03 October 2008

Avoiding the Dreaded Prologue

A while back, Alison Morris at Shelftalker quoted this passage from E. Nesbit's The Treasure Seekers. It comes to us in one of the finest narrative voices that any writer has ever conceived, the self-effacing chronicler Oswald Bastable:

I shall not tell you anything about us except what I should like to know about if I was reading the story and you were writing it. Albert’s uncle says I ought to have put this in the preface, but I never read prefaces, and it is not much good writing things just for people to skip. I wonder other authors have never thought of this.
Coincidentally, that very morning I'd noticed how Gail Gauthier's The Hero of Ticonderoga starts with eight pages about heroine Thérèse's first stab at an oral report about Ethan Allen, and then moves on to...chapter 1.

I looked back at the first page of the story. There's no label saying "Preface" or "Prologue" or "Please, please, please read this even if you never read any introductory material." Since not every book design includes chapter numbers, a reader like Oswald Bastable could easily be fooled into thinking that was chapter 1, and read it unawares. Clever.

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