To Prologue or Not to Prologue?

As with many of the topics we have already discussed, the decision of having a prologue or not is entirely up to you. Whether it is necessary for your story or not is sometimes another matter entirely. Let’s look at the definition of prologue before we continue.

Prologue (Noun): a separate introductory section of a literary or musical work.

There you have it. A prologue is an introduction to the story.

So, if your story begins in the middle of action or events set into motion by a previous incident (especially if it is years prior), you definitely should provide a prologue. The equivalent of this is running up and hugging someone without an introduction. You’ll either get shoved away or punched in the face, normally. In terms of your story, this is the reader putting the book down and moving along. They lose interest as soon as confusion sets in. To avoid that confusion altogether, you can have a brief introduction before the reader gets immersed into the story.

For a sequel. I believe all sequels should have a mandatory prologue in the beginning to recap the main events of the previous book. The reason for this is because I’m one of those people to go buy a bunch of books, get them home, and realize I have the second book in a series. Sure, I could spend time hunting down the first book while letting the second book collect dust. Or I can read the prologue provided, have a good idea of what’s happening, and thoroughly enjoy the book I selected regardless.

In these situations, just like in customer service, the reader is always right because they are who you want to read this product. You have to tailor it to their expectations, to a certain extent. Which brings up another topic we will discuss at a later date.

Personally when writing, I always include a prologue and an epilogue to my novels because it allows me to show how much time has passed between books, important events that occurred, and gives the reader clarity about what to expect and what is to come. I wouldn’t recommend prologues for shorter stories because it can appear to be a little silly.

Once again, the decision is entirely up to you. Whether you decide to prologue or not to prologue, get back to writing.

How Many Characters Are Too Many?

You’ve started writing your book. When writing our stories, we can sometimes get carried away with ourselves. We overcompensate in some areas and completely skimp over others. This is something that can be fixed with lots of practice and constructive criticism.

You have the main character set in your mind, you’ve added in their cohorts, you have a set enemy and their cohorts. Before you know it, you end up having too many people to keep track of. If you look closely, most of them are either hollow shells or the exact replica of another character. These are the characters you need to remove from the story altogether. If they are absolutely necessary, make them a fleetingly passing nobody character and move on without them.

Here are some things to look at when deciding whether you need the character or not.

  1. Do they have a personality? Are they around enough for their personality to shine out to the readers through their actions? Or do you find yourself calling them “noble, vindictive, or cruel” in the text?
  2. Are they the one who always magically comes to save the day for the other characters, but then continues their way out of the story?
  3. Are they truly necessary? Do they have a purpose besides coming in for a one-liner or lurking around a group of important characters?

These are just a few ways to tell if you have too many characters lingering around. If they don’t accelerate the story, your supporting cast doesn’t need them. If you can delete them without feeling like you’re cutting off an arm, you don’t need them. Point blank. Don’t fool yourself into thinking they’ll be extremely important in one more scene in Book Four when Book One isn’t even finished. Trust me, the reader will forget they ever even existed by the time that character appears again.

For those who came to this article perhaps looking for an exact number to abide by like a bible, there is no perfect number of characters to have within your cast. There is no precise limit either. As long as you only keep in the characters necessary to write the story, you’ll not only have an easier time writing it, but your readers will have a better time reading it as well.

Do not restrict yourself or your characters on the fairytale ideals of the perfect amount of characters to have in a story. Sit down at the keyboard and just write.

Do I Need Chapter Titles?

When you first open a book, you more often than naught find a Chapter List shoved in between the pages before the first official page. The list of chapter names gives you an idea of what is going to happen within the book. Some people prefer this; some people believe it isn’t necessary since the summary on the rear cover should sell it. It honestly depends on what the author wants to do. Here are some of the pros and cons to help you decide for yourself.

Pros

  1. Your reader has an idea of what to expect for the book.
  2. Your book looks organized and professional on first glance.
  3. Some readers memorize the last place they’ve read by chapter number or chapter name. By listing it in the front of the book, the user can skim through the list to find the exact page number with ease.
  4. It’s normally expected. For book clubs, it makes it easier to keep track of where everyone’s progress should be after a certain amount of time. They will not thumb through a book to guesstimate this information for themselves.

Cons

  1. You thought naming the book itself was difficult. Now you have to name each and every chapter without giving away the entire story!
  2. Your reader knows too much about what happens in the book.
  3. You have yet another extra page between the cover and the first official page for the reader to begin the book. Being an extra page, it gets overlooked by some of the average readers who just want to begin reading.
  4. Extra pages also add extra costs to your book overall.

If these aren’t enough to convince you to sway either way, here is another brief article on the topic. Let me know your opinions in the comments!

Plotting Twists & Reveals

You’ve started your next writing project and you’re in a rush to perfect it. We’ve all been there and done that, but we must continuously remind ourselves to think things through in order to master the art.

To achieve the best drama, your protagonist must have enough information to make an informed decision. This slowly comes out in stages. By the midway point of the entire story, your character needs to have a good idea of what’s going on and who could possibly be behind it/influencing it. In order to set up the proper twist, don’t give them all of the details (aka NO info dumping).

An easy way to keep yourself in check is by remembering:

  • One reveal per scene or per chapter break.
  • The twist or reveal should cause an emotional effect.

Leave a miniature cliffhanger when you drop a good reveal on the readers. It will set them on edge and they’ll be lured into reading more.

What is the difference between twists and reveals?

  • Reveals are why something happens (backstory info)
  • Twists are what’s actually going on (new knowledge)

Be sure to watch out for the following caveats:

  • Don’t add extremely obvious hints or references. Be subtle enough that readers aren’t able to guess until the last couple of twists fall into place. Make them suspicious, but don’t overdo it.
  • Surprise is only half of it. Twists and reveals need to have an emotional impact or create a life-altering point of view for the protagonist from the moment of reveal and onward.

The number one thing to remember is you want readers to care about your story. Show them a protagonist forced out of their comfort zone by getting dragged through the mud, almost making a comeback, being pounded into the dirt, and then very slowly overcoming their obstacles. Your protagonist should not have a perfect score against all of the hurdles you’ll throw at them, but that’s what makes for an enticing story.

Writing Multiple POVs

Writing a story means deciding what point of view to take. Personally, I prefer singular points of view. It’s easy to keep track of everything that is going on. But at the same time, it can be a little limiting if you want to bring in certain reveals or plot twists, etc. Because of this, there sometimes can be benefits to having two or more points of view for the narration of your story. But keep in mind, you shouldn’t bring in different points of view just for the sake of having multiple voices. There should always be a reason. 

And below, are several tips for writing multiple POVs:

Each POV should add to the story: Your readers should care about the characters that they’re reading. Therefore, if you’re going to use different POVs, each character should serve a purpose. Not only should they help propel the story forward, but they should all be strong, interesting voices that your reader wants to root for.

Understand the story before you write different POVs: Whether you have one POV or more, understanding the story you’re trying to tell is the key to success. While you can kind of get away with figuring it out as you go along while writing from only one perspective, you can’t do this with multiple POVs. It will be entirely evident that you have no idea what is going on in the story. That is why you should know the plot inside and out before attempting to write different POVs. 

Separate your chapters: Don’t put multiple voices into one chapter – you will only confuse your reader. But more importantly, giving each of your character’s their own gives your reader a chance to properly bond with them and get to know them. Plus, it’s another way to add tension to your story because you can do things like leave one of your characters in a cliff-hanger of a situation, while moving on to another chapter – a great way to keep your reader guessing and wanting to continue reading.

Each POV should have a distinct voice: There is nothing worse than reading a book that is supposed to be multiple POVs and it reads all the same. Not only is that confusing for the reader, but it’s boring as well! Developing distinct character voices isn’t just about their dialogue or actions, it’s also about coming up with their internal thoughts and motivations. In fact, their internal thoughts and motivations can be quite powerful in creating a deep sense of who the character is. And once you’ve created your character’s voice, stay true to it. 

Be selective of which character is the narrator: Don’t just throw in several narrators just for the sake of having two or more voices. Much like my first point, each narrator should add to the progression of the story. What I like doing is look at the chapter or scene that I’m writing and then decide which character has the most at stake, what am I trying to convey story-wise, and which character’s perspective would make the most impact. Based off these questions, you can come up with the appropriate narrator. 

How do you handle multiple POVs? Do you like writing multiple POVs or do you prefer only one? Let us know!