Prologues, is there any point?

Tue, Jan 9 2018 09:53pm GMT 1
T B Carter
T B Carter
33 Posts
I posted back in August seeking advice on the first part of my first chapter and got some really helpful advice but lead to me completely rewriting the beginning of my book. Then for some reason (maybe because I use my account from multiple computers) I was unable to log on till today which was a bit gutting. None of the other forums really seem to have the sense of community this one does.

Anyway I never planned to have a prologue but this one suddenly came to me, and I believe explains some things about my main character. I've included the first couple of paragraphs of the first chapter too. I'm struggling with the wording of the rules listed at the end of the prologue which provide my main character with his motivation. They were meant to have been written by eight year olds but I need them to have a bit of character.

PROLOGUE

1991 – A village in the Kent Weald, England.

The two men looked down out of the first floor study window at the four children playing in the large, overgrown garden. “It looks like he’s settling in well, despite everything he’s been through.” The slightly younger man said, taking a sip of his tea.

“Yes, he and James seem to have become firm friends. He seems to be here more than he is next door. They actually seem to be having a positive effect on each other.”

“He’s well behaved then?” The younger man sounded surprised.

“Not especially, he’s a cheeky little bugger, afraid of nothing. Are you sure it was wise putting him with a childless couple with no fostering experience?”

“They both used to be teachers and I haven’t heard any complaints. You think they’re struggling?”

“Let’s just say I don’t think they’ll be taking on any other foster kids on for a while yet.” The older man sounded rather smug about the whole situation.

“Who are the other two kids then?”

“Oh, some school friends who live round the corner, they seem to have formed a club. They have rules and everything. Actually that’s one of the reasons why I called you.”

“You have a reason for concern?”

“Maybe, what do you make of this?” The older man gave the younger a photocopied piece of paper. The younger man read it and smiled.

“I wonder if they’ll let me join.”

“That’s not what I wanted to hear. For eight year olds they seem frighteningly organised.”

“You’ve been spending too long at the office dealing with real terrorists. They are just children, what’s the worst they could do?”

“Knowing that kid, something spectacular. No doubt James is probably going to cheer him on while he does it too. Right up until the Police, Fire Brigade and possibly the bomb squad arrive.”

“I’m glad you agree with our assessment of his potential.”

“I’d really rather he didn’t realise it in my back garden though. Also the fact your Agency is assessing the potential of an eight year old child gives me cause for concern.” The younger man laughed

“Do you mind if I keep this piece of paper?”

“Not at all, take it. Are you looking for some new rules for your secret society?”

“We could do worse. I don’t suppose any of your agents have had any word on any of our missing persons.”

“It’s been nearly four years now; we might be able to help more if you actually told us what we’re looking for.”

“That’s the problem, we’re not entirely sure ourselves.”

“We’re keeping an eye out; just don’t hold your breath. Now, what do you make of the latest from the Soviet Union?”

“I can’t see the current power structure lasting to the end of the year…” The two men talked Russian politics for another half hour before the younger one left. Before he got in his car, he looked at the photocopied piece of paper and smiled.

THE INTERESTING TIMES CLUB

Rule One Always say yes to adventure

Rule Two Fight injustice and evil wherever it is found

Rule Three Plan for the worst, hope for the best

Rule Four Don’t get caught

Rule Five Ask for forgiveness rather than permission

Rule Six Don’t hesitate when you have decided what to do


CHAPTER ONE

South London – February 2016

I hurried through the misty graveyard to the Chapel of Rest cursing London traffic and London bus drivers in particular for my lateness. The undertakers had already arrived, their hearse and a couple of limousines sat empty outside the chapel just in front of a badly parked Range Rover sitting at an angle, no doubt positioned for a quick getaway.

I snuck in through the heavy oak doors of the Victorian chapel as stealthily as I could, planning to blend in with the stonework by the door and pay my respects quietly. My plan almost worked too, only one head turned, it was James, my oldest friend, staunchest ally, co-founder of the Interesting Times Club and general bad influence. I hadn’t seen him for seventeen years but that didn’t mean he was going to let me get away with my late arrival
Wed, Jan 10 2018 10:56am GMT 2
Willow
Willow
123 Posts
I'm fond of a prologue myself, T B, and I think this one works. It sets up some interesting background for the characters. It's an intriguing start.
Wed, Jan 10 2018 11:15am GMT 3
Kate
Kate
1297 Posts
Really enjoyed this TBC, very hooky. Not only do you have something unusual going on with the children, but there's these mystery agencies involved which have problems of there own. Great stuff. Also love in chapter 1 the way the car is parked for a quick get away. Another great hook. I'd definately read on.
A few suggestions, and things I noticed.
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I would seriously consider swapping around your opening lines. Start with:
“It looks like he’s settling in well, despite everything he’s been through.” The slightly younger man said, taking a sip of his tea.
That puts the first hook right up front. Who wouldn't want to read on from that. The blander descriptive section of the two men looking out the window can then follow.
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Is it important that one of the men is 'slightly' younger. It's a bit wordy and pedantic, and I'd suggest just going with 'younger man'.
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“Yes, he and James seem to have become firm friends. He seems to be here more than he is next door. They actually seem to be having a positive effect on each other.
You've got 'seem' in here 3 times. It's a dodgy word at the best of times and tends to weaken statements. Personally I'd banish totally.
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other foster kids on for a while yet
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'they seem to have formed a club'
'Seem' again. They have definately formed a club, you've got the rules and everything, so there's no seem about it.
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'seem frighteningly organised'
Ok, maybe that 'seem' is justified, but you see how many times it's turning up.
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'No doubt James is probably going to cheer him on...'
The probably makes this sentence clumsy and I don't think is necessary.
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I don’t suppose any of your agents have had any word on any of our missing persons.”
Repetition of 'any' 3 times.
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just in front of a badly oddly parked Range Rover sitting at an angle, no doubt positioned for a quick getaway.
Love this idea, but the wording's a bit clumsy - have suggested a possible tweak.
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'I snuck in through the heavy oak doors of the Victorian chapel as stealthily as I could, planning to blend in with the stonework by the door and pay my respects quietly.'
I think you're over explaining slightly there. 'Snuck' is enough to show us he's being stealthy so I'd consider streamlining the sentence.
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I did have a few problems with the rules. The Interesting Times Club sounds like a suplement to the newspaper and I can't imagine 8 year olds calling their club this. You need something like The Crazy Adventure club. Perhaps you could come up with an acronym so when they're adults they don't have to refer to it by the childish name. As a poor example LOST club 'Lots Of Screaming Terror.'
I feel for the wording of the rules, you need to think of words that 8 year olds might use. For rule 2, this sounds like something out of a comic book, which I think works, but 3 & 5 sound much too complex for 8 years olds. Maybe something like 'Be ready for the bad stuff', for 3. Not sure about 5, maybe something about ignoring the parents? Rule 1, maybe get rid of the 'always', and rule 6 could be something like 'Just do it.'
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Hope some of that's helpful, but overall, fabulous job. Can I read more?
Wed, Jan 10 2018 11:48am GMT 4
Seagreen
Seagreen
2387 Posts
Agree with everything that Kate said, except I preferred ‘badly parked’ to ‘oddly parked’ (Sorry, Kate!) and Rule One is fabulous!
I like this. Would definitely read more.
Wed, Jan 10 2018 02:33pm GMT 5
bazbaron
bazbaron
1444 Posts
Hi TB, in answer to your title question I suppose it all depends on what you're using a prologue for. As it stands at the moment the only thing it's telling the reader is that a secret organization is on the look out for potential young persons (James) in particular, to train as possible future agents?

If that is the case, I think your first couple of paragraphs (once finalised) will supply enough intrigue to carry the reader forward by way of the MC discovering that his "cover" could be blown by being recognised by his friend and ally.

On that point, I notice that if James was 8 years old in 1991 when the MC was in 'the club' with him and meets him again in 2016 some 25 years later, yet you say he hasn't seen him in 17 years?

Baz.
Wed, Jan 10 2018 10:56pm GMT 6
T B Carter
T B Carter
33 Posts
Thanks for the constructive critisim, especially from Kate, you 'seem' to go through everyone's post and show us all ways to massively improve our writing.

Baz, James is not the MC, Xavier (who I don't name in the prologue) is, they are best friends till they leave secondary school, which by my admittedly dodgy maths is 17 years.

A historical note, the Soviet Union dissoved in 1991, maybe I need to make a bit more of this, these guys are spys after all.

Seagreen, you asked for more, read on.

He waved me over to a spare seat next to him in the middle of the surprisingly full but still bitterly cold room. I endured the glares of the disturbed congregation, not to mention the vicar whom I’d interrupted in mid prayer as I made my way up the aisle and sat on a slightly too small seat. I shook James’ proffered hand firmly as the vicar found his place again and waffled on. James winced slightly.

“Good to see you Xav, I was worried you weren’t coming.”

“Good to see you too. Blame the buses, I could have walked quicker.”

“You took the bus to Simon’s funeral? Shame on you.” I eyed up his tailored suit and discretely expensive watch.

“Is that your badly parked Chelsea Tractor out there?”

“Yeah, only took delivery of her a couple of days ago, she’s got the supercharged V8 engine...” The vicar unexpectedly announcing a hymn interrupted James’ enthusiastic whispering and everyone stood up. The hymn happened to be one we’d sung in school assembly quite frequently and there was only one reason why it would have been chosen. James caught my eye as we belatedly stood up, I nodded and after the familiar introduction we launched into Simon’s version of the lyrics, our tuneless singing quite audible over the unenthusiastic drone of the rest of the congregation. A black hatted, dark haired head in the front row turned to see what the commotion was and I locked eyes with the forth, final and only female member of the club. She gave us a grim smile and a go-on motion with her hand as we struggled to remember the alternative lyrics of the second verse. After what felt like forever, the hymn finally ended and we sat back down, regaining our relative anonymity.

“He married Debbie?” I asked James in amazement. He nodded.

The vicar got up and launched into a description of Simon’s life. It all sounded rather tedious, not that my life was exactly exciting at the moment. After uni he’d actually become an accountant for the local council, didn’t appear to have had any exciting hobbies. He was even a member of the PTA, possibly assuaging a guilty conscience.

“How did he die?” I asked James.

“Anaphylactic shock, he swallowed a bee whilst jogging.”

“I didn’t know he was allergic.”

“Nor did he, poor bugger, it was in the middle of winter too.”

“Kids?”

“Two. You would know these things if you’d actually kept in touch. They actually made me godfather.”

“So you’ve got to see to their spiritual upbringing now then.” We were both silent for a moment, both of us considering the unlikely combination of James and spirituality. I eventually broke the silence. “What’s Debbie do?”

“All three of us?”

“As a job, idiot.”

“Oh, she’s a Biology teacher. In a Secondary school.” James’ slightly awed tone indicated he considered this a highly hazardous profession on par with a bomb disposal engineer or a cycle courier.

“I wish we’d had a Biology teacher like her when we were at school.”

“I don’t know about you but she taught me rather a lot about comparative anatomy.”

“Oh, yes, now you come to mention it…” Our catch-up was brought to a halt as our already outraged neighbours shushed us and we sat the remainder of the service out in silence and watching the coffin slide into the back of the chapel to the highly inappropriate “Killer Queen.”

“It was meant to be ‘Another One Bites The Dust’.” James whispered to me, “but I thought this was more fitting.” I looked to where Debbie sat in the front row weeping and thought my oldest friend could be an insensitive git sometimes.

We left the chapel last, nodding greetings to old school friends we vaguely remembered, letting everyone else consol the widow before we made our appearance. Both Debbie and Simon’s parents were there and they didn’t look any happier to see us than when we were kids. Debbie however had a word with them and they took her confused kids in tow. She came over to us and without pause threw her arms around me.

“You came, you actually came,” she said into my coat as I held her tight.

“Hello Debs.” She detached herself and looked me over.

“You still give the best hugs. What happened to you anyway? You’re all muscles.”

“Twelve years in the Army does that. You look good, despite everything.”

“You look like James’ henchman.”

“Hey I’m one of the good guys, good guys have sidekicks.” James protested.

“After that stunt you pulled with the music you’re hardly a paragon of virtue, I almost pissed myself trying not to laugh. You park like a twat too.” She turned to me giving James the cold shoulder. “Are you and your fit body out of the army now?”

“I’ve been out a year.”

“He’s not that fit,” interrupted James, poking me in the stomach.

“He’s ten times fitter than you’ll ever be. Are you sure your dad’s not a stick insect? …And you, Xavier, you didn’t feel the need to get in touch with your old friends. You could have made it up with Simon before he died, dammit, you might have even been able to save him.”

“You know that wouldn’t have happened. He never forgave me for not looking at those exam papers.”

“Was that all your feud was all about? You never actually looked at the papers we nicked?” James exclaimed in exasperation.

“Pretty much, I got better A levels than all of you without cheating.”

“Smug git.”

“He is, isn’t he?” For just a moment, it felt like we were teenagers again until we remembered why Simon wasn’t there.

“I don’t want to hear about the club or those exam papers ever again. ‘May you live in interesting times’ is a curse and it’s not funny anymore.” Debbie began to cry, tears running down her face. I put my arm round her and she held on to me covering my good coat in snot.

“I hope that means we can still keep in touch.” James sounded upset. I wondered, with a sudden unexpected pang of jealousy if anything was still going on between them.

“Of course, you’re both welcome round anytime, especially you, Xav, just don’t ever mention that damn club in front of me again.”

“Are you okay, financially I mean?” James asked.

“I don’t think Simon ever took a risk again in his life after those exams, if I’d know how much he had in life insurance I’d have bumped him off a long time ago.” Debbie said, winced and then started to cry again. This time James took the brunt of the bogies. After Debbie regained some composure, we took her back to the waiting limousines, said hello to her by now, bored kids and watched her go on her way. The looks the parents gave us made it clear we wouldn’t be welcome at the wake.

“How old are her kids?” I asked as the limousines left the cemetery.

“Eight and five.”

“Poor sods.”

“I’ll keep an eye on them.”

“That’s what I’m worried about.”

“Since when did you become the responsible one? Come on Xav, I’ll give you a lift back to work.” James sounded almost subdued. I opened the door of the large off roader and admired the luxurious interior. James got in the driver’s seat and started it up, the sudden roar of the tuned engine destroying the peace and quiet of the graveyard.

“What have you been doing to get one of these? SO1, Specialist Protection or whatever they’re called this week?”

“No, unlike you I’m not really built for close protection duties. You get a gold star for noticing the blue strobes in the grill though.”

“Car thief?”

“No”

“Range Rover salesman?”

“No”

“Daddy bought it for you?”

“Oh god no.”

“Hacker?”

“Hmm… maybe, on occasion,” James put on a pair of chunky dark glasses despite the overcast sky.

“I know, you’re recruiting for a very posh ‘Blues Brothers’ tribute band.”

“If I was doing that I would have got someone who had some sort of musical talent, like your brother.”

“Umm... International man of mystery?” James laughed.

“Close, but my remit mostly confines me to the UK.” James put the car in gear. Instead of heading out the main gate, we headed further into the graveyard.

“What are you doing?”

“I’ve been told it’s a good idea not be predictable in my movements, take the back exit, that sort of thing. It’s a shortcut anyway.” He blasted through the graveyard at a very disrespectful speed and down a dirt track used by the cemetery workers which took us onto a quiet back road. He pressed a couple of buttons and blue strobe lights reflected off our surroundings as we accelerated away. James grinned madly, obviously enjoying himself as he turned down a long, straight but frighteningly narrow side road with cars parked both sides and accelerated hard. The speedo briefly read the wrong side of 100mph before James had to slam on the brakes crushing me into the seatbelt and then made a sharp left turn down an alley barely missing some bins.

“If you work for Uber I’m only giving you one star if we crash.”

“What makes you think I’ll ohhhh...that was close… crash,” he said narrowly avoiding an oblivious pedestrian. Despite the near miss, James’ driving skills seemed to verge on the supernatural.

“Did you know the average speed of Central London traffic is 9 mph?”

“I’ve never aspired to be average.”

“A little closer to the mean would be nice.” I said trying to sound disapproving and wipe a mad grin off my face. After a few more turns down narrow lanes and back alleys, we pulled smoothly into a private car park under a slightly run down three-storey art deco office building. Unfamiliar with London at the best of times I realised I hadn’t a clue where I was, South of the river was the best I could do.

“Enjoy the drive?”

“It beats being at work, which, by the way I’m not at.”

“It’s my work, not yours.”

“I did tell my boss I’d be back by lunchtime.” James gave me a look of disgust.

“Really? Is this the real Xavier Costella I’m talking to? The scourge of the Maidstone Grammar School”

“Hardly a scourge, more of a minor irritant now that I think back. Why have you brought me here?”

“Just to catch up in more cheerful surroundings, let’s get coffee.” I followed him across the garage that boasted a surprisingly intricate vaulted brick ceiling. Alongside the ubiquitous BMWs, Audis and Mercs you’d find in any office car park I noticed a couple of interesting shaped cars under dustsheets. I managed to quickly lift one of the covers to reveal the corner of what looked like a 1980s Rolls Royce but didn’t have time to investigate further before James left the garage.

We emerged into a pleasant red brick lined courtyard with tables and chairs, obviously a social area for the offices that overlooked it but it was totally deserted on this cold damp February morning. The building looked in much better repair and substantially older than the outside façade suggested and James motioned me through a set of French doors into a deserted eating area that was either a café or a very posh works canteen. “Two lattés and a plate of éclairs to the flat please Chloe,” James called over the counter.

“Okay, give me a minute,” came a voice from the back.

“Oh, send Kate up with the Trafalgar stuff too.”

“Not my job - but I’ll do it anyway.”

“You’re my favourite minion, you know that?”

“I bet you say that to all your minions.”
Thu, Jan 11 2018 11:44am GMT 7
Kate
Kate
1297 Posts
I remember your original now, TBC, it was at the pawn shop. This new opening is much more dynamic and I'm loving the humour. I enjoyed this new bit, but some of the sections felt a bit telly and overexplained. There were places which were wonderfully characterful, like when Debbie is crying over them, but I also felt you'd missed opportunites in other places and given a flat description. Try getting us more in X's thoughts. I've picked out the odd section so you can see what I mean.
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'He waved me over to a spare seat next to him in the middle of the surprisingly full but still bitterly cold room.' - That's quite flat and telly. Try putting us more in Xavier's head. Maybe something like 'Simon had more friends than I thought, and shit, this place was going to freeze my balls off.'
I endured that's filtering - try turning it around more into X's head 'The congregation looked knives at my back as...'the glares of the disturbed congregation, not to mention the vicar whom I’d interrupted in mid prayer as I made my way up the aisle and sat on a slightly slightly turns up a few times.Watch out for it too small seat. Again I think this could be more characterful 'and contorted into the too small seat.'
I shook James’ proffered hand firmly as the vicar found his place again and waffled on. James winced slightly.Slightly again. You tell us he shakes us firmly. Try showing, just say they shook hands and then have something like 'James winced and wriggled his finger.' The reader can work out from that what has happened.
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The hymn happened to be one we’d sung in school assembly quite frequently and there was only one reason why it would have been chosen. That's a really complicated sentence. What about 'The hymn was a school assembly regular and there was...'
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'unenthusiastic drone' over explaining. Drone on its own tells us everything.
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'straight but frighteningly narrow' - had to mention this one as it jumped out as bland. Something like butt-clenchingly narrow might be fun.
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I've just picked out some odd bit which might give you ideas for the rest. I'd say if you find yourself telling us something, try turing it around more into the characters head and try to think of a more unusal way that the character might think it. Remember that every word counts and needs to be doing its job
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I very much enjoyed, but I think a bit more polishing might make it spectacular. Just my opinions though, so ignore if they don't work for you.
Good luck with the editing.

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