4 Types of Prologues

Satellite View Of StarsThere’s an ongoing debate about prologues. Do you need them? Are they superfluous? Do they set up the story, or should you cut ‘em and get to chapter one already?

Plenty of opinions exist, and many opinions have to do with taste. So, before we jump on the “prologues never contribute to the story” bandwagon, I think the first step is to identify what kind of prologue one is writing and the objective of that prologue. We need to know what we’re writing and why, before we let  the opinions of what’s “in vogue” influence our writing decisions.

Let’s take a look at four different kinds of prologues.

1) Future Protagonist

This prologue is written in the same voice and style as the main story and from the POV of the same protagonist. When done really well, this kind of prologue changes everything the reader thought. As the reader continues with the story, there’s a point when he will come to understand why the prologue was included. When this reason becomes clear, the reader’s perspective of the story undergoes some kind of change. The reader has an “Ah-ha!” moment. An example of this type of prologue can be found in Unleaving by Joan Paton Walsh.

2) Past Protagonist

Something happened to the protagonist in the past that the reader has to know. Batman’s back story is an example of this. You have to know that his parents were murdered to understand the story and his motivations. This type of prologue usually includes a strong emotional event that starts off the story. Examples of this type of prologue: Pixar’s Up, The Scorpio Races, Smoke and Bone, and Batman.

3) Different Point of View

This prologue is not told from the POV of the protagonist. In this case, the writer has to justify this switch; the relevance MUST be made clear and the pay off has to be worth the disruption of the narrative voice. A successful example of this would be Boy in the Burning House by Tim Wynne-Jones.

4) Background Prologue

This is the kind of prologue that gives prologues a bad wrap. This  prologue somehow explains setting and back story. But It can also be a “bit of a trudge.” The writer has to be careful to make sure that the information shared in a background prologue is relevant to the story. It’s not an excuse to share exposition, which is often found in science fiction and fantasy novels that start with trudging prologues. This information has to be truly necessary.

A spin-off of this type of prologue is the background montage, which in effect, is a back story prologue in a film. You see these in movies and television shows like: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Hobbit, Amelie, Pushing Daises, and Maleficent. This technique is often more successful in film due to the short time frame. Where as, an author has more time and opportunity to share back story and exposition in a book. The film viewer tends to be more forgiving of a background montage than the reader is of a background prologue.

Looking for more resources on prologues? Try these:

Querying Your Opening Pages to an Agent? Get an Insider’s Feedback Before You Hit “Send”.

gI_75614_LitReactor logoGuest Post by Shannon M. Parker

Hello, loyal Ingrid’s Notes followers! Most of you know that Ingrid’s YA debut, ALL WE LEFT BEHIND will publish in 2015 from Simon Pulse. My own YA debut, CRUSHING, will publish under the same imprint in 2016. And, as if being this Ingrid-adjacent wasn’t awesome enough, she and I also have the same agent. That’s right. It’s my whole promotional strategy for my upcoming book: To scream to the writing world that I am an agent and imprint sister to Ingrid Sundberg. Because she’s that awesome. And because I admire her writing SO MUCH. I’m certain you agree. And I’m certain you know Ingrid’s route to publication. Now, she and I want to help you with your road to publication. How? Well, Ingrid invited me to chat about my upcoming online class at www.LitReactor.com that aims to polish polish polish your first ten pages—helping them stand out in an agent’s inbox.

Perfect 10

10 Ways Aspiring Authors Can Benefit from “The Perfect Ten” Workshop:

1. Indulge in a Literary Spa Day: Literacy agencies typically request opening pages as part of the query submission process. They want to know you can write more than a query letter. They want to experience the voice in your novel, get pulled in by the tension of your story. Immediately. Or they will move on to the next query—and there are always other queries to comb through.

“The Perfect Ten” will be like whitening your manuscript’s teeth for an interview, giving it that spankin’ new, professional haircut. You’ll work with the instructor (moi) and other students to make your pages pretty. Well, beautiful, really—beautifully effective.

2. Find Community: LitReactor is an online resource for published and aspiring authors. This course will give you a chance to connect with writers who are at the same stage of the process as you, while enjoying access to articles from industry greats. Where else can you find:

  • Suzy Vitello, Goddess of Prose
  • Mandy Hubbard, Agent & Author Extraordinaire
  • Chuck Palahniuk, Industry God
  • You
  • People Like You

3. Get Validation: It’s HARD to send your pages off to an agent. So hard. You crave acceptance, but the industry is filled with rejection. And the nerves and the waiting and the nerves are enough to make anyone batty. This course will help you engage with classmates to see what’s working in your pages, what already has the reader clambering for more…

And what’s not working for the reader and why.

4. Gain Critiquing Skills: This class will help you with those opening pages, but it will also provide you with tools to help you edit deeper into your work-in-progress, as well as future manuscripts.

5. End the Loneliness: Writing can be a lonely business. No one thinks it’s healthy to be stuck behind your desk all alone. So, take an online workshop and be stuck behind your desk with other lonely writers who cling to their characters for social interactions.

6. Find a Crit Partner: While there is no guarantee this will happen, it happens all. the. time. Makes sense, really. After all, you’ll be connecting with other writers embarking on the same journey.

7. Make your Pages Sing: Tighten tension; invite us to love your characters instantly; build a believable world; perfect pacing.

8. Learn From Peers: Critiquing another’s work is a great exercise for helping you determine the strengths and weakness of your own work. LitReactor provides a safe, supportive community where we all upload our thoughts, fears, dreams and writerly hopes (as well as our pages) onto a shared Discussion Board. The Board allows you to pop on when it’s convenient for you, and it allows you access to see all of your classmates’ works and the feedback they receive from the instructor and each other. There’s always strength in numbers!

9. Indulge in One Week: It’s easy to say we’re too busy and prioritize other things over our writing. But one week? This intensive will allow you to do all that other pesky stuff (like parenting, working, breathing) AFTER the course if over

10. You wanna: I know you wanna join us. I just know it…

Ingrid discusses where to start with your query process in her blog post from September 1stQuerying 101. If you know who you want to query and want your pages spit-shined, join us at LitReactor for The Perfect Ten workshop. I can’t wait to see you there! For lots of details on the class, including a daily syllabus, head over to:

LitReactor Perfect 10 Workshop Info

Thanks for taking the time to read my guest blog today.

You can find me blogging at www.shannonmparker.com

And tweeting @shannonmparker

Come. Be. Perfect. (Don’t forget to bring your imperfections!)

Shannon_HeadshotShannon M. Parker is the author of the YA novel Crushing, due out in Spring, 2016 from Simon Pulse, a division of Simon & Schuster. Her short stories have been published and won awards, but she’s happiest when writing novels. She is a proud member of SCBWI, and a passionate administrator for The Sweet Sixteens, a group of remarkable children’s authors debuting in 2016.

Shannon is an educator who has earned degrees from Saint Michael’s College in Vermont, University of Massachusetts at Boston and University of Southern Maine. For nearly twenty years, Shannon has been dedicated to eradicating adult illiteracy and believes we should all have equal access to participatory citizenry.

 

 

Should You Take the Job?

freelance2Today’s post isn’t about writing per-say, but it is about the business of writing.

If you want to make a living as a writer at some point you’re probably going to do a little freelance work. That work may be writing an article, accepting a work-for-hire gig, or even ghostwriting. And as these opportunities present themselves you’re going to have to decide if you want the job or not. Because trust me, you aren’t going to want (or have time for) every one.

So how do you decide which jobs to accept?

I’ve been a freelance illustrator and writer for over eight years. I’ve slugged through pitfalls, failures, and soul-sucking jobs, wondering if it’s all really worth it. But one simple tool has made all the difference. Before accepting any job, I now ask myself these three questions:

1) Is the job good money? Will the client pay me what I’ve asked them to pay me?

2) Will I be working with good people?

3) Will I be creatively challenged and inspired? 

If the answer to all three of these questions is YES, then it’s a great job. I should take it!

If the answer to two of these questions is YES, then it’s a good job. It’s definitely worth considering. But, I need to decide how important the question that came up as a NO is to my current situation.

If I came up with one (or fewer) YES responses, then this isn’t a job I should take. Move on to better things!

I know it may seem odd to pass up a work opportunity. But if you take too many jobs that only fulfill one of the criteria I’ve mentioned, you’re going to burn out really quickly. The last thing you want to do is give up on something that was once your passion. Be sure to ask yourself these three questions. It will help to ensure that you always love writing.

Writing Quote: Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood Quote

This quote is at the beginning of the compelling documentary Stories We Tell  by actress/writer/director Sarah Polley. I highly suggest this film. It’s a fascinating example of how stories are constructed from multiple points of view, particularly as a portrait of a person that’s passed away. What is truth? What is fabrication? What is opinion? It’s worth your time.

Here’s the Stories We Tell film trailer:

Querying 101

mailboxIn recent months I’ve received a lot of emails from many of you! I love mail, and thank you for contacting me to say hello. There’s been a great influx of new traffic lately and I’m really excited to chat, share, and discuss writing with you all!

However, I must admit, I’ve been confused by the growing number of novel query letters I receive. I say this because I’m not an agent, editor, or book publisher.

I’m an author.

Yes, I also do manuscript critiques to help writers hone their craft and prepare for querying. But, I’m not an editor at a publishing house. So, I’m always a little stumped when I receive a query letter, because I’m not in any position to actually publish my blog-reader’s books.

The more I thought about this, the more I’ve come to realize the problem lies in a lack of information on who you should actually send your query to. And since this blog is all about sharing information, I can help in this regard!

Who Should You Query?

The objective of a query letter is to get an agent or editor to request your book and consider you for representation and/or publication. However, that doesn’t mean you do a Google search for agents and editors, and blanket the market with your query. You need to target your letter to the proper individuals. Otherwise, you’re going to get an inbox full of rejection letters that have nothing to do with the quality of your book.

So how do you find the perfect agents and editors to query?

1) Decide if You Want an Agent

Do you want an agent? Or do you want to submit, negotiate, and work directly with a publisher yourself? I personally went the agent route, because frankly, I want to write and not worry about the business side. But there are plenty of authors who do it on their own without representation.

If you’re undecided, check out these great articles:

** If you decide you don’t want an agent, insert the word editor into the below steps.

2) Find Agents That Represent What You Write

Lit Agents bookThe number one reason your query letter is getting rejected, is because you’re sending it to someone who doesn’t represent what you write. You shouldn’t send a query for your gritty adult Noir to an agent who primarily represents picture book authors. Before you query, research and create a list of agents that represent books like yours!

How to Create Your Agent List:

  • Go to Literary Agency Websites and read the agent bio pages. These list agent book preferences, authors they currently represent, and genres they’re interested in.
  • Query Tracker.net – This is a fantastic resource. Start by searching their giant list of agents by genre. Then learn about query turnaround times, preferences, and more.
  • Writers Digest: Guide to Literary Agents – Pick up the current edition of this book (or check out their blog), to see what agents are currently looking for.
  • Book Acknowledgements – Look in the acknowledgement section of books similar to yours. See if the author has thanked his or her agent. This is a great way to find agents that represent work in your genre and age level.
  • Publisher’s Marketplace – Get a paid subscription to Publisher’s Marketplace and you can search agents to see who they represent and current deals they’ve made.

3) Research Agent Book Preferences

indexSo much of this business is about taste. An editor or agent can pass on your book based on taste alone. Give your book the best chance by researching what kind of books your list of agents like to read. Narrow your list by finding the agents interested in your specific genre and story-type. For example, you’ll find a lot of agents who represent young adult books, but do they like contemporary romantic YA or gritty sci-fi YA? You may have written the best young adult war epic of all time, but if you query an agent who isn’t interested in historical fiction… you’re going to get a rejection letter.

How to Narrow Down Your Agent List:

  • Read interviews, articles, and blog posts – Agents do a ton of interviews online. Others have their own blogs outlining their query wish lists. Using the list you made from step 2, start to read articles and blogs about these agents to get a better sense of their book tastes.
  • Literary RamblesIf you’re looking for a children’s book agent, Literary Rambles has an outstanding resource for you. Casey McCormick and Natalie Aguirre have rounded up hundreds of interviews, articles, and blog posts, and organized them by agent. Click through their agent list to read highlights from articles all over the internet.
  • Manuscript Wish Lists  – A lot of editors and agents are sharing their dream submissions on twitter. Check out the hashtag #MSWL to see what they’re jonesing for. Or check out this site: Manuscript Wish Lists
  • Go to Conferences – Agents and editors love to speak at writing conferences. This is a great way for you to see their personalities, hear them talk about books they love, and to get a feel for if they’d be a good fit for you.

4) Craft Your Query Letter

Now that you have a list of 5 to 20 agents, create a query letter targeted toward them. I’ve written many posts on how to craft a query letter. So be sure to check out the links below.

How to Write a Query Letter:

emb5) Send Out Your Query Letter

Now that you have a small, targeted list for querying, start sending out your queries. I suggest keeping a spread sheet on which agents you’ve submitted to and the date of submission. Some agents have No Response Means No policies.  Using a spreadsheet will help you to keep track of those responses.

Every time you get a rejection, send out three more query letters! Querying can be a numbers game. Remember that so much of this is about taste. You don’t need everyone to love you. You just need that one agent or editor to love you!

Querying can be a difficult and grueling process. Keep researching, adding more agents to your list, and sending out queries. Keep the faith!

There’s a ton of great information on the internet on how to find an agent and create a successful query letter. This can be a rabbit hole and a big time-suck, but you put in the time to write your book, be sure to put in the time to research agents as well!

Hungry for more? Try these great links:

Highlights from the 2014 SCBWI Summer Conference

Guest post by Lianna McSwain

Hi All! SCBWI-LA was a massive event. There were over 1,200 attendees and close to 100 professionals from the field. The conference took place over three days and included so much information I filled a notebook almost completely with notes, which I am happy to share with you. These notes cover only those events I was able to go to. It’s like a cupful of information that I collected from the fire hose.

I wish I could have been everywhere!

2014-Summer-banner-2

Friday

Meg Rosoff:

Meg Rosoff

After Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser kicked off the conference by charming everyone with their wit and loveliness, we sat back and had our minds blown by Meg Rosoff.

Her talk dissected several academic complaints that fairy tales are harmful because they give children unrealistic perceptions of the world. The academics charged that stories such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears are dangerous because they fail to teach that bears live in dens not cottages, that they eat ant pupae not porridge and that they are more inclined to disembowel and eat small children than they are to be suitable playmates for them.

Meg Rosoff responded that fairy tales are dangerous, but not in the ways the academics say. She reminded us that fairy tales are subversive. They upend cultural norms and allow us access to our most repressed thoughts and fears.

Fairy Tales take the dark matter of our unconscious minds and put them into our hands.

She assigned us the task of going out into the world and writing those stories we’ve been told we can’t or shouldn’t write. She asked us to write subversive.


Editor’s Panel:

Lin Oliver

There were seven editors on the Friday morning editor’s panel: Alessandra Balzer (Balzer+Bray), Mary Lee Donovan (Candlewick), Allyn Johnston (Beach Lane Books), Wendy Loggia (Delacorte), Lucia Monfried (Dial), Dinah Stevenson (Clarion), and Julie Strauss-Gabel (Dutton).

Lin Oliver moderated the panel and asked the editors to begin by naming things they’d like to see more of.

Nearly everyone called for more work with voice.

The editors also called for work that was authentic, original and that surprised them.

Julie Strauss-Gabel asked that the writers take the time to get to know the editors, so that when submitting a work, the writer would know whether the work would be a good fit for that editor. Julie stated that she only publishes 9 or 10 works per year, and she needs to fall in love with them.

The other editors agreed that they too were hoping for works that the writers or agents saw as being a good fit for them. Wendy Loggia said that when an agent says to her, “you’re the best editor for this book” she feels a need to put that manuscript on the top of the pile.

Lin Oliver jumped in and recommended that writers consult the fabulous SCBWI resource called “Edited By.” This is a list of current editors and the ten books that they believe best represent the kind of work they like to publish. This list is included as a chapter in the Market Section of The Book. If you are not familiar with The Book, it is a pdf compilation of the most current information about the state of children’s book publishing available to all members of SCBWI for free, download here.

The editors agreed that while they understand that multiple submissions are the norm these days, they really all frown on submitting a manuscript to multiple editors within the same house.

Finally, Mary Lee Donovan looked for writing competence. Dinah Stevenson wanted a story with a definite beginning, middle and end and nothing over 100K words. Wendy Loggia requested that manuscripts have page numbers. Julie Straus Gable wanted stories that weren’t boring. Allyn Johnston requested stories that were readable out loud.

The editors also agreed that respectful communication goes a long way.

Judy Schachner:

Skippy

Judy let us into her mental art studio, and confirmed what I suspected all along—Ms. Schachner is a wellspring of genius! She showed us photos of her collage books. When she is creating a character and a story, she spends weeks and weeks pulling photos and compiling them into a workbook in a non-logical jumbled up way. She collages photos on top of drawings, loosely, with her editor’s eye turned off. When she has finished the book, she goes through and looks for juxtapositions that catch her eye. From this rich source material, she makes her story. I was very impressed by the amount of work she put into the generative stage, the stage before she began writing the story. Also, Judy is amazing at accents. She can slip into from a Tennessee drawl, to an Irish brogue, and then to Antonio Banderas. I’m in awe!

Saturday

Aaron Becker:

Aaron led us in a two part sing a long of “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey. Imagine half the auditorium singing the bass line, and the other half singing the tenor line while Aaron Becker sang the melody on stage. He said we sang better than the editors and agents did at his last presentation. We all sat down feeling very smug. They don’t call us writers ‘the talent’ for nothing. ;)

I didn’t realize how much I liked Aaron’s wordless picture book Journey, until I saw it projected onto a large screen, and I could immerse myself into his gorgeous artwork. Journey was the only book I bought at this conference. Aaron’s story was very inspiring, as his first book was published later in life. His story exemplifies a quote I heard earlier from Erin Murphy:

“The path to success is filled with many waiting periods that feel like failure.”

Aaron Becker


Maggie Stiefvater:

Maggie

Maggie Steifvater stomped on stage looking like a punk rock cheerleader—all tight pants, boots, and leather bracelets covering up a shock wave of energy and enthusiasm.

Maggie talked about being a thief. She steals people’s souls. She freely admits to meeting people and finding their essence. Then she puts that essence into her characters. It’s easy, she said, “just find that one thing that makes them uniquely who they are.” If someone is wearing a plaid shirt, Maggie says, that detail is useless until you know why they are wearing a plaid shirt. When you know why, you can change the details, you can know how they will act in the future. Steal their soul, she said.

Sunday

Deborah Halverson:

Deborah Halverson

Deborah started the Market Report by reminding us that the watchword for 2013 had been ‘dip’. She meant that 2012 had been higher than normal because of the Hunger Games, Divergent and the new Wimpy Kid book, so the sales of 2013 were a return to sales slightly higher than 2011, but not as high as the blockbuster 2012.

She stated that for 2014, the dip is gone. All trade publications are up. Sales of print and ebooks are up 31%.

Picture books in the last two years have been the best ever, specifically those aimed at the youngest markets. Because older kids are moving to chapter books sooner, there is a demand for heavily illustrated chapter books. There is not a lot of demand for digital picture books.

Non-fiction picture books are on the rise, though Deborah stated that they should be considered an extra opportunity rather than a driving force behind higher sales numbers. Writers should be aware that there seems to be a backlash against the common core, so non-fiction picture books need to have entertainment value apart from their ability to fill the common core niche. (A text’s compliance with Common Core requirements should be that extra hook that pleases the editor who would have bought the book anyway.) Non-fiction books that have a strong character driven narrative still sell well, and longer texts are still acceptable.

Chapter Book sales continue to grow because of titles such as The Magic Tree House, Geronimo Stilton, and Dragonbreath. These highly illustrated hybrid books help readers find their footing. Single title Chapter Books struggle for shelf space in the midst of many series which dominate the market niche.

Middle Grade is finally on the upswing. There seems to be a lot of excitement surrounding recent middle grade titles, both series and stand alone titles. Editors are eager to find the right the combination of voice and humor, which have to be spot on. There is a call for more adventure fantasy, and light humor. There is also a place for historical fiction as long as it sounds contemporary.

Young Adult sales are starting to slow down a little, except for within the field of realistic contemporary fiction. Editors are excited about stories that focus on normal kids within normal school settings. Editors are also eager to see YA thrillers and mystery stories including some speculative fiction with a thriller twist. Historical YA is still a hard sell, and paranormal titles are tricky.

Overall, the field is looking up and editors are optimistic that the market will continue to be strong.

linda sue parkLinda Sue Park:

Linda is gracious and calm but she writes like a ninja. Here is her advice for writing lean, clean prose. She says:

Take each block of text and treat it as if it were a prose poem.

Give each clause its own line so you can see which words are working and which ones are cluttering up the flow. Eliminate all clutter.

bruce_covilleBruce Coville:

Bruce advised creating a Bible for each series with detailed character studies, historical background, and the rules of the world. The more detailed the Bible, the more potential a story has for becoming a series.

At this point we were all exhausted, staggering around under the weight of our books, looking bleary-eyed for the exit.

It was a great conference.
Lianna McSwainLianna McSwain lives in Northern California with her husband and her two extraordinarily charming children. After a career in economic development and fundraising, she finally returned to her true love, writing. Lianna is completing an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts, specializing in YA and Middle Grade. When she is not writing, she is reading and eating chocolate. Or playing music and taking improv classes. Or hiking with friends.  She rarely does housework willingly. Sometimes she just sits there, thinking.