When I worked as a journalist for the BBC and before then for newspapers, it was well understood that stories had to be structured in a certain way. Headline, tight intro, explanatory paragraph, another if you really have to, then who says what (actually the five w’s…who, what, why, when, where) in the least words possible without taking their speech out of context.
In newspapers at least this allowed sub editors to cut from the bottom up rather than rewrite if they were short on space and for radio or TV a hard-hitting intro meant you were quickly into live or recorded speech from your interviewees. All very sensible.
National newspapers, in those days at least, were even more demanding and I remember once being told to count the words in the first five paragraphs for every story in any edition of The Sun – there was a remarkable consistency to weight and pace, making The Sun harder to write for than so-called quality newspapers, despite a general belief that the reverse would be true.
It seems that novels are no different, everyone wants to meet the lead character quickly and understand their story/predicament before going on to meet our bad guys and the supporting cast. Every ‘how to write’ book I’ve read and, unsurprisingly, almost every novel I’ve enjoyed also tends to conform.
I also agree that Prologues are mostly irritating (hang on a minute, I was there a page ago and now I’m somewhere else, how did that happen?).
Trouble is, I’ve tried the start of my debut novel all ways up and to my ear at least it reads better by breaking the rules. Common sense and abundant humility tell me to go and rewrite it, I just know mine won’t be the exception that proves, but by gum it’s hard, especially when a reversal of scenes makes for a story which has a lesser flow even if it’s more attune to standard practice.
The answer…..can I tell you when I’ve figured it out? But in the meantime here’s the piece that reinforced the apparent need not to stray too far from the path, thanks to @caroleagent for drawing it my attention through her excellent tweets.
Note to self, must send @caroleagent my debut novel when complete. Two new clients in six years….if I could become the next one, well that’s a greater rarity than getting published, who wouldn’t want to dine out on that one….
‘So how’s the new book going.’
‘Oh not too bad thanks but who cares about sales, I actually managed to find an agent which was way harder.’
All to come, can’t wait!