Thursday, November 13, 2008

Where do I stand? - Payne

Where do I stand with my work-in-progress novel, Shelter from the Storm?

First, I started with longhand, writing in a three-ring spiral binder. Then, I typed it all into the computer and continued to write my chapters on the screen. I sent chapter by chapter to The Word Guild’s online critique forum, ReVision, and received helpful feedback. I brought chapters to my monthly writer’s group, The Writer’s Crucible, for editing and critiquing help. I took a few days and sat with an editor to work on the copy to ensure that each word was exactly what it should be. I gave the manuscript to three different readers for their thoughts. I read the entire novel out loud.

I felt it was ready for the Best New Author contest. I printed it, filled out the proper paperwork, and hand-delivered it. I kissed it goodbye and prayed that it would make it on the short-list at the very least.

It didn’t make the short list.

I shelved it.

It’s been a year since I submitted to the contest. I am finally ready to return to the editing stage. I plan to take it one chapter at a time and add more humour to make it a more enjoyable read, especially since the subject matter is heady. I plan to play with the romance between Heather and Dr. Mott.

But in doing so, I realize that I must change my prologue or maybe even cut it out entirely. Ouch. A prologue must contribute to the plot. It has to reveal significant, relevant facts, to supply information that is vital to the understanding of the plot. It needs to set the novel in motion with a strong, usually emotion-charged event; at the same time, it needs to create an immediate affinity towards the protagonist.

Let’s have a look:


“Caitlin. Caitlin!” I called. I looked down the beach; no little girls. I scanned the bushes. No little girls. I ran towards the playground. “Caitlin! Caity-Cat! Caitlin!” I stood under the monkey bars and eyed the play centre. No Caitlin. I looked over to the swings. No Caitlin. My hands began to sweat. My heart pounded in my chest.
I ran towards the parking lot, screaming her name all the way. She wasn’t there. Where was she? Dear God, don’t let anything happen to my daughter!
Across Lake Simcoe, I could see the clouds had grown tall and billowy. Thunderclouds. They had rolled in swiftly. They blocked out the sun. Goosebumps rippled over my flesh.
I bolted across the small baseball diamond toward the concession stand. Closed. No one there. “Caitlin!” My voice broke in panic. I turned back towards the lake. The water looked dark blue, almost black. The wind blew loose garbage over the beach. I heard the sound of wheels scraping along the pavement. A young man, rollerblading along the path, slowed down. “You looking for someone?”
“Yes, yes. My daughter. I can’t find Caitlin. Have you seen a little red-head?”
“About so high?” He held his hand at his hip.
“Is that her over there?” he asked and pointed towards the bathrooms. “Caitlin!” Relief flooded my body. “Thank you. Thank you. Yes, that’s her.” I hurried to my daughter. Kneeling on one knee in front of her, I grabbed her shoulders. “Oh, Caitlin.” I didn’t know whether to hug her or scold her. “You scared me half to death!” I pulled her close. “Don’t ever, ever do that again.”
Caitlin’s eyes filled with tears. “I’m sorry, Mommy.”
I stood and picked her up, her freckled legs straddling my hips. I hid my face in her thick hair and breathed in the smell of sunscreen and lake water. “Oh, no Caitlin. It’s okay. Mommy didn’t know where you were. I’m sorry for yelling. I was so scared you were gone. Don’t ever leave Mommy.”
I whimpered as I carried her back to our beach blanket. “I don’t know what I’d do if you ever got hurt.”

I realize that I developed my prologue as a tool to give hints about what’s to come later in the plot – to foreshadow. I believe this chapter sets the novel in motion and gives hint to what is going to happen later in the story.
But if I want to change the tone of my entire novel, then I must change the tone of my prologue. There is obviously no hint of humour in this. There is no hint of romance.
I can either take out the prologue or change it to reflect the new tone of the novel. What would you do?

Kimberley Payne


violet said...

Would you consider dropping the prologue altogether? That's what Elmore Leonard would suggest. I happened to see a smidge about him on the Biography Channel yesterday and he referred to his rules of writing. They're here.

N. J. Lindquist said...

Good idea to let it sit for a while. I'm currently revising a book after hearing similar words - needs more work! :)

As for prologues, the Sisters In Crime chat group I'm on has been discussing prologues recently, and they tend to agree that in the majority of cases the prologue takes away from the story rather than adding to it.
It usually doesn't advance the plot, and it can be somewhat confusing or even off-putting.
The role of the first chapter is to grab the reader's interest. No need to add a prologue to do that.

The best use of a prologue is to show something that happened some time prior to the actual opening of the book that has an impact on the book. Any other prologues probably aren't necessary, and even in this instance, it may well not be necessary since it's too easy to give away too much of a hint as to the plot.

Prologues are best used in the hands of master writers who know exactly what they're doing and why.

Kimberley Payne said...

I read that a good test is to drop the prologue and see if the story still makes sense. In the case of my novel, I believe that it does. So although a ton of work and revision went into the prologue I'm gonna have to axe it. sigh
This now opens up the problem of what to do with the epilogue!

Bonnie Grove said...

Ack! What happens to Catlin!

I want to read more!

Kimberley Payne said...

Hey Bonnie,

Now that's what I wanna hear!!!! :)


DJ said...

So do we get to read the rest of the book? :-)
Should you send it out to a publisher or two before you rewrite it? Just because something is not picked in a contest does not mean it isn't wanted somewhere else. Some of the contests I have entered would never pick what I write because it is not what the judges have a taste for. So I fix what needs fixing and target it for an editor that is looking for what I have to offer. Then I either write something else for that contest or find a different contest. (Don't get me wrong, I'm not arguing with your decision to rewrite, but I wouldn't rewrite for just that reason...)
Good luck!

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