Yesterday I posted an excerpt from late in the novel, in part to entertain, but as I mentioned I also had another reason. I’m wondering if that passage should become the prologue for the novel. I’d like your opinion. Now to explain —
Not all novels start with a bang. Until the 20th century, most of them didn’t. The characters were introduced, sometimes at the end of a long parentage, and the action followed. A little foreshadowing, perhaps; a choice phrase to let people know what the stakes are, as in Pride and Prejudice‘s famous opening line; maybe a small gesture, like the bishop giving Jean Valjean his candlesticks or Pip helping Fagin go free, but one that will grow. Even in slender The Great Gatsby Nick Carraway gets a couple of pages to complain about his job before the bad parties start.
The readership has changed its taste, partly due to the faster pace of genre fiction, partly due to the cliffhanger narrative structure of film and television. Also there are simply fashions, and one takes part, lest one appear clueless and fuddy-duddy. People now want a little amuse-bouche, something to let them know that long interlude with only bread and a cocktail will end in something tasty. Recently I heard Dennis Lehane talk about his new book, which (if I remember correctly) starts with a man being set in concrete before being thrown to his drowning death; Lehane said that after a reading, a fan told him that the new book was OK, once the action picked up.
My problem is that I can’t really make anything explode right up front. It’s a book that speeds up. One of the themes is how life-changing events mostly get meandered into, their event horizons only visible in hindsight. And, as I noted in the post one before last, I had to set myself a few limits to keep my novel under control, one of which was — no flashbacks.
But I think I need a flash-forward. I might call it a prologue, in deference to traditional terminology. Really it’s a teaser, some fun before the credits, a way of saying, “I know it starts slow; just give it a chance.” I also think that “The Briefing” is a good teaser. Not a lot happens other than talk, but the supernatural barges its way into obviousness; the offhand mention of a rapist makes it clear this is not Narnia; we learn there has been conflict and will be more, and as spoilers go it’s pretty minimal.
This should be a no-brainer, but I’d like a second opinion, and a third and a fourth and more. Ideally you’d have already read what has until now been the beginning, or maybe not. Maybe just, if the first pages of the book were this, or close to this (perhaps a couple more lines describing the characters) — would you keep reading?
Thanks for thoughts. I’ll take likes as “yes, go with it.”