To Prologue or Not to Prologue?

Storm Brewing, Vancouver

 Photo credit: world of jan

I am getting ready to do the whole submit-and-reject thing again with my list of agents. Who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky this time. Like I’ve said before, my novel is much improved from the last time I tried to get an agent. And this time I have a little more hope for my query. The thing I’m nervous about, however, is the bit of story I’m submitting, the bit that will make an agent excited (or not) about my writing. The bit that kids will probably read and then decide if they want to spend their allowances on my book.

I recently attended a webinar with agent Mary Kole, and the first topic she addressed in her Q&A (and it also gets a good-sized section in her book Writing Irresistible Kidlit: The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers) is about prologues—and she strongly suggests not to write them. The argument against them is that the prologue will pack a punch, fooling readers into thinking the first chapter will continue being just as exciting. In actuality, the first chapter is a big disappointment, including back story and info dump and blah-ness. Why not just write a strong start to begin with?

I’d never considered prologues in that light before. I can think of plenty of books that had prologues that I really enjoyed, but in none of them did I feel cheated when I got to Chapter One. The first chapter of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone is like a prologue in that it starts years before the present of the rest of the story. Whether you call it a prologue or the first chapter, it is what it is, right?

The opening of my book is the same—an opening years (actually decades) before the main story. It sets up the plot and gives a taste of what happened to get us to the story. And beta readers like the book much better with this bit of fore-story included. So what’s a writer to do? I’m going to include it, dadgummit. But just for kicks, I’m going to put it here, see what you think. I’ve always hesitated to put my unpublished fiction online because, if readers like it, but it gets changed, they might be disappointed with the published work. Or if it’s terrible now, I’m metaphorically shooting myself in the foot. Well, I’m shooting away. Here it is, the prologue/opening/whatever-you-want-to-call-it of what is currently titled Kingdom of Secrets. Read below, or download the PDF from the My Fiction page, and then let me have it!

 

Kingdom of Secrets: Prologue Excerpt

by Sarah Cotchaleovitch

Ella knew she shouldn’t do it. Mama wouldn’t like it one bit.

After much lip gnawing and twisting of her brown hair between her stubby fingers, Ella decided she couldn’t let the poor pup die.

She ran inside to fetch her mother’s emergency kit from the cupboard over the sink.

Climbing onto a chair, Ella scrambled onto the counter and stood on her tiptoes, but the cupboard was still too high for a girl of four to reach. Not to be thwarted, she got down and dragged the stool up to the chair. She hoisted it onto the counter, stood on top, and swung the cupboard door wide, revealing Mama’s kit.

Movement through the kitchen window caught her attention, reminding her there was a sick pilfit pup waiting outside.

“I’m coming, I’m coming,” Ella whispered. She nearly toppled off the stool in her haste.

Kit held in front of her, she scuttled outside. The pup lay panting in the shade of the hedge, looking for all of Terra like a cross between a raccoon and a dwarf rabbit.

“Don’t worry. I’ll make you all better.”

The pup gave a half-hearted yelp and closed his eyes.

Ella’s favorite thing about the emergency kit was the bottle of hot water. Whenever her mother bought another one, the merchant always promised her silver back if it went cold before two months’ time.

How often had she seen Mama brew a restorative? Into a bowl went a splash of hot water; steam spiraled into the air. The first part was a success, at least.

“Let’s see, let’s see.” Ella’s fingers played over the jars. She couldn’t read, so she trusted her memory of what the ingredients looked like. A bead of sweat formed on her brow and slid down her nose. She brushed it away, gave her concoction a quick stir, and held the bowl under the pup’s snout. “Drink, boy. It’s good.”

The pup opened his eyes and whimpered.

“It’s okay, I promise. Just—just take a sip.” She tilted the bowl toward him.

His black nose twitched, and the pup tested the liquid with his tongue. Starting slowly, he lapped every bit and licked the bowl clean.

Ella moved the pup’s head onto her lap, running her fingers through his silver fur. After a wash and a brush, he would be the fluffiest pilfit in Jackson Village.

The pup sighed. Ella held her breath. He opened his eyes: blue with brown flecks.

“You’re so pretty, Clumps,” she said, naming him without a second thought.

He sat up and yelped, an almost-human sound, the sound of a healthy pilfit.

“Oh, Clumps, you’re all better!” She hugged him to her chest.

“Ella!”

The girl stumbled upward, Clumps dangling without protest in her arms.

Her mother stood at the kitchen window. “Is that my emergency kit?” Dark-haired and blue-eyed like Ella, Mama was madder than a fish in firegrass at the moment.

“Mama! Mama, he was dying. I had to! His mama—she got into the poison mushrooms. All his brothers and sisters died, but I saved him, Mama! Oh, please, please can I keep him?”

Her mother’s face told Ella that she could not keep Clumps, nor would she be allowed a pet for the rest of her life. She mightn’t ever be allowed in the kitchen again, either.

But next second Mama was gone from the window, and that was worse. She was coming to Investigate the Situation.

“Clumps, maybe you’d better go.”

Too late, here she was.

Ella’s mother leaned over and scooped the pilfit pup into her arms. Gentler than her tone suggested, she scratched behind Clumps’s ears, prodded him a little, made him open his mouth. “I’ve got to be more careful around you,” she muttered. “You brewed that restorative perfectly. How did you figure it out?”

“Just. . . just watching you, Mama.” Ella pressed her lips together. This was turning out differently than expected.

“Well, you know I’m going to tell your father when he comes home. We’ll talk about whether you can keep this pup—”

“His name’s Clumps, Mama.”

“Oh, you’ve named him already?”

“Yes, Mama.”

Ella’s mother handed the pup back to her. “Let me be very clear,” she said in her this-is-your-last-warning voice. “You may never get into my things without asking permission again. And never brew a cloakbane without my help. Got it?”

Ella’s eyes were wide and tearful. She nodded slowly twice. Maybe it would be a while before she brewed another, but if she could save the life of a pilfit pup, she knew she could do other wonderful things.

She would give the whole incident some time to filter to the back of her mother’s memory before mentioning that, though.

2 thoughts on “To Prologue or Not to Prologue?

  1. Jeyna Grace says:

    Hmmm.. kind of true what they say about prologue. But sometimes, some things need to be said before a story can start, and that is where a prologue comes in handy.

  2. […] over whether I should keep the prologue of my middle grade novel or scrap it. (Read that post here.) At the time, I decided it could stay. After all, the very literary agent and author who brought […]

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