Category Archives: writing tip

Sometimes you just have to admit when an idea isn’t working #amwriting #writingcommunity #writingtips

I generally like to think I have the hang of putting a plot together. I’ve published eighteen novels, a writing guide, writing courses, hundreds of short stories and more than a dozen serials.

Recently, though, for the first time in years, I gave up on an idea (though I termed it ‘putting it on the back burner’ because that sounds less defeatist than ‘gave up’). I wrestled with it in a large notebook and a small notebook. I printed out what I had and made notes on it. I cut bits out of a notebook and tried to force some kind of order and spark into the operation. I even wrote with different coloured pens.

Nope.

What had seemed like a great idea on Sunday was dead by Tuesday, even though I had what seemed like some promising elements:

  • A setting – Malta, one of my favourite places in the world
  • conflicts
  • a past issue between hero and heroine (not always necessary but often helpful)
  • sympathetic characters (designed for readers to like)
  • unsympathetic characters (who readers will probably curl their lips at)
  • secondary characters
  • a pivotal character (again not vital but I like to recognise when there’s a character without whom the plot wouldn’t work)
  • appropriate careers for hero and heroine
  • a contemporary issue to shine a light on

…but the idea didn’t ‘work’.

So, what went wrong? I think I had a list, not a plot. If a plot is a map through a story, mine had no roads – just the places, and nothing to link them. It feels like a pretty rookie error that I forgot my own first principle – make the conflicts of hero and heroine in some way impact upon one another. Make him want to develop a property and her have reason to try and stop the development; or have them both want to help an elderly character but have opposing views on how to do it. In other words, make sure they have a stake in each other’s story.

I didn’t start in the wrong place in my story, I started in the wrong place in my planning.

Not every writer plans, but I do. My planning is often haphazard, the method varies from book to book, but, as I’ve just found out, it’s important to get it right.

Luckily – I have another idea to work on, so I think I’ll just get on with that.

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Filed under Authors, Malta., Plotting, readers, reading, Sue Moorcroft, Writers, writing, writing tip

#WritingTip: should I write a prologue?

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I’m always surprised when someone tells me editors, agents and readers don’t like prologues. Many of my books have a prologue. No editor has asked me to remove one and I’ve even been specifically asked to include one. As a reader, I love them. I find them intriguing.

What do I think a prologue is? Typically, three to five pages of introductory material. Its importance often doesn’t become clear until it shows itself as a catalyst or significant background to the main story. It’s often characterised by being distanced from the opening of Chapter One in time or location so wouldn’t flow easily into Chapter One.

Are prologues necessary? I think the easiest litmus test is to take out the prologue and see if a book still makes sense. If it does then I guess it was written to “set the mood”. But if it later proves crucial to the backstory and/or will impact the main plot, it’s earning its place. In The Little Village Christmas the prologue is made up of a conversation between Ben and his mother. It’s about what he’s just lived through and why he’s in such a rocky emotional state. There were reasons for me deciding to write the scene as the prologue rather than include the information elsewhere in the book:

  • I wanted the reader to know this about Ben but I didn’t want the heroine, Alexia, to. Her not knowing creates conflict between them that lasts for most of the first part of the book.
  • Knowing his backstory would allow the reader to forgive his inconsistent behaviour towards Alexia in the first couple of chapters.
  • I didn’t want to tell the reader everything about Ben’s past. I wanted them to know there was still lots to uncover.
  • I write from at least two points of view and I like the first and last chapters to be through the eyes of the heroine, not the hero. Giving Ben the Prologue was like an aside.

I like my prologues to be:

  • short, so readers aren’t wrong-footed when Chapter One begins
  • self-contained, to some degree so they’re not dissatisfied by the transition to Chapter One
  • comprehensible but intriguing.

The reader knows full well while reading a prologue that the real story is waiting and some people think it makes the readers start the book twice. Is this a bad thing? In The Little Village Christmas it meant readers had to first immerse themselves in Ben’s past, his old world in his old house near Swindon and then immerse themselves in Alexia’s present world in Middledip, but this could just as easily have happened in Chapters One and Two. I tried to make sure it was worth the readers’ mental energy by treating both the prologue and Chapter One like the opening of a novel in terms of energy and impact. Each were emotional and gave the readers plenty to think about.

Having a prologue gives me the chance to hook the readers in twice in other words.

My favourite prologue was in Starting Over. It was only one page and took the form of an email from Tess’s fiancé, telling her their relationship was over. A lot of readers said, ‘I just had to read on to find out what happened next!’ I counted that a success.

You may also like:

What happens in Chapter One?

Chapter Two and beyond

Final Chapter(s) and (possible) Epilogue 

Act, react and interact – breathing life into my characters

My plotty head, Fiction Land and my dad

Descriptive writing

Learn about publishing

Agent or no agent?

24 Comments

Filed under christmas, ebook, HarperCollins, Paperback, Prologue, readers, reading, Starting Over, Sue Moorcroft, The Little Village Christmas, Writers, writing, writing tip