Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Great Prologue Debate

There is a major discussion over on LinkedIn on whether to use a prologue or not. It seems there is an entire range of opinions on it, but mostly it boils down to, use one if you want to, if you think your story needs one. You're not going to please everybody; some people will read them, some people will skip over them. Some people think they should be labeled chapter one if you're going to include it at all.

According to my dictionary, a prologue is a separate introductory section of a literary work. An event or action that leads to another event or situation (civil unrest in a few isolated villages became the prologue to widespread rebellion). A short preliminary time trial held before a race to establish a leader (in professional cycling). The actor who delivers the prologue of a play.

Two of those definitions can be used in your book. Now a lot of those comments indicated that information in a prologue should simply be included in the story in some way, but sometime that just isn't possible. Sometimes the information is vital to setting the stage in some manner, but it just doesn't fit anywhere within the story, not unless you want to commit the ultimate sin and include a lot of back-story somewhere.

In my first book, and in my latest book, Half-Breed, setting the stage was important to me. I needed to push the setting of both books into the far future of this earth we walk today. I didn't want these two stories to be just any old where. The lack of a moon is a culture changer, but if no one knew that the world had once had a moon, they would miss picking up on that small item; it wouldn't be a culture change, it would only be different. There were other small things in both books that I wanted to be seen as the same but different, not just other. Lack of prologues would have allowed them to be alternate Earth stories, but I wanted them to be tied much closer to home.

So really, I suppose it just boils down to 'follow your gut'. Use prologues with extreme care; consider all the alternatives first, and then consider exactly how important that information really is. Consider VERY carefully before plugging a prologue in front of your story, because, like I said before, some people will skip over it anyway. Ask yourself, "what does this story mean without the prologue?"


And then lets not forget the prologue's littlest cousin, the epilogue.

According to my dictionary, an epilogue is a section at the end of a book that serves as a comment or conclusion to what has happened.

I used one of those too in my first book. I had so many threads going through that book that when I reached the desired end, many of those threads were left hanging. I felt the need to wrap things up. I did a much better job of wrapping things up in Half-Breed but I still included an epilogue. I mean, the guy simply had to see his kids even though the story had reached it's conclusion.

In The Fortunes of Magic, the last chapter could have been an epilogue after a fashion, because it was a shift of POV, but really that chapter didn't fit the definition above. It was my way of bringing things full circle in that story. Same with The Speed of Dreams. The last chapter was a bring-around to a full circle. Neither book had a prologue either.

How about you? Do you favor a prologue? Have you ever used one? How about the epilogue?


Saturday, March 22, 2014

A New Turn of Events

My writing career has taken an unusual turn these days. First, a couple months ago, a friend asked me to help update his book. Terminology and technology in the book was very outdated; it was like watching a movie filmed back in the 50s or so, a very nice story but just old. At first the project was supposed to be an editing project, but it turned out that updating wasn't the only problem with this story. Saving the universe might have been a cool goal back in the 50s but readers are way too savvy for that these days.

As we wrestled with this, I discovered that he had health issues that made concentration difficult. We all know how we need to concentrate in order to keep track of all the different threads we weave through our stories. Anyway, we agreed that I would take on rewriting his book. Any details he didn't like, I'd be happy to change, but he said he liked every bit of it, even though, in taking out the big 'save the universe' idea and replacing it with chasing down a rogue planet, I pretty much changed the whole story.

Anyway, that project prompted me to look up the going rate for ghostwriting and since I still consider myself a student of this writing craft, I can't charge people full price. However, I do think it is only fair that I do charge, after all, I will be working for someone, and if you work for someone, they should pay you for your effort.

I drafted up a proposal on my website, just like I drafted up one for my editing services. Really cheap, but I'm no expert, I'm just told by those I respect that I'm pretty darn good. Maybe someday, when I'm more comfortable with the tasks, my prices will increase.

Now with this one book finished and turned over to it's owner, I figured I wouldn't see another such project for a long time, if ever, but low and behold, this lady asked me to help her with her story. I have no idea where she found me. We connected on Facebook. I'll have to ask her someday. Anyway, now I'm working on another ghostwriting project.

One good thing about this kind of work. I get to explore some really great ideas. In the mean time, my own book is simmering along just fine. At the moment, I've divided it into a bunch of short books, and I'm constructing covers for them. So that means I get to do a lot of coloring every evening. My only picture program is Paint for Mac. It's pretty simple, but it does allow me to add text to a picture. So, I buy a cover image or hire a cover artist and I can put together a simple cover. Don't come to me for your cover though. What I can turn out is really super simple. There are MUCH better cover artists out there.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

My Cover Conundrum

Ever since my first less than glowing review, I'd planned a rewrite and a new cover for this book. The rewrite has been tentatively made - I'll probably do it again, but the cover is my biggest problem.

The society of my book is something rather medieval in structure in that there are kings who rule kingdoms and princes who inherit the throne, even princesses who play their part too.

The story is about a prince who knew nothing about being a prince. He was raised by a father who couldn't bring himself to face the outside world and a mother who would scarcely leave her room. Early on, it is hinted that perhaps the king was more helpless in his seclusion, perhaps more a prisoner than what might be first assumed, because he was able to get his son sent away, replacing him with a hostage, or perhaps merely a physical replacement in case someone counted heads. Later, he is able to warn this secondary character to make his own escape as well.

Being a prince in name only, the main character spends a good deal of time learning how to manage a kingdom, but he also needs to know who was behind what happened to his home. Why would someone go to all the trouble of isolating the towns from each other? His investigation led to much deeper mysteries, and so the story progresses until finally he is able to round up a very unusual army and go home to put it all together. And yes he even gets the girl in the end.

So this might sound like your average knight in shining armor kind of story, but there's one HUGE issue that makes this cover about as wrong a cover as it can possibly be.

Some years ago, when this was the only book I had out there, my boss offered to have it available for sale at the lodge where I worked. It was a benefit for her as well as for me. For her, she could brag a little about having a real author on staff. For me, I sold a few books every summer from that point on, and even signed a few - It was really quite fun.

I knew the cover wasn't right though. More than one person told me that they wouldn't have picked up the book because of the cover, but after having read it, they loved it. But this was brought home best of all by a comment made by one lady at the lodge. She took one look at the cover, then at me, and said, "But you're American." in the most delightful English accent.

At first, those words hurt a little. It was as if she didn't think any American could possibly understand medieval society, it being so very English in origin and setting. My feelings weren't hurt for very long though, because they made a far more important point. My story was American too. The society might have many similarities, but my story takes place thousands of years in the future. All traces of ancient England are on the other side of an ocean, and on the other end of an ice age. No one here, in this story, remembers any trace if it.

This is something my cover somehow needs to show, or at the very least, it CANNOT lead the reader to expect ancient England in any way, shape, or form. Even the sight of a shield or sword might make that connection. So what to do? I have no idea.

My goal is to republish this book as soon as I run out of copies of the first edition. So if any of you would like to read the book so you can help me with ideas for the cover, I'll be happy to mail you a copy or email you a pdf - your choice.

I look forward to your ideas - thanks in advance.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

What Can Your Character Know

I really must apologize for my previous post; that really was quite a rant, but the issue needs to be addressed and perhaps my cooler head can prevail and I can get the point across better.

The primary issues in that book were 'what can a character know' and 'what will a character do'.

So what can a character know? For the sake of simplicity, I will use 'he' here, but in reality, it applies to either gender.

When you create a character, it doesn't matter the age, from maybe six to a hundred and sixty, he will start out with what you put in his head. He might be a genius and he might be an imbecile, he might even be a savant of some sort, but after you make your character whatever he is, he is a closed cell. After that, he is restricted to what he can perceive through the senses you gave him, generally sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste, for the most part, in that order.

After his personal senses have been explored to their limit, his next option is to search out answers. This is generally what carries the story along. The ways a character can go after information is pretty much infinite, if you ask me, but it can also be accidental.

The issue with the before mentioned book was that the kidnapped father seemed to know that his daughter would be looking for him so he left her clues, clues only she would be able to find. This premise is fine by itself. It's just how it was handled. First, the daughter didn't bother to even start searching until the last minute. Second, it seemed as if the father was leaving clues where he couldn't, leaving information he wouldn't have the time to assemble, not to mention leaving information he couldn't possibly know at the time. Ahhh I'm getting way to close to another rant. Let me get back on track. The father couldn't possibly have known where his boat was going to be hidden, and if he did, if he was there (possible), would he have taken the time to create the clue containing the name and number of the attacking ship while his crew and friends were being murdered?

This question brings us to the second issue. What will a character do? Your characters make logical decisions all the time. Anything from whether or not to pick up a pen to which direction to walk to what color shirt to wear. Logically, a lost character who knows where people are will head in that direction. A lost character who does not know where people are could head off in any direction, but in reality, they would weigh the possibilities before picking a direction. It might be as simple as heading downhill or picking a direction by the sun.

For a person to stumble upon information, there needs to be a feasible reason for him to be in the same location as said information, and there needs to be a logical reason for that information to be there in the first place.

For me, logic is very important when it comes to what people decide to do. Logic can come in variety as uncountable as there are people, but it's still logical within that character. Stress can make a person make choices that are less than logical, but the theory is that your reader will know about the stress, and can digest the choice. The personality of your character can also affect the choices he makes - one reason why it is important to have a variety of personalities within your story.

Back to the story. Of all the people on this earth, the father was leaving clues for one person capable of deciphering them, and yet the only reason she found the clue that set her on the track was idle curiosity in a case she should never have been exposed to. I also didn't get the sense that she was an avid diver since she hired the man to be her guide, therefore there was no better reason for her to come across the information necessary to carry forward the story. With key changes in this one character, many loose ends would have been smoothed over.

So, what can your character know, and what will your character do? Keep it all logical, people.


Saturday, March 1, 2014

Frayed Tapestry

There's nothing worse, if you ask me, that loose threads in your story. I'm willing to accept most any premise an author is willing to throw out there, but miracles I'm not so easy with, not when they happen over and over.

I'm reading an investigative story at the moment and I don't really know too much about investigation procedures so when the writer has their FBI agent throw the people from two different crimes together for convenience, I'll roll with it no matter how out of character I find it.

There are smaller details in this story that are irritating but I'll cut to the bigger ones.

We have one FBI agent who is supposed to be afraid of water but recovering (shoulda left that detail out), one marine biology student whose boss was murdered while he was on the bottom of the ocean looking for the man's wedding ring, and a brother and sister looking for their very rich scientist father. They were thrown together because the father went missing in the same location as the murder even though the two crimes happened months apart.

The agent allows for the siblings to pay to go find whatever the diver's boss was killed for just cause they're curious. Well, okay. I understand that these two parties need to be thrown together, but this is kinda lame. Anyway, they find the thing and it's not a ring, it's a flash drive in a water tight container weighted with fishing lead. Now this is the crucial link between the two cases so fine, but it's still a frayed end as you'll see.

A little while later, these four people have found the missing father's yacht. While the sister and the student and the agent are searching the boat, the brother is left with the rental. Supposedly, he falls asleep and the boat drifts away and quite some ways down stream, past a town (seen by no one though those playing on the water are many) to lodge in the bushes on the far bank - at least that's his story and he sticks to it, and it isn't refuted anywhere I've found so far, so okay, fine. Meanwhile, the other three are stranded upriver. Now the water's not deep where they are; the boat they were searching was sunk but not submerged, so they need to jump into the water and wade to shore (remember the agent's fear of water). Fine, but they go upriver, away from where they need to go to find help. They're on the wrong side of the river from the town, but still, all the people are down river; only the occasional sightseer (like they were pretending to be) goes as far up river as they went. CONVENIENTLY they find some innertubes. I simply cannot come up with any logical reason for perfectly good innertubes to be located in the jungle off the river. How did they get there? If someone took them up there to ride down the river, where are those people now? And most troubling, if those mysterious people only just took those innertubes up there and decided to walk upriver before their float down, now that our people have stolen them, how are they going to get down? No other people were ever mentioned so this is just a convenient piece of equipment miraculously dropped into their path so they could go find the brother and their boat. This little bit of scenario simply makes no sense.

Moving on in the story and inserting the kidnapped father:

It was given early on that he knows how to insert information into the junk DNA of cells - fine, he uses it to copyright cells he finds - it is also given that his daughter, who followed in his footsteps, knows about this - also fine - What was on the flash drive was the key to decoding whatever message he used - fine - that gave them the clue as to where to find the sunken ship - fine - BUT in the story, he has freedom enough to toss the flash drive in it's sealed box, but doesn't weight it down to sink so it is recovered, and some of his freedoms are curtailed. I'm three quarters of the way through the book and I've seen nowhere where he was able to make that drop, and no mention of it has been made. Maybe these loose ends will finally be explained when they finally get to talk to him, but until then, this is really annoying me.

Another loose thread: Remember the search of the sunken ship? They happened to find a jar of ocean water in the submerged lab, and from that DNA sample they learned the name of the ship where the father was being held. Maybe we'll find out how he left that message later too.

Later, the father makes a big escape by using chemicals found in his lab to create an explosion and blow his way through the wall - fine - labs use all kinds of caustic materials that can be flammable and explosive, enough so? I don't know but I'll accept that he was able to accomplish the deed. So he's this marathon swimmer (keep in mind that he has two grown kids, one of which is a successful scientist in her own right. The other, married and divorced and not so ambitious, but I'll allow that though he sits at a microscope every day all day, he stays in shape). He swims the mile (every time someone has to swim to shore, it's a mile, and remember the agent, her too) to shore with a pair of scissors in his waistband - fine. He beats two guys on a three-man jet-ski and reaches another wreck near the end of a beach full of summer tourists and swimmers who ignore the scenario - a bit of a stretch, but fine. One of the chasers goes into the wreck after the father and they tussle. The father wins - it could happen. The second guy leaves his jet-ski and comes after the first guy. Meanwhile, to escape, the father climbs farther into the wreck and finds a hole he can climb out of - fine - he snags the now riderless vehicle and makes a mad dash for population and supposedly safety. He guns the machine onto the beach, and thanks to an incoming wave, is carried a mite farther than he'd planned. A couple convenient surfboards leaning in the right place offer his out-of-control projectile a launching platform that throws him onto a road where he clips a biker and is clipped in turn by a truck. He is, of course, thrown free. (just like in the movies) - all fine so far - BUT a man rushes up, yelling that he's a doctor and the father passes out - - - and wakes up back on the ship where he has been being held prisoner for the last few months. So how did that guy get there so fast if he'd left everyone behind?

Back to our group of people trying to follow the father's DNA leads that seem to drop out of nowhere. An hour after all this has transpired, our agent hears about police investigating a disturbance at the beach (no mention of what happened on the highway). Apparently tourists reported an explosion on a boat that was no longer there, so on a whim, they go have a look at the wreck where the father fought the one chaser. By the time they get there, the police have left. I can see no reason why they would want to investigate that wreck since they were only in that location to refuel their plane - see they were flying around looking for a suitably sized boat with the name left on the DNA found in the jar on board the father's sunken ship. Now, they do find the scissors which is fine, but they also find two test-tubes full of water, presumably another clue left by the father for his daughter, only he has no way of knowing they are even looking for him, not to mention the fact that, there is no mention of him packing said test-tubes, and have you ever seen one of those things? They are incredibly fragile. You have a man swimming and stumbling across coral and sand (with no pockets) and wrestling with a guy with a gun. Later cops have apparently tramped all over the place and a tiny glass tube with a cork would be very nearly invisible under water if it was filled with water. How did these things survive? How did they get there?  

I don't know, maybe it'll all be explained but right now, three quarters of the way through the book, there's just WAY too many loose ends and miraculously found bits of information. This story could have been so much better if other choices could have been made.