Posts Tagged With: readers

How To Write An Epilogue

In my last post, I wrote about writing prologues. I thought I’d follow that up by writing about epilogues. I would like to begin this article by stating that prologues and epilogues, while at opposite ends of the book, each require different needs to be fulfilled in order to be written effectively. Let’s explore that, shall we?

First, what purpose does the epilogue serve? In a way, it serves as an enhanced last chapter. If the prologue serves to set the tone of the story and usher in whatever journey that the main character or characters are about to go on, then the epilogue serves to let the reader know, usually on a very happy note, that all is well and that the characters have moved on from the journey. This is why JK Rowling only used an epilogue in the final book of Harry Potter: during the previous six books, Harry was still very much in conflict with Voldemort, even if he wasn’t always aware of it. The epilogue in Book 7, when the next generation is sent off to Hogwarts in a more peaceful era, lets us know that the conflict between Harry and Voldemort is over, and that “all is well”.

Does an epilogue have to be one chapter? Depends on the writer. Some writers prefer to have only a chapter-long epilogue, while others have written epilogues that have taken up to two to four chapters. Snake, if I remember correctly, has around five chapters in its epilogue. Like I said, depends on the writer and what they want to do with their story.

How much wrapping up do you do in an epilogue? Preferably you want to wrap up all your loose ends at the end of the book, and especially if you’re doing an epilogue. Most authors, unless they’re writing a series, will try to get rid of loose ends as they can before they get to the final chapter, so that they’ll be able to wrap things up in a neat little bow at the end. Figuring out how much wrapping up needs to be done should usually be done in the plotting stages of writing your novel, though. This helps reduce stress and any unexpected problems or questions from cropping up at the end of the book.

Of course, some authors will have an epilogue that will have a happy little scene, and then tie up their loose ends or open questions in supplemental materials after the last book, but the authors who do that usually are big-name authors with traditional publishing houses like Charlaine Harris or JK Rowling. If you would like to do the same thing though, ask yourself one question: do you have a big enough fanbase that would be interested in a lot of supplemental material released after your book? It’s an important question to answer before you start writing.

What should the tone of the epilogue be? Most epilogues I’ve read tend to end on a happy or hopeful note. “We’ve gone to hell and back, but we survived, we conquered, and we’re stronger. Things may not always be great, but they’re not always terrible either.” Of course, there are probably epilogues that let the reader know that things aren’t as nice as they could be. I sort of wrote the ending to Snake to be that way. Once again, it depends on the writer, what sort of story you are writing, and how you want to go about writing it.

What’s the best way to write an epilogue? No two writers are alike (thank God for that), so it depends greatly on the writer. The best way to write an epilogue is to practice it each time you include one in a novel, and also see what works and doesn’t work for you when you read an epilogue in someone else’s book. This will allow you to figure out how best you can write an epilogue and include them in as many novels as you desire.

Now, not every novel has to have an epilogue, just like not every novel has to have a prologue. But if you decide to put an epilogue in your novel, I hope you’ll find this article and the advice it gives rather helpful. And please let us know in the comments section if you have any more advice on creating epilogues that resonate with audiences. We would love to hear from you.

Categories: Book Setup, Editing & Rewriting, General Writing, Psychology of Writing & Publishing, The Reader, The Writer & Author | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How To Write A Prologue

Not too long ago, someone commented here asking for an article on writing prologues. I was saddened to reply that we did not have any articles on the subject (I checked), but I promised we’d have one soon. I’m making good on that promise now.

Many authors start their novels with prologues, which they use to set up the story of the novel. The fact that they set up the novel though helps to make prologues very different from other chapters of the novel. So here is some advice that will (hopefully) make writing a prologue easier:

What makes a prologue different from Chapter One? Good question. Sometimes there’s not much difference, but most often there’s plenty of difference. Usually though a prologue is a special scene at the beginning of a story that is set aside from the main body of the story. The events that occur in it often contain a catalyst that propels the events of the novel along. In the book Eragon, for example, Arya is attacked by agents of the Emperor and has to jettison Saphira’s egg with magic to a safe location. This allows Eragon to come across the egg in Chapter One, which begins his journey to become a Dragon Rider.

Does the prologue need to feature the protagonist or other major characters in the story? Not necessarily. Depending on how the author chooses to plot the story, the prologue may or may not feature any major characters. The example I used above only featured Arya and Durza the Shade, a supporting character and the antagonist. Eragon and Saphira don’t show up till later in the novel.

Of course, there are prologues that feature main characters. In my recently-published novel Snake, my protagonist shows up in the prologue, helping to give the story the mood and cementing the Snake as not the kind of guy to be trifled with. Like I said, it depends on who’s writing the story and how they want to write and plot it.

Can a prologue be more than a single chapter? Most prologues tend to be a single chapter. However, I’ve read several books where the prologue is divided into a couple chapters. This usually occurs in books where a single story is divided into certain parts, each part detailing a different section of the story. I actually wrote Snake that way, with the prologue covering the first four chapters before moving into Part One.

Like other aspects of writing a prologue though, it’s all dependent on what the author decides to do in writing his/her story.

How should a prologue set the mood of the story? Let me use a bit of an unconventional example: when Igor Stravinsky’s ballet and orchestral concert work The Rite of Spring was first performed, it began with a low bassoon, followed by several other woodwind instruments. For a ballet/orchestral concert at that time, it was a very unusual introduction, but it fit in considering that for its time, The Rite of Spring was a very unusual production (so unusual in fact, that a riot nearly broke out in the audience when it first premiered at a Parisian theater in 1913).

Similarly, the prologue of your novel should set the tone of the story. If you’re writing a horror story, the prologue should let people know that something awful is going to happen soon and it’s going to be quite terrifying. If you’re writing a fantasy story, the prologue should either give some history on the world the characters inhabit (al a the opening of the Lord of the Rings films) or explain straight away that this is a fantasy realm and that someone’s going to be going on a journey soon. In short, make sure the prologue is what you use to say, “This is the kind of novel I’m writing. It has such-and-such an atmosphere, such-and-such characters, and you can expect more of this throughout the story”.

What makes a good prologue? Now that’s not an easy thing to pin down, and depending who you ask, you’re going to get different answers. The best advice on that I can give you is that in order to write a prologue, read plenty of novels with prologues. See what works and what doesn’t work for you. And then write your own prologues, seeing what works for you and what doesn’t work for you.

If that reader who asked the original question on prologues is reading this post, then I hope that you found this article helpful. Prologues can be very important for your story, because they set up the rest of the novel. I hope that after reading this article, you and anyone else reading this article, can write excellent prologues for your stories.

Categories: Book Setup, General Writing, Psychology of Writing & Publishing, The Reader, The Writer & Author | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Showing vs. Telling

*Warning: The following essay contains spoilers from a recently released motion picture. If you are planning on seeing said movie and don’t want it ruined, please refrain from reading this post. If you’ve seen this movie or don’t care either way, then go on. I only spoil the first ten minutes or so anyway, so if you’re not too fussy, it probably won’t ruin too much of the movie anyway.

Not too long after I got back from my study abroad trip to Europe, my roommate and I went to go see Maleficent, which had just been released at that point. Early on in the movie though, there were a couple of things that my roommate and I had trouble with. Particularly the use of narration to tell the audience of Maleficent’s relationship to Stefan rather than actually showing how it developed. It actually made it really hard to get to know the characters and in the end, and the movie was less enjoyable than it could’ve been (though the CGI was rather amazing).

The example above is an example of showing vs. telling, which in my experience is one of the harder aspects of writing to master and one of the most difficult to teach. Yet it is vital for writers to learn to differentiate between the two and find the right balance of both showing and telling, because without being able to find some sort of balance, it makes for less entertaining stories.

Here’s an example of too much telling: Bob walked into an old house. There he encountered a beautiful woman who was really a witch. She stole his youth and he became an old man and died while she became beautiful and younger.

Now besides being dull, what can be said about this story? Very little, really. Your mind may have created an old house, a beautiful woman casting spells, Bob turning into an old man, but what else did it do? Nothing. You don’t get any detail about how we know the house is old, or how we know the beautiful woman was beautiful or a witch. We’re not shown how she steals Bob’s youth, or if he has any youth to give! He could really be middle-aged, for all we know. And why did he go into the house in the first place? Did he know about the witch?

Some writers call this the camera test. If you can’t build a picture in your mind with the information given to you in the text, then there’s too much telling and there needs to be more showing.

So what is showing? Basically it’s the meat of your story. Think of the telling as the barebones of your story, or what you would use in a summary of your novel. The showing is the dialogue, the details that paint the picture, the emotions and the exchanges, the tension and the moments of insight where you really get a sense of who the characters are and what happens to them in the course of the story.

In the example I used above, showing would involve us learning about why Bob went into the house in the first place. We would know what made the house old, as well as what the atmosphere around the house is like. Maybe there’s an oppressive air about the place, like a funeral that never seems to end. Perhaps there are dead trees and faded grass and it’s late in the evening, giving it a further creepy feel.

Once inside the house, we would find out what Bob experiences while in the house up until he meets the witch. We’d know what he’d think of the witch, if they exchanged any dialogue, and if he had any warning bells telling him to flee. Finally we’d see how the witch would take Bob’s youth, what it was like for him to lose his youth, and how the witch uses the stolen youth. If the author told the story right, we’d be able to picture all this with great clarity, and the story would have the required amount of showing and telling.

I know I just gave this example with a lot of telling and exposition, but you get the idea.

So along with the camera test, what are some other ways to gain a better understanding of showing vs. telling? Luckily as authors, we can go right to our favorite books to gain an understanding. Look at books you’ve enjoyed as well as books you hate. See how the author handled showing the story vs. telling the story, or how they didn’t handle it. You can also look for some articles on showing vs. telling, of which there are probably many besides this one (there’s a great one from Writer’s Digest that I found). And when you’ve done enough reading, try practicing telling and showing. Show it to someone if you feel comfortable and get their feedback. With practice, you can get very good at finding the balance of showing vs. telling.

Now using some exposition is necessary at times in stories while at other times there are passages where there is just too much information in the passage and a quick summary would be better. But one has to figure out where these passages belong themselves. And once you do, (pardon the pun) it will definitely show in your work.

Not to mention, we’ll actually come away with a better understanding of that maxim that writers, editors, and agents love to throw at their pupils: show, don’t tell. I’ve had one or two lessons with teachers where I wished they’d show me what they meant and not just tell it to me!

Categories: General Writing, The Writer & Author | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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