Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Prologues that aren't really prologues

In my recent analyses of 19 Minutes, by Jodi Picoult, and the Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan, I noticed something interesting...

These two books are written for entirely different audiences, are entirely different genres, and even written in different POVs, but they had one thing in common.

Both start with a very short (less than 150 words) sort of prologue, though it isn't set apart as a prologue.

From 19 Minutes:

In nineteen minutes, you can mow the front lawn, color your hair, watch a third of a hockey game. In nineteen minutes, you can bake scones or get a tooth filled by a dentist; you can fold laundry for a family of five.

Nineteen minutes is how long it took the Tennessee Titans to sell out of tickets to the play-offs. It's the length of a sitcom, minus the commercials. It's the driving distance from the Vermont border to the town of Sterling, New Hampshire.

In nineteen minutes, you can order a pizza and get it delivered. You can read a story to a child or have your oil changed. You can walk a mile. You can sew a hem.

In nineteen minutes, you can stop the world, or you can just jump off it.

In nineteen minutes, you can get revenge.

The beginning of the Lightning Thief:

Look, I didn't want to be a half-blood.

If you're reading this because you think you might be one, my advice is: close this book right now. Believe whatever lie your mom or dad told you about your birth, and try to lead a normal life.

Being a half-blood is dangerous. It's scary. Most of the time, it gets you killed in painful, nasty ways.

If you're a normal kid, reading this because you think it's fiction, great. Read on. I envy you for being able to believe that none of this ever happened.

But if you recognize yourself in these pages - if you feel something stirring inside - stop reading immediately. You might be one of us. And once you know that, it's only a matter of time before they sense it too, and they'll come for you.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

Both of these intros are not scenes, because they don't involve any characters, action, setting or dialogue - they are just narrative. But they both set the tone of the book, reveal the voice, and create suspense that makes you keep reading.I immediately sat down a re-wrote the first 200 words of Valley of the Unicorns, to try to accomplish the same three goals: tone, voice, suspense. I'll tackle Raining Toward Heaven next, but of course it's a lot harder than it looks.

Here's a sort of related article from PubRants that I found helpful: Why Prologues often don't work.

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