker can buy a box mix. Either way, you get a cake at the end of the process. Whether you write fanfic or original fiction, you still get a story at the end of the process.
  • It makes you a worse
    • * annoying buzzer noise * Practicing anything does not make you worse at it. And reading stories that are not edited, expertly crafted, or “high art” will also not indoctrinate you into being a bad writer. If anything, figuring out why you don’t like a specific story, trope, or writing style is actually a great way to learn what kind of writer you want to be, and to learn different methods of constructing sentences, creating images, and telling tales. Or you know, just how much spelling and grammar matter.
  • It’s not highbrow or thoughtful enough.
    • Sometimes stories are allowed to be just comfort food. Not every book or story you read has to be haute cuisine or boringly nutritious. You are allowed to read stories because they’re exciting, or swoony, or funny, or just because you like Anyone who says differently is a snob and worth ignoring. (Besides, fun silly stories can also be packed with meaning and lessons—I mean, hello, Terry Prachett, anyone?)
  • It makes you waste all your time on writing that can’t be monetized.
    • No time is wasted if you spend it doing something that brings you joy. Not every hobby needs to be a money-maker and not everyone wants to be a professional writer. You are allowed to write, and read, fanfic just for the fun of it.
  • It’s theft.
    • According to Fair Use Law, it’s not. As long as the fanfic writer (or artist, cosplayer, etc.) is not making money on their creation that directly impacts or cuts into the original creator’s profit, or is not repackaging/plagiarizing the original Media Text and profiting off it’s resale, then Fan Works are completely legal. So there.

 

How, exactly, does fanfic make you a better writer?

 

Fanfiction…

 

  • teaches you to finish what you start.
    • The joy of being able to share your fic, either as you’re writing it, or afterward, is a big motivating factor for a lot of people. They finish because they get immediate feedback on it from their readers and followers. Lots of people have ideas for books, but how many of them do you know have actually sat down and written the whole thing?
    • Fanfic is also low-stakes; there’s nothing riding on whether you finish something or not, so you have to inspire yourself to get there without the outside (potentially negative) motivation of deadline or a failing grade if you don’t get the story finished. You end up learning how to motivate yourself.
    • Fanfic has no rules, so you write as much or as little as you want, stop wherever you think is a good place to end the story, write it out of order, or go back and write as many sequels or prequels as you like. Again, it’s totally low-stakes and is meant to be for fun, so you can noodle around with what it means to write a “whole” story and “complete” it, which teaches you how you like to write, and how you like to find your way to the finish line.
  • teaches you story structure.
    • Before you can sit down and write a story based on one of your favorite Media Texts, you’re likely to spend a lot of time consuming that text passively, or studying it actively. Either way, you’re absorbing how and why Media Text structures the stories it tells, and are learning how to structure your own from that.
    • Once you’re comfortable with the story structure the Media Text you’re working in is told, you’ll probably start experimenting with different ways stories can be told, and find the versions you like to work with best.
  • teaches you how to write characters consistently.
    • Fanfic is really hard because not only do you have to write your fave characters in a way that moves the story along, but they have to be recognizable as those fave characters.
    • This means you have to figure out their body language, verbal and physical tics, their motivations and they way the handle a crisis (fight, flight, or fawn?), and then make up the details you may need for your story that you may never see on screen/the page, like how they take their eggs or what their fave shampoo is, based on what you already know about them. That takes some top-notch detective work and character understanding to pull off.
    • Once you know how to do that, just making up a whole person yourself for original fiction is a breeze.
  • Teaches you how to hear and mimic a character/narrator voice.
    • You have to pay close attention to how an actor speaks, or how a character’s speech patterns, dialect, work choice, etc. is reflected on the page in order to be consistent in your story.
    • And all of this, in turn, teaches you how to build one for yourself.
    • I have a whole series of articles here about building a narrative voice, if you want to read more on constructing an original voice for your narrator.
  • Teaches you how to create or recreate a setting.
    • Again, like achieving character consistency, or mimicking a character or narrative voice, it takes work and paying attention in order to re-create a setting, time period, or geographical region in a fanfic—and if you’re taking your characters somewhere new, your readers will expect that setting to be equally rich as the one the Media Text is based in.
    • Which, again, teaches you how to then go and build an original one for yourself.
  • teaches how to take critique.
    • Professional writing is not a solitary pursuit. In fact, most writing is not entirely the work of an author alone. Like professional authors work with editors, critique partners, and proofreaders, some fanfiction writers will sometimes work with beta-readers or editors as well. This are friends or fanfic colleagues who offer to read your fanfic and point out plot, character, consistency, or story structure errors, or who offer to correct spelling and grammar errors. This is a great way to practice working with editors if you decide to pursue a professional career, and also a great way to make friends and strengthen your community and skill set if you don’t.
    • Many fanfic sites offer readers the opportunity to leave a comment on a fic, rather like a reviewer can leave a review on GoodReads or Amazon, or any other online store or blog, for a novel they’ve read. Sometimes these comments/reviews are 5 star and enthusiastic! Sometimes they are… not. The exact opposite in fact. As you get comments on your fanfic, and learn to ignore the ones that are just mean rather than usefully critical, you gain the Very Important Skill of learning to resist firing back at bad comments or reviews, while enjoying the good ones. It also teaches you how to ignore drama or haters.
  • Teaches you how to exist within a like-minded community.
    • While the actual writing part of writing is solitary and sometimes tedious, nothing is ever published into a vacuum, whether it be fanfiction or original. Besides your editing/critique/beta reader group, you will also likely develop friendships, a support network, and mutuals. It’s always great to uplift, support, cheer on, and celebrate one another’s accomplishments and victories, whether the writing is fanfic or original.
  • Teaches you that it’s okay to write about things important to you, or your own identity.
    • You can change a characters ethnicity, cultural background, sexuality, religion, or disabilities to match yours, and talk about your lived life through the megaphone of that character. Or, you can insert original characters based on you, your desires, and experiences.
    • Once you’re comfortable writing in your #ownvoice in fanfic, you can approach it in original fiction, if you like.
    • See my article titled Your Voice Is Valid for more on this.

 

What if I want to be a professional writer?

 

Notice how I didn’t say “real writer”. Any writer who writes any kind of story is a ‘real’ writer. I mean, pinch yourself—you’re real, right? The difference is actually between being an “amateur” writer (a hobbyist who does not write for pay), and a “professional” (who is paid for their writing). Just because you only play shinny on the street with your friends, or in a house league on the weekends, it’s doesn’t mean  you’re not still as much of a hockey player as someone who plays in the NHL.

 

Writing fanfiction before or at the same time as writing original fiction that you intend to sell is a great way to learn, or practice, everything I’ve mentioned above. If you read it widely, it will also expose you to different story telling styles, voices, and tropes than your reading of published fiction.

 

  • Can I sell my fanfic?
    • For fanfiction to remain under the umbrella of Fair Use Law, you cannot profit off your fanfiction. There’s some grey-area wiggle room around things like charging a small amount for a ‘zine or a PDF to cover administrative costs, but zero wiggleability around, say, selfpublishing your fanfic and charging heaps for it.
  • Can I “file off the serial numbers”?
    • “Filing of the series numbers” is when you take a fanfic you’ve written and essentially pull it apart, remove everything that’s clearly someone else’s Media Text, and reassembling the story so that it’s pretty much a completely original piece of creative writing.
    • Yes, you can sell these, provided your filing is rigorous enough that you aren’t likely to be dinged for plagiarism. It’s widely known that Cassandra Claire’s Shadowhunters was once Harry Potter fanfic, and that Fifty Shades of Gray was once Twilight But did you know that my Triptych started life as an idea for a Stargate Atlantis fic? There’s lots of stories out there that were once full fics, or the idea for the novel was originally conceived for a fandom, but written as original instead.
    • So long as you’re careful to really rework the text so that it’s not just a find-name-replace-name rewrite, you should be fine.
    • Be aware, though, that the agents and editors you might pitch this novel to know how to Google. They may discover that this is a filed-off story, and depending on their backgrounds and biases, might be concerned about it. There’s no need to inform them of the novel’s origin straight off in your pitch/query letter, but you may want to have a frank discussion with them about it after it’s been signed so they can help you make sure that any lingering copywrited concepts or characters are thoroughly changed before publication.
    • Should you take down the original fic-version of the novel while you’re querying/shopping it? Well, that’s up to you, and whether you’re comfortable with an editor/agent potentially finding it.
  • Should I be ashamed of my fic, or take it down, or pretend I never wrote fic?
    • What? Why? No! I mean, I have hidden some of my most immature work, but I’ve left pretty much my whole catalogue of fanfic online and I don’t deny that I was/am a ficcer. Why? Because it’s a great repository of free stories that people can read before they buy one of my books, so they can get a taste of how and what I write. Also, you will be in good company. Lots and lots of writers who are published now-a-days started in fandom, including:
      • Steven Moffat
      • Seanan McGuire
      • Rainbow Rowell
      • Claudia Gray
      • Cory Doctorow
      • Marissa Meyer
      • Meg Cabot.
      • Naomi Novik.
      • Neil Gaiman.
      • Lev Grossman.
      • E. Hinton.
      • John Scalzi
      • The Bronte Sisters
      • Andy Weir
      • Sarah Rees Brennan
      • Marjorie M. Liu
      • Anna Todd
      • and of course, J.M. Frey

 

How fanfic can harm.

 

Like with anything else, there are ways that reading and writing fanfiction can actually harm you, or others, but it has nothing to do with the reading or writing of fanfiction in and of itself.

 

  • Some creators may prefer that you don’t (and may or may not follow up with legal action).
    • Anne Rice famously went after fanficcers in the 90s who wrote fanfic of her work, handing out Cease & Desist notices like confetti.
    • 99% of creators don’t care. Those who do will generally have a notice on their websites or social media politely asking fancreators to refrain. Mostly this is due to their general discomfort over the idea of anyone else getting to play in their worlds. The best thing to do is respect that request, and find a different fandom to write in.
  • Flamewars and fandom fights leading to bullying and doxing.
    • Regrettably, just like any other community filled with people who have different favorites, opinions, and preferences, there will inevitably be clashes. It’s up to you to decide how to react to negative interactions, and how to model positive ones.
    • Don’t forget, you curate your online experience, so don’t be afraid of that block button.
    • Also, don’t be the jerk who goes after people for liking different aspects of the fandom. Everyone is entitled to interact and like a Media Text their own way. “Don’t yuck my yum,” as they say.
  • Trying to make money on other people’s IP/Media Text (law suits, etc.)
    • It doesn’t belong to you, so don’t try to make money on it.
    • There’s a grey area here in terms of selling prints/plushies/jewelry/etc. and there’s no hard line about where one copyright owner will draw the line, and another won’t. Warner Bros. owns the film rights for both Harry Potter and Hunger Games, but I’ve seen Harry Potter-themed bars spring up while fans wanting to make Hunger Game fanfilms have been shut down. A friend of mine sells hand-made fandom-inspired items at cons—there is no rhyme or reason to what she gets told to stop making and what she’s left alone on.
    • Best thing to do if you’re told to stop is just so stop, move on, and find a different fandom to be active in.
  • Writing Real Person Fanfic (“RPF”) can be considered a violation of consent.
    • This article sums it up pretty well, but basically… if you decide to write RPF, be aware that they person you are writing about is a real person, with real thoughts, and emotions, and they may feel violated by RPF. If you decide to write it, never send it to the people it’s about, and always clearly tag it so other can choose to engage with it, or avoid it.
    • Also be aware that it could ruin their love for what they do. For example: the friendships between the members of 1Direciton became strained and the band eventually disintegrated because people wouldn’t stop sending band members smutty stories or art of them having sex with one another, and it made them too uncomfortable to continue in the band.
  • Showing/sharing fanfic & fanart outside of its intended context. Fanworks are for fans, and there are definitely issues if…
    • It’s shown to celebrities/actors/creators.
      • Shoving your fantasies onto the people who create or portray your fave characters is rude, and wrong, and also kinda gross. If they seek it out themselves, that’s one thing, but the same way you wouldn’t throw it at a complete stranger, don’t throw it at them. You may love the characters these people play, but they are not their characters, and they are not your friends.
      • It may also really weird them out and ruin their love for what they do.
    • it’s shown to writers working on the series.
      • There was a famous case where a fanficcer sent a story to a novelist, and the novelist was accused of plagiarism by the ficcer when their next novel in the series resembled the plot of that fanfic. There was a whole court case and everything.
      • Because of this, writers of TV shows, books, etc. don’t want to (and often times, legally can’t) read your fanfic. They don’t want to get accidentally inspired by what you’ve written, or worse, have to throw out something because it resembles your fic too closely. Just let them write their stories the way they want, and if they choose to seek out fic, they will.
    • it’s mocked by celebrities.
      • I’m not letting Alan Carr and Graham Norton off the hook. If it’s super rude and gross to shove fanworks at actors/writers/creators when you’re a creator, then it’s doubly rude for anyone to take a story or art made for a specific audience (the fans), by a specific community (the fans), lift it out of it’s context, and invite the public to mock it while also shoving it at the actor/celebrity in a place where they are literally cornered and can’t leave (i.e. the chat-show sofa). Man, it really steams me up when they do that. It’s rude and it’s tone-deaf, and it’s not
      • And most of the time they do it, they don’t even ask the artist or writer for permission, first, which is just…. Uuuuugggghhhh. It may be fanfic, but it was still created by someone, and you should always ask permission before publicly sharing something created by someone else.

 

In Conclusion

 

If someone tells you that reading or writing fanfic is bad for you as a creator, tell them to get bent.

Famous Fanfic

  • Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda
  • Wicked by Gregory Maguire
  • Wicked: the Musical by Stephen Schwartz
  • The Phantom of Manhattan by Fredrick Forsyth
  • A Study in Emerald by Neil Gaiman
  • Sherlock by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat
  • The Dracula Tape, by Fred Saberhaugen
  • Paradise Lost, John Milton
  • Inferno, by Dante
  • The Aeneid, by Virgil
  • Ulysses, by James Joyce
  • Romeo & Juliet, by William Shakespeare
  • The Once and Future King by T.H. White
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, by Mark Twain
  • The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas
  • Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, by Seth Grahame-Smith
  • Phantom, a novel of his life by Susan Kaye
  • …and so many more.

*

Find more WORDS FOR WRITERS articles here.

JM FreyWORDS FOR WRITERS: The Value of Fanfiction
Read more

NOW IN PRINT – The Woman Who Fell Through Time

NOW IN PRINT – The Woman Who Fell Through Time

It lives! Many people have been asking when there’ll be a paperback edition of “The Woman Who Fell Through Time”, and I’m happy to say that with the help of the incomparably generous Rodney V. Smith (cover) and the time and talent of Brienne E. Wright (interiors), the novel is now available to buy in book-shape!

Happy reading, and if you enjoyed it, please, please, please leave a review on GoodReads, Amazon, and on your personal social media. Thanks!

The Woman Who Fell Through Time

(Here There Be, September 2020)

#TimeTravel #KissingGirlsIsNice #LetsChangeHistory!

Armed with a newly minted university degree and a plane ticket to Paris, Jessie’s plan was to celebrate graduation in the City of Love, kissing as many drunk French girls (or boys, she’s not picky) as she can. Only, she never makes it. When her plane goes down mid-Atlantic she’s pulled from what should have been a watery grave by an intriguing British Naval Captain—in 1805!

Stuck in Regency-era England, Jessie is left with no choice but to enter into the services of the Captain’s sister as a lady’s companion. But she didn’t reckon on the sister being Margaret Goodenough, the world-famous authoress whose yet-to-be-completed novel was the first lesbian kiss in the history of British Literature.

And Jessie’s not just entranced by Margaret’s powerful words…

As their attraction grows, Jessie must tread the tenuous line between finding her own happiness in a world where she is alone, and accidentally changing the future of the queer rights movement. Is Jessie’s duty to preserve Margaret’s history-making book? Or to the happiness of its author, the woman she’s learning to love?

eBook is currently only available through Radish. Paperback available through Here There Be Publishing.

Amazon  Barnes & Noble Glad Day BookshopChapters Indigo The Book Depository GoodReadsRead The Novel On Radish Read An Excerpt On Wattpad

JM FreyNOW IN PRINT – The Woman Who Fell Through Time
Read more

WORDS FOR WRITERS – Do You Need That Prologue?

WORDS FOR WRITERS – Do You Need That Prologue?

 

Question: Do you agree with Brian Klems that agents don’t like prologues? Brian says only use one if it’s “out of time sequence,” which mine is (it’s also necessary to the story). He suggests, if a writer has a prologue, changing the name to “chapter one,” even if it’s out of time sequence. Would you agree? Thanks for your input.

My first thought regarding this advice is this:

Be wary of absolutes in an industry that is entirely subjective.

No one person speaks for all hundred thousand agents that exist.

In terms of actually writing your book, my craft-related advice would be this: I want you to ask yourself two questions.

#1 – What are you saying in this prologue that you can’t say anywhere else? Step back, and examine what information, exactly, you’re looking to convey to the reader within your prologue. Why does it have to exist? Why is this information necessary for the story?

#2 – In what way does this prologue enhance the overall experience the reader has with the story. This is harder to explain, so I’ll give you an example: in Adrienne Kress’s delightful MG novel “Alex and the Ironic Gentleman”, there is a prologue that establishes the fact of a historical event between two characters, the words as they were actually said, and the thoughts, feelings, and attitudes of the two participants.

This is important, because for the rest of the zany, episodic book, the characters are trying to track down their treasure, and they keep misrepresenting and misinterpreting the facts and the relationship between these historical characters. The readers know what really happened though, so every time it’s gotten wrong by the characters, the readers have a good giggle. It enhances the story.

Once you’ve nailed that down, then have a good long think. If your prologue – #1) conveys vital information to understanding the plot and character that can literally be put nowhere else in the narrative and #2) enhances the overall understanding/enjoyment/experience of the reader as they go through the book, then it’s necessary and you should keep it.

If it doesn’t do one of those things, then I would rethink where that other thing it does can be slipped into the narrative elsewhere, and ditch the prologue. If it does neither of those things, it’s likely not necessary, and again, you can ditch the prologue.

Now that you’ve decided whether your prologue is necessary at all, let’s move onto Brian’s advice about renaming it “Chapter One”.

Presumably, any agent who likes your pitch and wants to read either a partial or a full of your book, likes your book. Or at least the idea of the book they think you wrote. Also presumably, if they like your pitch, they’re willing to trust that you know how to tell your story the best way possible, and will therefore be fine with you having a prologue.

Any agent who passes on or stops reading your book simply because the first word in the manuscript is “Prologue” is likely someone who won’t be a good fit for you, anyway.

But it’s up to you to really prove in the narrative and storytelling that this prologue deserves to exist – because having a weak or unnecessary prologue on a book is pretty much assures that it’ll be passed on. (Not an absolute guarantee, but a very high percentage of likelihood.)

You can choose to rename the prologue “Chapter One” if you like – it might help to avoid knee-jerk rejections from any agent who has negative opinions of prologues, or at least keep the negative association of prologues out of their heads as then engage with your manuscript for the first time.

But likewise, it may also seem disingenuous and tricksy if it’s clearly a prologue that isn’t labelled as such, or if you sign with that agent and provide the full manuscript later, and the chapters are relabelled.

So, I put a third question to you:

#3) Is it actually “Chapter One”?

A lot of people think that just because a section of the story is told out of order, out of time, or out of reality, and that chapter is first, it has to be a prologue. But if it’s necessary and if it enhances the reader’s understanding of the narrative, and it’s still part of the same sequence of events that make up the narrative (even if it is not in order within that sequence)… that’s part of the novel.

This one is also hard to explain, so another example:

In my book Triptych, I kill the main love interest in the first paragraph and then spend the rest of the novel in the years prior to the moment that bullet leaves the barrel of the gun so you understand the full scope of the tragedy that his death is. And that also effects the reader’s understanding of the book because every time the character does something you love or makes you happy, it’s tinged with this grief and sorrow of knowing that he’s already dead.

That he’ll die. That it’s both about to happen and already happened. Just like looking back on the memory of a loved one who has passed–it’s both happy, because the moment was a happy one, and weighted by grief, because that person is gone forever.

It changes the emotional framework from which the reader engages with the narrative.

It’s still a part of the sequence of events of the novel, and so it’s a “Chapter One”, not a Prologue.

              In summary:

Ask yourself these three questions when polishing your manuscript, to make sure that your narrative is as strong as it can be and if, in the end, you decide to include a prologue, that prologue is vital, necessary, and useful to the reader experience of the manuscript. And if it’s not – scrap it in order to make sure your book is the strongest version of itself.

*

Still have questions? Read more WORDS FOR WRITERS posts here or ASK ME HERE.

 

 

 

JM FreyWORDS FOR WRITERS – Do You Need That Prologue?
Read more