Thursday, May 26, 2016

Why I like Prologues (Part 1)

I am sometimes asked why my books have Prologues. Many authors consider them old fashioned. I prefer to think of them as extensions of the book blurb, which serves as a teaser to readers. If the blurb piques my interest, I like another short piece of prose—a Prologue—to see whether or not the tale will continue to hold my attention.

The purpose of my Prologue is to set the tone for the reader. The subject matter contained in it may predate, be contemporary with, or only remotely participate in the tale, Nonetheless, each performs a certain task, such as introducing characters, revealing situations, or grounding the reader in the times.

As for being out-of-date, remember: What goes around, comes around.

Let’s take a look at two prologues by another local writer with Oklahoma roots.

 Autumn 1831 along the Allegheny River
But for improvident fate, angry, boiling clouds would have unleashed nature’s cold fury upon this Yankee river valley the day he buried his ma and pa. Perversely, a rose-hued dawn washed the tall forests and granite bluffs in a warm autumn glow.
Prosperous Tory farmers, his forebears had rallied to Benedict Arnold’s American Legion during the Great Rebellion, participating in raids on Ft. Griswold and New London. Their lands confiscated, their very lives at risk, the family joined the migration of a hundred thousand Loyalists to Canada and the Mother Country upon the Crown’s surrender to the victorious Continental rebels.
At the turn of the century, his pa brought the little family south from Toronto to unsuccessfully petition for the restoration of their prosperity, but old hatreds die lingering deaths, and Tories were subjected anew to high prejudices with the burning of the President’s House in the War of 1812. The Marquis de Lafayette’s return to these shores in August 1824, and the old revolutionary’s warm reception by James Monroe, the last American President to fight in the Rebellion, put the barm on the brew, sentencing the family to hard labor merely to meet the cain on farmland that once had been their own.
Life doubly rocked the slender young man with hair the color of sandy soil and hazel irises shot with brown and green and gold when the tragic deaths of his parents in a farmhouse fire followed hard on the heels of a doomed affair with the daughter of a family of Patriots who had no use for Tories—real or reformed. The discovery of a hundred carefully hoarded gold English Pounds in the ashes of the family cabin confirmed his determination to abandon this hateful land and retrace the footsteps of his boyhood idol, Jedidiah Strong Smith, the legendary trapper and explorer of the Far West.

The passage above is the Prologue from Mark Wildyr’s CUT HAND. What does it tell us? Most certainly we have met and been provided a casual description of the book’s protagonist at a time when profound change rocks his life. We know that his viewpoint of the American Revolution is different from that of most who will be reading this book, a clue that the rest of the story will be seen through strange eyes, as well. We understand that our hero is being propelled through life by the sweep of history, and we can anticipate that this is what we will see throughout the remainder of this erotic historical novel. And we can anticipate that much of the novel will be told in colonial American and early American English. So we know or intuit a great deal from this Prologue
Let’s take a look at Wildyr’s MEDICINE HAIR, the fourth book in his Cut Hand Series. Likewise an erotic novel with a historical background, this book’s Prologue performs a different chore.

Monday, September 10, 1883, Turtle Crick Farm, Dakota Territory
Puzzled by the rosy hue of the crick water, he shifted his gaze to a western skyline pulsing with spectacular crimsons and shimmering corals. The horizon appeared ablaze, yet a cool breeze lapped his face. No hint of heat. No taste of smoke. His horses grazed placidly. This was no wildfire. It was another of those remarkable prairie sunsets.
The bizarre events had started a fortnight ago. He’d sensed movement beneath his feet. A few days later, air currents in a normally calm season. Hazy, filtered light. Sun dogs, usually rare and most often observed in cold months, now frequent. Moons the color of moldy cheese one night and as blue as a jay’s wing the next.
Despite his education, he heard the singing of his tribal blood and thought of witchcraft. Powerful medicine was at work.

We can discern the viewer (likely our protagonist) is a farmer puzzled by unusual natural phenomena. We also understand that wildfires are a hazard on the Dakota plains. Although likely a Native American, the man is educated yet not totally free of tribal mysticism. We tend to believe that what is happening here will be immediately important to the story. In fact, we are seeing mixed-blood John Strobaw as he is launched on the road to becoming Medicine Hair, a noted and respected shaman among the Sioux.

You will note that the first example, that from Cut Hand, is told from an omniscient point of view. The narrator knows facts the young man who is the point of the Prologue would likely not know. But the one from Medicine Hair is told from the third person limited point of view. Interestingly, both book are thereafter told from the first person point of view.

Glad to see I’m not the only writer who likes Prologues. The next time you run across one in a book you haven’t read as yet, study it a little to figure out what it’s designed to tell you.

Next week, we’ll take a look at another Okie’s approach to Prologues, which is a little different. In the meantime, keep on reading.

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