In defense of The Prologue

In a book review I read only this afternoon someone decried the use of a prologue, recommending that you skip it, saying it detracted from the story. While that can be true, it can also give an insight onto the essence of a novel, a flavour (if it’s done properly) of the style as well as story. In brief, a shortcut.

Not that I’ve managed those things perfectly. There’s always been something of a compromise, having to balance interesting or entertaining writing with explanation (though trying to avoid exposition). There may have even been inconsistencies. My latest focuses more on a key character than any important plot point; it’s about his condition as result of his predicament.

A prologue is not about leading you into the story’s beginning but more like a snap-shot taken from a different angle to the rest, maybe a wider angle or a narrow focus, whatever seems the most interesting and revealing. If it focuses on a specific point in time dealt with later on in the novel then best to avoid repetition, even if the reader has forgotten much of the prologue by then. Peter Watts’ Blindsight is a the best example I’ve read in recent years.

It’s true that the prologue seems to have gone somewhat out of fashion. I don’t know how much publishers and agents are reflecting this or leading the way but many now are showing their dislike, judging by blogs I’ve read. Maybe it became too obvious a device; in science fiction often used to ease the reader in to a complex storyline concept. Then that dreaded word formulaic is invoked.

But here’s a final plea from someone who still cleaves to that old device, not as a standard formula, but just as an option. Because sometimes there seems no better way to begin a story.

My sites:

http://thecaptured.adriankyte.com/

http://adriankyte.com/

Bringing your A-game

If you’re writing the third and possibly final draft there’s no excuse for not giving it your all. The question is, does that mean only working on it when you feel a hundred percent well, comfortable and generally on top of your game?

Today I’m writing this with a cold when I’d normally be on that third draft of The Captured. It’s easy, then, to make excuses for not really feeling up to it. It could be that you’re just feeling fed up for having missed the only bit of sun on an otherwise gloomy February day; a whole multitude of reasons for being less than a hundred percent focused on the work. (And, BTW, I hate it when people talk about giving something 110 or more percent, as there’s no sense of any maximum effort. OK, rant over.)

There’s plenty of advice out there on writing fiction in general, about ploughing on even when the muse is not there. But this (though hardly ever stated) seems to refer to that first creative stage, when just getting those words down is a achievement and never mind the quality. Not that I’d ever set myself a word-count goal – that’s a tyranny of the self, treating it like some feat of endurance. If someone has set a deadline, a contract with money involved, then maybe. No hard and fast rules otherwise.

I guess many writers have realized that on their third draft they haven’t been completely focused, and so they do a fourth, or a fifth…. But why waste the time if your not giving it your A-game?

 

http://adriankyte.com/

All about confidence?

Let’s be honest. What matters most is not how good you think your novel is but how others rate it. Now I’m not writing this as someone who received accolades for their work and can smugly pontificate. On the contrary, I’ve had some negative reviews, one even used the dreaded B-word (bored), a state you should try to avoid causing more than even offense. So how could this happen?

After a number of rejections I lost confidence in my second novel Time Over. The first book The Hidden Realm was also rejected, but the problems with it were clear and I mostly fixed them although in the days before self publishing became, er … respectable. So I cut my losses and put it out as a free download. It proved relatively popular, got a good number of likes. Only Time Over seemed to have no easy fix; I’d set up a simple premise, which then spiralled into something rather complicated.

The problem is, once you lose confidence in a project you focus on what’s wrong rather than the positive: a loose end here, an inconsistency there. You imagine a reader picking up on some implausible aspect (and in SF there can be a lot of those). So what you do is add more detail for verisimilitude. Dialogue can also be affected in this way, slowing down the pace. I’ve of course tried to address these issues. But regaining confidence: that’s something entirely different.

Still, you move on to the next project with a renewed faith. At least until the next rejection.

 

Time Over is free to download for a short while:

http://www.amazon.com/Time-Over-Adrian-Kyte-ebook/dp/B00NXG4EQ4/ref=sr_1_1/185-3386155-5558339?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1411929363&sr=1-1&keywords=time+over

UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Time-Over-Adrian-Kyte-ebook/dp/B00NXG4EQ4/ref=sr_1_1/277-0911588-5459748?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1411929652&sr=1-1&keywords=time+over

Reviews still welcome.

My other site: http://www.adriankyte.com/

The One … for now

For me, starting work on a new book has been easy. Getting beyond the first chapter – let alone to a completed novel – is an entirely different matter. Some might compare embarking on a new novel to falling in love … again: This is The One, at least you think that when it starts to take shape. Of course, all previous ones seemed exactly as special at the time – it was going to be your magnum opus, nothing was ever going to top that. Then reality hits. In my case in the form of reviews. Although some have been positive I always like to fixate on the negative. My initial reaction (in my head) is: But you haven’t read it properly; you don’t understand that character’s motivations or the underlying causes. In truth, I would get carried away with an idea. But – in science fiction – you can get mired in trying to unravel a complex theory shaping an event with an even more complex explanation. Brushing over it can seem like a lack of attention to detail or authenticity; the obverse seeming weighty and stymie the reader if not the plot. However, this type of insight has tended to be very much after the fact (when the book is out there). At least with an E-book it’s never really too late.

If I’m going to stretch my initial analogy, then think of that work-in-progress as a new relationship. You invest your all into it and expect to find answers very quickly. You are filled with hope but also troubled by insecurity, the latter tends to happen about a quarter of the way in. Life eventually intrudes: distractions, maybe personal events or outside that can make your big idea seem insignificant, irrelevant or inappropriate. At the start it might have been like living in a bubble. But when that bubble bursts is when you can truly get a handle on what your WIP will become. Not that there’s anything wrong with quixotic thinking at the outset, because the voices of doubt telling you to prepare for failure are rarely useful. Anyway, if you make it halfway (for me around 50,000 words) then there is that sense of having been on a journey with a possible destination, maybe not what you expected it to be, but still well worth continuing.

Time Over is now free to download for a very limited time. 

US: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00NXG4EQ4

UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Time-Over-Adrian-Kyte-ebook/dp/B00NXG4EQ4/ref=sr_1_1/277-0911588-5459748?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1411929652&sr=1-1&keywords=time+ove

Is it all material?

The most commonly quoted advice, write about what you know, is often open to misinterpretation. I’m not entirely sure how much it refers to personal experience or general knowledge. But it’s generally accepted that experience of life is a good thing for a writer. That is, going out and travelling as much as possible, and just living. But should there be limits?

There have been times when I have forced myself to go on risky holidays where things haven’t worked out as I’d hoped. We’re not talking any life-threatening adventures here (I could happily brag about trekking along the Amazon or Gobi desert were it true). The only things truly threatened were my sense of morality and bank balance. Possibly this has helped my creativity, given a better perspective on my writing. Possibly.

I wonder, as a writer, the way of dealing with things that go wrong is different; you process them differently. Maybe it takes a while, and then: I could incorporate that experience for one of my characters. Even in science fiction, in my view good sf, you should bring something of contemporary life into whatever future. After all, it’s all about transposing … and it’s probably something I should have done more of. I’ve tended to avoid autobiographical writing in previous years; it had seemed somehow self-indulgent. But I guess there is always a way to finesse that into fiction.

It is said that the best writers are often the most troubled. Not an observation I entirely buy; I know of some seemingly very well-adjusted prize-winning authors. Maybe, though, writing is a therapy in itself, and without it those authors would be wrecks. Certainly with a novel in progress I seem to be at my most contented, even if there’s no knowledge of it ever being publishable. Otherwise writing this blog comes a close second. But without either would problems and worries become insurmountable? Well, I wouldn’t want to test that.

http://www.adriankyte.com/

Reaching for the Stars

A question many writers ask themselves is: how much do reviews matter?

I noticed something curious when I recently withdrew a novel I wasn’t happy with, and also had some spare time to rewrite. The book could best have been described as an interesting failure, problematic in its creation. So I’d given up finding a traditional publisher and went with Lulu.com as well as putting it up on various other sites as a free download. Anyway, checking the Amazon UK page I was surprised to see there’d been nine reviews of the book, averaging 3 stars. So did that suggest mediocrity, or something more interesting? I think most writers would prefer to think – given that average – some hated their work and some loved it. But there was not that smiley face bar graph. Ok, so there were way out concepts in the book, stretching the science fiction to the fiction end at times. I half expected there to be some negative comments about certain sex scenes that were not exactly conventional (although not especially graphic). None however. Frankly, it was That Difficult Second Novel where I tried to expand my writing range, where I’d got a little too ambitions. You aim for the stars and end up getting three! It is pleasing though that even ten people (1 US) were motivated enough to write a review of a free book from a relatively unknown author, especially those who seemed just a bit disappointed. Trouble is, when you write a blog about writing you build yourself up to be knocked down. At least that’s usually the British way. But I’d be the first to admit there’s always room for improvement. It’s a constant learning process.

Well, I’ve republished Time Over on Amazon KDP. The price can’t be set at zero but is as low as possible, for now anyway. Will be interesting to see how it fails this time. I know there are those who have an aversion to paying for a novel that hasn’t been recommended or passed some threshold of star rating. But any starred reviews are welcome – if they’re well considered.

http://www.amazon.com/Time-Over-Adrian-Kyte-ebook/dp/B00NXG4EQ4/ref=sr_1_1/185-3386155-5558339?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1411929363&sr=1-1&keywords=time+over

UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Time-Over-Adrian-Kyte-ebook/dp/B00NXG4EQ4/ref=sr_1_1/277-0911588-5459748?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1411929652&sr=1-1&keywords=time+over

 

The best intention of SF?

What are the best motives for writing speculative/science fiction?

If you think it’s to make money then you’re either deluded or already successful – though perhaps only enough that you can make the next mortgage payment. There’s usually better financial reward from writing fantasy, crime or anything that’s sold at an airport.

No, it should be for the love of the genre, right?

I think it’s important to explore a possible future without ignoring the present or the past; to show what can happen if things progress down a certain path. Or put another way: to describe a future not in isolation but at least have some resonance with today. For example, in a far future war my characters have to consider whether it is worth working with an old and deadly adversary in order to defeat something even worse. Being so far in the future there doesn’t have to be an obvious link to the present; it shouldn’t matter for the reader to see any specific connection to current events.

There is a space for alternate history/timelines, but I tend to avoid those, as counterfactuals are inherently problematic. In my case, bringing aliens into the mix can give a different perspective on universal themes; not sharing the same history they are unlikely to react as we would. I mean, how much of current strategic thinking is influenced by success or failures of the recent past? More to the point, what ultimately is sanctioned by politicians in response to their electorate’s [presumed] memory and lack of historical knowledge?

Anyway, back to the main theme. How many writers can honestly say they have kept true to their vision and not been swayed by some new successful breakthrough?

It’s never a good idea to plan your book according to some formula shown to bring financial success. I’d generally avoid anything where the author is described as the new [insert best selling name]. It might not be that they planned to emulate any particular author and just happened to be inspired by them – which is perfectly fine, if they can bring something fresh to the genre.

Publishers often prefer books with the potential for sequels – it keeps the reader hooked for the next one, guaranteeing further sales (in theory). Not so bad if the reader knows in advance that they’re buying the first in a series, and better if they know how many there will be. What can be irritating is when one book ends on a cliff hanger and you have to wait six months or more for the next, which is often more expensive, since the first is designed to hook as many readers as possible. I prefer a novel that is self-contained and can be read as a stand-alone, even if it means a bit of exposition of the previous.

Having these ‘best’ motives may seem high-minded and over-ambitious. (A lack of ambition in my writing is not some something I could ever be accused of.) After all, there’s nothing wrong with providing some good old escapism and entertainment.

http://www.adriankyte.com/

http://www.scribd.com/collections/4310244/The-Captured-extracts