Today, I would like to welcome Josh Davis to The Town’s End Tribune! He is a very experienced writer with loads of knowledge, and I’m hoping to share his thoughts on a regular basis. So, without further ado… Here’s Josh!
I’ve been writing professionally off and on for over ten years now. It all started with a gig as a sportswriter for a local weekly newspaper in my hometown of Appomattox, Virginia. Then, I served as a contributor (and later as the general editor) of a Mixed Martial Arts news website. While I was editor, web traffic was increased by over 1600%, unique page views per month increased by nearly 600%, and we won numerous awards for our content. During that time, I was also winning awards for my poetry, and working on my own blog, the (now defunct) Laymen’s Theology blog, and working on novels. Since January of 2015, I have been writing full time, achieving the dream of writing for a living as a freelance ghostwriter and editor while I keep working on my own things, earning nearly $30,000 as a writer last year.
In March of this year, my wife (Patricia) and I started a publishing company together, and our first release achieved #1 on no less than six best-seller lists on Amazon.com.
I say all this, not to brag, but to illustrate the simple fact that I know what I’m talking about. If I give out tips or information, it’s because I know that it works and will increase the overall quality of your writing. So, drawing on my over ten years of experience as a pro, I started my #WritingTipsWithJosh series of videos on my YouTube channel. I try to post a writing tip video every Thursday, to help the aspiring writer to improve as a writer. After all, my personal motto is, “never stop learning.”
And it is with that intention in mind that I illustrate the key points of my video from this week, regarding introductions and prologues in fictional stories.
Introductions, while pivotal in non-fiction books and articles because they introduce the reader to the material, are one of the worst things that you can put in a fictional story. They serve only to ruin the story itself, because readers do not want you to tell them what they are going to read, they want to read it. More importantly, the information in an introduction is often simply a repeat of the information they’ve already digested in the book description. After all, any discerning reader will read reviews and book descriptions to determine if the story is one that will interest them. So, never include an introduction in fictional stories.
As to prologues, they are a slightly trickier animal. It would be very easy to say “don’t include prologues either,” but the fact is, prologues can actually serve a purpose if handled with care. The trick is to make the prologue matter.
For example, let’s look at one of the best-selling fictional stories ever written: J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.
The first chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone serves as the prologue to the story. Rowling masterfully sets the stage with information that matters to the story. Hagrid mentions that he borrowed the motorcycle that he delivered Harry with from “young Sirius Black.” Black, of course, is not mentioned again until the third book in the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. We see Professor Dumbledore leave a letter with the infant Harry’s sleeping form. We never know the contents of that letter until the fifth book in the franchise, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
More immediately, we read that Harry’s cousin, Dudley, pokes and prods at Harry for the next few weeks, foreshadowing the abuse that the Dursley’s put young Harry through until his eleventh birthday.
While not a true prologue, the first chapter of the series demonstrates all the qualities that we look for in a prologue. It is filled with plot points and conflicts that never fully come to fruition until later (and sometimes, much later) in the series. The motorcycle, for example, is used in the third book to illustrate Sirius’s hand in the death of Harry’s parents. The fact that Professor McGonagall is able to shape shift into a cat sparks Hermione’s search for incriminating forms of bugging in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. In the fifth book, we learn that Professor Dumbledore told the Dursley’s that Harry’s life would be in extreme danger if they ever turned him out, resulting in his being allowed to stay in the house in Order of the Phoenix.
These are the qualities that we look for in great prologues…setting up plot points that matter. The key is to avoid dumping information onto the readers, immediately turning them off from the characters that we have spent so much time getting to know and falling in love with ourselves. After all, if we don’t love our characters, the reader won’t either.
Writing compelling stories is less like The Notebook and more like Saving Private Ryan. We have to fight to earn the privilege of having readers read even one more word. Speaking from experience, there is no greater feeling that seeing our words have the desired impact on the reader. We want readers to cry with our characters, laugh with them, rejoice with them, and leave the worlds that spring forth from our minds feeling as if there is something missing. We want them to become so immersed in the story that they are compelled to turn the page, simply to find out what happens next.
Do you really want to turn them off just because you couldn’t restrain yourself from dumping all the information you can into a few pages at the front of your brilliantly composed novel? If your answer is “no”, then avoid prologues as much as possible, and never use an introduction to your fictional story. If your answer is anything other than “no”, you need to find a new line of work.
Josh Davis is a writer, editor, and publisher in his hometown of Appomattox, Virginia. He has been married to his high-school sweetheart, Patricia, for almost eight years and the couple has three children, Ivy (7), Nathaniel (6), and Christine (2). He is an avid fisherman and golfer, and loves to watch his favorite football team, the Tennessee Titans in the fall.
He currently has one novel and one biopic in the works, Stockholm Syndrome and Power of One, respectively. You can learn more about his work as a writer at Josh Davis, Writer. You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter. For more information about his company, you can visit the Davis Publishing Company Facebook page and website.
For more writing tips and tricks, subscribe to his YouTube channel. To have your questions answered, use the #WritingTipsWithJosh hashtag on Facebook and Twitter.