Well, I promised we’d get into the meat of the story last week, but actually, it’s the dreaded prologue. Some people love ‘em, some hate ‘em, but they’re a standard feature of fantasy books these days and I included one in the first draft.
Now it’s time to ask several questions: is it necessary? Does it achieve its intended purpose? Does it make the opening of the book interesting enough to draw potential readers in?
Now, my prologue is the execution, the scene about which the whole book rotates. This story is about a nice man who is executed. I didn’t want his death to be a surprise to the reader, as that’s not the point (the point is whether or not he deserved it). There’s also something poignant in fiction in following the life of a man you know will die (of something other than old age). After this prologue, we go on to see the three or four days leading up to the execution, and then the three days after it.
That’s not an unworthy purpose for a prologue, so it’s possibly worth keeping it. I’ve decided I will, for now – it’s a scene that has to be used eventually, whether I keep it as the opener, or put it in chronologically, so I might as well write it out properly.
Let’s now look at the first paragraph. This is a really important paragraph, the first thing your readers will ever read of your book. If it doesn’t have some interest or intrigue for them, they won’t go further. There’s hundreds of other books crying for their attention.
(I have to be honest here: I rarely disregard a book based on its first paragraph – I give it 50 pages unless it honestly is that awful. But I have to assume others – especially publishers – do make that snap decision).
My opening paragraph:
The cresset-bearer of the City of Brass, he who acted as town crier and nightwatchman and lamplighter and performer of other night duties, led the condemned man to the execution gate.
On the one hand, an opening like “the cresset-bearer of the City of Brass led the condemned man to execution gate” has a certain elegant immediacy to it.
Unfortunately, I obviously felt the need to explain what a cresset-bearer is, since the term would be foreign and possibly confusing to most readers. I must have also wanted to give a flavour of the city too, that it is one of those places that has defined names and roles for everyone, even for the lamp-lighter and hand-holder of condemned men.
However, it does muddy the opening and is not a particularly attractive start.
It has occurred to me to play with the points of view in the book. In this first draft, Ro (the condemned man) narrates the first half, and his daughter narrates the second half (since Ro is now dead), both in third person. There’s incidents in the book, however, that still move the story forward but also might benefit from being narrated by other minor characters in first person – this is because one of the recurring elements is the idea of storytelling, the I-voice. I know this from my re-read through, and with this idea in mind, perhaps I could re-write the execution scene from the point of view of the cresset-bearer.
I am the cresset-bearer of the City of Brass. My duties are night duties. I light lamps. I cry the news of the city. I take the hand of men fated to die and lead them to the execution gate.
The problem with editing your own work is that it’s hard to know if a change is for the better or not. But for now, I’m just going to push on with this format.