Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Prologues and The Longest Sentence Ever

I never paid much attention to prologues. To my mind, if the info was that important, it would turn up somewhere else in the body of the story. I tended to think of them as trivia repositories, and, oddly enough, avoided them unless I was really bored.

This was a matter of some debate during last year's MLS contest. Sword of the Patron started it all with an action-packed prologue detailing events three months prior to the action in the first chapter. Some folks were annoyed with this. I would normally have skipped the prologue altogether and been unaffected. Since it was a contest, I had to read it.

This was the first time I saw a use for the prologue. Sometimes, an author has important info that doesn't fit smoothly into the body of the story. A prologue can introduce that info in a way the reader accepts. It's kind of like "telling" without offense.

The prologue should be well-written, and hopefully have the flavor of the rest of the story, but it doesn't necessarily have to make sense right then. I'm more open to reading them now, and using them if I wish.

In another of those great ironies to which I am prone, I had written a prologue years ago for Elementals. Since the story is about two sisters who each have their own adventures, I wanted to introduce them at the same time. A little "quick background," as it were, to set the stage.
After the prologue debate, I decided to keep the prologue in the story. I actually intend to record myself reading it and post it as a file on my website on the Elementals' page (I have not yet decided if I will read it in my own voice or Stuffy English Guy voice). It's not very long, only a few hundred words, really, but it does contain a ridiculously long sentence. Here's the first paragraph:

  The Aveesan sepulcher is the heart of the mountain city. All occasions of notice are honored within its hall - births, betrothals, judgments, and, most importantly, deaths. Carved from living stone first by water then by the industrious hands of the first Aveesan settlers, the semi-circular tomb reaches through layer upon layer of rock until the mountain itself ends and the sky gleams through a hexagonal opening above. This was the first of three openings into the sepulcher and not meant for the living to use. The spirits of the honored dead would escape to the heavens through that gate.

I bolded it in case you hadn't noticed how ridiculously long that sentence is. I've cut it down, actually. It used to have another modifying phrase. Word's Grammar Check hates this sentence. Maybe it's just the dangling preposition at the end.

TT: I just noticed some tense issues. Is it okay to start with a present tense sentence and shift to past tense in the same graph? I have found this kind of issue throughout the mss as I'm revising. I suppose some moments I felt closer to the action than others. Ah well. I'll pull out my English for Dummies textbook and figure it out.

I could argue that sentence is my zooming set-up shot. The camera begins at the ground and pans up to the highest point of the ceiling. It is definitely the kind of sentence Stuffy English Guy would read. It is representative of the ornate, ritualized culture of the Aveese. It is not representative of the tone of the rest of the book. Does that make it wrong?

I suppose it's one of those things I could present to a critique group. I have several of those things in this story. The problem, as my Best Friend pointed out, is I trust my own skill too much. I control my story worlds, I decide what happens there, and my brain often coughs up things I don't understand at the time but somehow work to my advantage later. If I doubted myself every time that happened, I would never write again.

Wow, I just got more arrogant than usual. Sorry.

I am not attached to this sentence. It is long. I just can't decide if it's too long. Since I don't have to decide at the moment, I'll move on and come back to it if I must.

Now, if I can just keep the cats quiet for two and a half minutes, maybe I can get it recorded. While I'm asking for a miracle, Lord, can I have a Suburu Outback, too?

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