Good morning, Miss Snark.
I hope you don't mind me adding to what I'm sure is a daily deluge of e-mail questions. I recently read on Kristen Nelson's blog, and again on yours, that writers should avoid sending prologues when they get requests for partials. No problem. I can do that. My question stems from Ms. Nelson's comment, in which she said she had yet to see a well-done prologue in the sample pages. I went back to my bookcase, skimmed several paperbacks and noticed most contained prologues. My question is this: in your opinion, what makes these so difficult to craft in comparison to say, chapter 18 of a book?
Sorry if this is nitwittery, but I figured after the last J.K. Rowling/Dan Brown-wannabe post, I probably fall pretty far down the food chain when it comes to nitwit posts/e-mails. : )
Oh, and one last thing. I went through the archives again to get tips from the Cover Letter crapometer for drafting my cover letter. I don't remember which entry it was that got this response from you, but it's a gem. It's currently taped up near my monitor while I draft the letter. You said: "Give me six sentences of less than ten words that tell me WHO is doing WHAT to WHOM and WHY I should give a rat's ass."
Well, I'm glad the Snarkism of the day is helping out! And nary a hand chopped off...es su milagro.
Now, about prologues.
The problem with prologues is that, generally, they only achieve fullness of meaning in the context of the entire book. Some prologues don't do this: they are used for things that can't be explained, for example, in the first person POV of the novel. Those then are just a distraction from the main part of the novel, and in queries and partials, I just want to see if you can write well enough to read past page 10/50/whatever. I don't start thinking much about how the overall novel looks/holds together till I'm reading the whole thing.
The reason prologues are difficult to write is cause mostly you DO NOT NEED THEM. Like crossword puzzles, if it gets harder and harder to figure out the right way to do it, you're on the wrong track. Trust me on this: 6 down is MISSSNARKKNOWSALL
I agree with Kristen on this one, and for those of you who are busily crafting what you think is the the exception to the rule, remember this: I skip them when I read your work. I read the first page of chapter one. If that grabs me, I might go back and see if you've managed to craft the Only Living Prologue Not to Suck.
Signs your prologue sucks: it's about a dream, it's about the weather, it's about someone who is dead, it's about someone who never appears again in the book. The first sign you are not not not the exception to this rule is if you think you ARE.