Death of a prologue...
The first image I had for Monster at the Gate was dreamlike, cruel--and a bit of a mystery cliche, although I did not realize it for years. I'd been pouring through woodcuts and broadsides-- researching gender patterns in domestic homicide--and I was struck by the same story that appeared again and again. A woman, stabbed in a secluded glen, discovered with a letter in her pocket. The letter would say something like 'Meet me at the secluded glen. I must see you.' And then it would be signed, 'L.J.' or something like that. The townspeople, the constable, everyone would scratch their heads--'Who was the monster? Who could have killed her?'
Huh? Was it possible that a whole community could be so naive? So gullible? I mean, there was a signed note from L.J.!
Or was this just some sort of early literary trope that booksellers created to sell their wares? Either way, the story was not just sad, but incomplete.
In some ways, MATG became the answer to the questions that never got asked--Who was this woman? Had she been excited when she met her murderer? Why the heck hadn't she been more suspicious? And most important of all--how could she get the justice she deserved?
The image of that woman stayed with me for years, eventually becoming the prologue--until I learned that prefaces are pretty much despised by agents, editors, and readers alike. So ironically, my inspiration for the novel will never make it to publication. Re-reading it now, I think it was right to cut the preface. Yet, in my mind, this image will always remain pivotal for me. So I thought I'd share it here, both to share my original thinking, and to show why it won't make it to print.
The young woman stumbled through the long grasses, squinting in the moonlight, trying to find the path. She had not dared to steal a lantern, and now she lamented her folly. Her long skirts caught on a branch, and she tugged impatiently at her red embroidered sash. Hearing a twig crack behind her, she whirled around. Recognizing the shadowy figure before her, she relaxed. But still she was puzzled.
“What are you doing here?” She asked, panting slightly. “Have you a message?”
The glint of a shining knife stopped her. Too late she realized her assailant’s intention. A quick thrust, and the blade ripped inside her. Brutal, fast, she barely had time to react. A hand clapped tightly over her mouth, muffling her dying sighs. Her struggles ceased, and her body grew limp in her captor’s arms.
A moment later, her body fell to the soft ground. Clouds glided before the moon, and a light rain fell gently on her still form. Blood and water soon plastered her hair across her face. Her murderer gazed at her for a moment, then stole away.
So....was I right to kill the prologue?
11/7/2011 01:10:18 pm
What cool insights into the origin of Monster at the Gate! Those are great questions that I can't wait to see answered in the novel. Personally, I'm a fan of the preface, if for no other reason than it makes me want to know more!
11/8/2011 01:51:55 am
Not the boring Preface I usually skip over, that ramble on about why the author is writing the book. This one actually whets your appetite for the story. I think it works...
11/8/2011 02:47:52 am
MK, Chris, Jaynes--
11/8/2011 09:16:41 am
Chris--I forgot to answer your question. I haven't really gone over the publicity yet with the publisher, but I'll keep it in mind for sure! Thanks!
11/9/2011 05:35:18 am
Great points about trying to avoid starting twice and keeping the POV consistent. I guarantee that, consciously, I never would have picked up on those as "things to avoid while writing." However, you've convinced me that they are important factors and I'd imagine that, implicitly, I'd pick up on those subtle shifts while reading. Probably a solid choice!
11/9/2011 01:22:59 pm
Matt,from what I can see, this is also part of a larger trend (to forgo the preface). Maybe in a few decades they will come back into style :-)
11/16/2011 05:36:22 am
It occurred to me that you have written is actually a Prologue and not so much a Preface. Everybody frowns about a wordy Preface, but a Prologue, now that is a party that everyone wants to be invited to...
11/16/2011 08:17:26 am
Jaynes, You're so right. I think I've been among academics too long. Prologue is the correct term. I'm going to change it! I still don't think editors and agents like it much, although readers may be more indifferent.
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Historian. Mystery writer. Researcher. Teacher. Occasional blogger.