My story begins with not just one, but two characters waking up.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. My story begins with a prologue – albeit a short one, at around 350 words. But guess what? That’s another cardinal sin.
Never start your story with a prologue. Or someone waking up.
I wonder if these faux-pas explain the steady trickle of rejection emails. Each one is perfectly courteous and proclaims, using remarkably similar wording, that the agent in question does not feel passionate enough about my novel, to invest the time and effort required to launch a debut. I understand. In a world where countless hopeful authors are chasing a finite and modest number of agents, my novel is not standing out.
But I wonder, is this because it has a prologue? Is it because it starts with someone waking up? Are those agents I’ve approached so far not getting past those two cardinal sins? I don’t know whether they’re even reading beyond those first few pages. Maybe, by the time my two characters have exited their respective hotel rooms and met in the corridor, I’ve already lost them.
For every rule there are exceptions. One could list dozens of novels which begin with a prologue. I’m reading one at the moment in fact, Dominion by C J Sansom. I’ll bet there are dozens of novels which begin with a waking-up moment too. But if you’re a first-timer, a would-be, a novice… you break the rules at your peril.
You might argue I’m being naive, or misguided and put it down to my lack of experience, but I believe the wakey-uppy moment in Singled Out is important. The reader learns things about both characters in those first few pages, including the roots of their respective frailties. But perhaps it would go down better if I found a way to impart those essential attributes later in the narrative.
I want to keep the prologue, I’m afraid, but it’s so short I can’t believe that this alone would prompt the casting-aside of my manuscript. But if I get rid of the wake-up call and the early-riser breakfast, would it make Singled Out more buoyant? Would this be enough to make it rise above the slush pile?
I don’t know if that’s the answer, whether it will bring agents flocking to my door (or popping up in my inbox at least). But I’m beginning to think, if I don’t try it, I might never know.