Wednesday, 18 April 2012

P is for Prologues, epilogues and epigraphs

I love books with prologues, epilogues and epigraphs. When I was a kid, I loved Jack London's Call of the Wild (1903), and the book starts with a quatrain from John Myers O'Hara's poem, Atavism.   The poem teases the reader with the nature of the wilderness into which the main character will go.
“Old longings nomadic leap,
Chafing at custom’s chain;
Again from its brumal sleep
Wakens the ferine strain.”
The problem, is, does anyone else read them? What happens if the reader doesn't, will they lose the plot? Feedback from the competition told me to concentrate on boosting the historical strand of the book, so I did, but I also found lots of bits of useless but fascinating facts that made the setting more real for me, so I thought I would stick some of them in epigraphs for the Dee chapters. Having written more chapters, I had to write more epigraphs. Giving them an apparent historical presence was fun too - I pinched references from old demonologies, a Myles Coverdale translation of the Bible (1535) and the German school of swordfighting. I just hope someone reads them. I have an epilogue, too, to round off the Dee strand, returning to his 'olde englishe' way of writing.

During the MA prologues and epigraphs were given short shrift, and for good reason. They can be info dumps, just filled with backstory the writer is too lazy to feed through the book, they can distract from the main story or take the focus from it. They can sometimes be more usefully called 'chapter 1' to be honest. I hope mine sets the scene for the historical strand.

I'm hoping the epigraphs add verisimilitude, the truthful details that make a fiction more convincing. I hope they are 'hooks' that keep the reader reading. But they aren't necessary for the plot. I'll be interested if anyone else likes them! 

PS. On a sobering note, my book is being shown around to people. I'm feeling strangely tense and nervous. The book, which for more than a year was just mine, was somehow a private obsession and hardly anyone knew about it or read any of it. Letting it go feels weird. Not bad, but as if some secret of mine was being gossiped about. I feel exposed. It's a good job I don't know any of them!

6 comments:

  1. I always have an epilogue in my full-length historicals, though my YA historicals don't need them, since they're usually interlocking series books. Off the top of my head, the only time I've had a foreword (which I don't consider a prologue) is in my first Atlantic City book. It's only two pages long and briefly describes the quasi-religion and secret society of sorts that informs the unique culture of this fictional Atlantic City neighborhood. I like how it leads into the present day (1938) by introducing one of the double protagonists as the (unknowing) descendant of one of the town's founders. It's always reminded me a bit of how the Book of Ruth ends with a short genealogy that ultimately introduces King David and ties things into the present day from a seemingly unrelated story.

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    1. That's just how I see a prologue being useful - putting the reader in the world of the novel. Thank you Carrie-Anne.

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  2. I understand you r feeling about your story. It's your baby, but its time for it to grow up and leave the nest, to be accepted by the world. You'll be right.

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    1. Funny enough, my daughter just left home too...I'm more confident that she will be OK! I think our books may have a piece of us in them, somehow.I just have to learn a bit of patience and let go. Thanks, Torggil

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  3. Sending positive karma!

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  4. Thank you Downith, but I'm not very confident!

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