1. nickbedford
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    nickbedford Member

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    Chapter 1 or prologue?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by nickbedford, Mar 28, 2010.

    Hi all,

    I'm a new writer and have been slowly working on the opening chapters of the novel I'm writing. It's science fiction as that is what seems to come naturally to me.

    My question is in regards to an opening scene I have. The problem is that my protagonist doesn't get introduced until the second chapter. This is because the first chapter is akin to kind of opening scene in a movie before the name flies in and the movie "officially" starts. Think of the opening sequence of Star Trek 2009 and after the "Star Trek" flies in, the movie skips to the present day.

    I have read a bit about writing prologues and I don't believe this would suit as the chapter is needed as a clue to what sets off basically the major story line.

    In reading what I have read of the few opening chapter ideas, it still feels a little disjointed between the opening chapter and the second, when the protagonist actually gets introduced.

    In writing the protagonist's introduction, should I work out a way of slowly introducing who he is? In what I wrote in a bout of writing early on, he is essentially introduced in the first sentence and I think this is what is giving me some grief.

    Any tips on this sort of thing?

    Here's an excerpt so you can see (Kuris Quin is the protagonist):

    Maybe I could flesh out his character by having some general interaction with crew members or other such things before actually getting to the part where he sees the shadow being cast on the wall.

    Thanks for any help.

    I've since written a few sentences of the second chapter which feels a little better. Instead of shoving the character straight into the opening paragraph, I have the vessel he is on drifting in orbit. It explains shortly why it was sent there and then I will lead into the introduction of the character in the second or third paragraph.

    Does this sound like a better way to "switch" to the new setting and finally introduce the protagonist?

    Something along the lines of:

     
  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I always think that starting with an explanation or even an introduction is dangerous. Reading through explanation, without action, is work - it's delayed gratification. Once the reader's interested in your story and has some commitment to it, then he may be willing to work, but I don't think that it's wise to ask it of him right from the first sentence.

    So I'd skip the prologue, skip the full name, skip the briefing, and start with the shadow. A man, a shadow, a danger. I'd shove your character into the situation in the first sentence of the book. For example:

    ----
    The first blow came before Kuris could focus on the shadow, and dropped him to the deck. The lights from the mess hall flickered at the same moment, then cut out altogether, leaving him in darkness broken only by the status light above the lift at the end of the corridor. As Kuris gained his feet, unsnapping his weapon, Nelson was already shouting orders in the mess...
    ----

    I'm not saying that my few lines up there are _good_, but I'm trying to demonstrate that I'd start with the action, and as much as possible I'd tuck the explanations in without them being obvious as such. As I see it, the word "deck" tells us that it's a vessel, "mess hall" that it's military, the dark corridor that it's enclosed, the lift that it's modern and possibly large, the weapon that he's probably a uniformed military man, and the word "orders" provides further proof that the situation is military. And the reader knows that the book is science fiction before he starts, so he already has a context for where these hints are going to take him.

    Soon, Nelson can address him by rank and give him an order that provides more information. Kuris can tell Nelson about the shadow. When he does, someone can express the theory that Kuris has been logging too many flying hours or that he may have gravity sickness.

    Kuris can be scrubbed from some very important escort mission to the nebula, and the scientist who will be a key character can complain and get him put back on the mission, providing some key information about the man and the mission and the scientist's importance and the scientist's relationship with Kuris and Nelson. And so on.

    (I realize that I don't have a clue what your shadow's actually going to do; I'm just making assumptions in order to provide the example. Though if it is just going to be a peaceful, "Hmm, that was odd" moment, I might suggest a more exciting moment to start the book.)

    Now, I'm new at this too, so I'm coming more from a reader's than a writer's point of view - as a reader, I'm irritated by explanation at the beginning. I suppose, too, that I'm giving another variant of the "show, don't tell" advice.

    ChickenFreak
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Don't use a prologue unless you have a compelling reason for doing so.

    Opening with scene setting is ok, but keep it brief. You want to bring your first character into the story as quickly as possible. That first character need not be your main character, but a character doing something gets the story rolling. Don't worry too much that the reader isn't sure exactly what is going on. In fact, it can pique the reader's curiosity and keep him or her reading to find out.
     
  4. OPTiiMUM
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    OPTiiMUM Member

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    It all depends on the situation or context.

    Personally, I believe a Prologue is useful as an introduction of sorts, maybe introducing a character or important event.

    The 1st (2nd including the prologue) chapter would then go to introduce the main character and you will start to see why the prologue was important.

    Other than that, and ecspecially if your planned 1st and 2nd chapters include the same main character using a chronological order of events, just use chapter 1, 2, 3 etc.
     
  5. nickbedford
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    nickbedford Member

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    Thanks for the advice, ChickenFreak. The examples that you provided actually do draw me in and get me into the action straight away. I see your point about keeping the explanation of the scene to the plot devices, revealing details about the situation, the ship environment and the character's military status through the use of their actions and current locations.

    What I think I may do is move the plot of the first chapter until later on. For example, the scene with the alien then an Ourian vessel shows up and attacks Quin's vessel thinking that an attack on their mining installations some time ago were from his military command. It turns out that a similar object they were investigating had destroyed the installations. etc etc.

    Being new to storytelling, I thought I would need to explain where in the hell we are, because it's not entirely you're typical aliens abound, technologically marvelous 3000 A.D affair. I've chosen to have an extended history that reaches all the way to 46,000 A.D with no "magical aliens" being found. Almost like the modern space program slowly evolving and humans expanding and discovering new technology.

    In other words, it simply took humans that long to get to this highly technological era and then migrate to another galaxy, yet they had never come across any sentient species.

    I think that also explaining too much can restrict my flexibility later on too by committing myself to too much too soon. Not to say my way or your or another person's method is better than the other, it depends on the intention, but I did feel more compelled to keep reading the type of scene your example was portraying than reading about where the ship was orbiting around the nth nebula in some galaxy, then Quin walking down a corridor, etc.

    Thanks a lot, it's revealed a different way of going about revealing exactly where and when the whole story is taking place.

    Yeah, ChickenFreak gave me some good examples of just what I could do with regards to getting the story underway and enticing the user.

    I did feel as if I was not too into what was being told but wasn't sure whether launching straight into the action would be too much or not or might confuse the user having had no predisposition to the backdrop of the story.

    I feel for the novel, suspense or action would be the best way as it forms a primary element of it. Suspense, action and plain old sci-fi are my intentions.

    EDIT: Wowzers, I've almost had an epiphany and a whole new version of the "opening scene" has appeared in my head. I won't post too much but here's a few sentences:

    Am I on the right track do you think?
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    At this point, you are moving away from the original question and starting to ask for critique. This is not the place for critique.

    I will say that getting right into the action is a good way to start any story. That need not mean all out battle, as long as you have a character doing something. It doesn't have to be a main charfacter, either, because the reader won't know whether the character is important or not. But it should be relevant to the story, as should every passage in the book.
     

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