Lessons from the Monster

Lessons from the Monster: The Prologue

I know I usually (or used to usually, anyway) post these lessons on Saturdays, but I had the idea for this one today, so I had to write it. 

It’s time for another lesson on what not to do, ghastly mistakes courtesy of myself and The Monster. For anyone who has not already heard me bemoaning it, The Monster is a half million word long catastrophe of a novel, with which I’m fairly sure I made every mistake in the book of mistakes while writing.

Today’s topic? Prologues.

Oh, the dreaded prologue. The big no-no. Having a prologue is like wearing a scarlet letter on your computer. But guess what? Every single Angel novel has a prologue. *GASP* They’re all crap, by the way.

However, I maintain that once in rewritten form, they’ll contribute to the novels. That, or maybe I’m incredibly obstinate and want to have prologues just because everybody said I shouldn’t. Either way, I can tell you a bunch of ways how not to write one!

Book Two: Angel from Hell

“I don’t want to do it, Hell. Please don’t make me.” I was blubbering like – well, like a nine-year old.

A nine year old holding a gun in her hands.

“If you want to stay with Rihanna, then you’re going to do it.”

“Hell, she doesn’t–”

“Rihanna, if you open your mouth one more time, I will put a hole in your forehead.”

Hell looked at me, his black eyes like flint. He was thirteen years old, not old enough to be the apprentice of a con artist. But he was. And now he was teaching me. “Just point the gun, Angel. It’s not scary. Who would you like to kill?”

“Don’t say that to her!” Rihanna snapped at him. She was eleven. Too young to have recruited me to this.

Hell touched my cheek, and Rihanna bristled. His touch made me want to whimper, but I didn’t. I was too scared to.

“Look at me.” His eyes were so dark it felt like they were sucking me in, like I would never get out again. “Who do you hate more than anybody else in the world?”

Rihanna opened her mouth to protest again, but my attention had shifted. I looked down at the gun in my hands. Who did I hate most in the world? The answer was easy. My dad. For leaving me. For leaving my mom. For letting my mom die.

“You hate him, don’t you?”

Startled, I looked at Hell again. Had he read my mind?

“Well, that’s him, Angel. Right there.” Hell helped me hold the weapon, pointing it at the little red dot on my target’s forehead. “He’s laughing at you, Angel. What are you going to do about that?”

I stared at the target. My finger, the one on the trigger, was twitching.

“Pull it, Angel,” Hell said softly.

“Hell, don’t say that to her. She is nine years old!”

Hell let go of me, probably to slap Rihanna into oblivion, but I couldn’t pull my eyes away from the target. I could hear my father as clearly as if he stood beside me. He was laughing at me. He’d never loved me. He’d never cared. All he ever wanted was my mom. I wasn’t good enough for him; only she had been. And now he was laughing at me.

The gunshot stilled Hell and Rihanna’s argument.

They both turned to look at me, shock written clearly on both of their faces. The target’s entire head was gone.

I think I’ve mentioned that book two is my favorite in the whole series. The prologue, not so much. The intention was to reintroduce the character of Hell. Give the reader a taste of what had happened in Angel’s childhood.

Problem number one: it’s very vague. Who the kimchi are these people? Nobody knows. Where the kimchi are these people? You can sort of deduce they’re at a gun range. Sort of.

Basically, I’ve jumped into the middle of a scene without even the slightest explanations. Granted, a prologue is not the place for expositions. But this is just ridiculous.

Lesson learned: At least give the reader some setting! Jeez. It’s okay to leave some questions unanswered, but try to avoid confusing people.

Book Four: The Promise Child

The building stretched out across the desert, long and close to the ground. It was sand colored, blending in effortlessly against the desert floor, and the only reason I saw it was because it had been pointed out to me.

“That’s going to be your home for the next…well, the rest of your life.”

Kelti’s laughter sounded like fingernails on chalkboard. I clenched my hands into fists, wishing to God I had enough strength to give her the punch in the face she had coming.

The Hummer lurched into motion again, kicking up clouds of dust. The going was rocky and I, completely immobilized, could do nothing to save myself as I nearly tumbled off the backseat. Kelti smirked, her eyes flashing viciously.

I’d traveled by car, by plane, and by car again for the past couple of days. And now, nearing our destination, the fear I’d been able to hold at bay was creeping in.

Dad had brought me here for one reason.

Don’t think about it, Angel. Don’t think about it, I told myself. That didn’t stop the fear, and I bit down hard on my tongue to stifle a whimper. I was stronger than this. I would not let Dad bend me to his will. I would not let him ruin my life for the second time. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

The car stopped, and Dad spoke to someone I couldn’t see. “Is the confinement chamber prepared?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Let’s get her in there, then.”

“Yes, sir.”

The car jumpstarted into motion once more. My head hit the car door, and my already battered skull sent warning signals to my brain.

“We’re almost there, sister,” Kelti said, her voice low. “And then you can go to your cage.”  She ruffled my hair. I snarled at her, but she just smiled.

The car stopped. Dad got out, and Kelti was right behind him. A moment later, my door opened, and Dad gently pulled me out. My whole body ached as he cradled me against his chest – the hold of a caring father, not a kidnapper. I wanted to pull away. I knew the comfort was a lie. But I didn’t have it in me. I was just too tired.

“Come on, Dad,” Kelti said impatiently, narrowing her evil little eyes at me.

Dad carried me into the building. It was cooler inside, and the abrupt change in temperature was accompanied by the sound of a quiet but powerful engine. I shifted in Dad’s arms. Feeling was slowly coming back into my limbs.

“Mr. Allen.”

I stiffened. A voice. A voice I didn’t know.

“Dr. Allemande,” Dad said. Oh. I knew the name: the psychotic doctor who was the cause of my kidnapping. The whole reason I was here.

“I thought perhaps we’d take her to see it. Let her try her limbs out.”

For answer, Dad set me down on the ground. Pain spiked through my head, and all my limbs burned. But I was on my own two feet, standing, alive. That was something. I looked up at Dr. Allemande. He was the only thing not wavering and spinning. I stared at him, a number of choice words running through my head.

“Look over there, Angelica.” He turned, pointing through a heavy duty glass observation window. I followed his finger. Immediately my throat went dry and every muscle seized up.

“There she is.” His voice was almost reverent. “The sole reason for your existence: the Angel of Death.”

Is it just me, or is everything in these novels called the Angel of Death? Gah. I’m going to be using a lot of baby name books when I start rewriting these novels.

I chose to write this prologue because I needed some sort of intermission. Between the end of book three and the official beginning of The Promise Child, six months passed. And I didn’t want to write “six months passed.” Neither did I want to have to create a whole chapter from this stuff, and have to wait until chapter two to begin the book on its current timeline.

So in that regard, this prologue accomplished its purpose. Crappy writing and other mistakes aside, this might actually be a positively learned lesson!

Lesson learned: Your prologue should have to be a prologue. If it can be chapter one, or any other chapter, or a scene at some point in the novel, then it probably shouldn’t be a prologue.

Book Five: Dark Angel Rising

At first, I was all by myself. I stood in the dark, listening to the sound of waves on sand. My palms were slick with sweat, and the cool barrel of my gun pressed against my fingers. I was shaking – trying hard not to, but shaking nevertheless.

Suddenly, I wasn’t alone.

“Are you ready, Angel?”

He stood on my right. In the darkness, I could just make out his profile. In his right hand he held his gun. On my left, she stood. She was bristling with fury, ears pricked so hard the tips touched. For a human turned dog, she was still pretty canine like.

“You ready for this?” she whispered.

I tucked my straggly hair behind my ear. “Ready as I’ll ever be.”

“Let’s go.”

We moved together. Her feet squeaked on the wet grass, and he was quiet, but I was silent. We reached the wall, surged up and over it without breaking stride. My palms slashed against the barbed wire on top of the stone, and I flinched. Blood trickled down my inner wrist as I landed lightly on the opposite side.

“You okay?”

I ignored the question. Did it even matter? If I was hurt, would I stop? They both knew the answer to that: no.

Ahead of us, a thousand little red lines crisscrossed across the grass.

She stopped. She couldn’t make it and she knew it. He stopped, too, and they both looked at me. “Stay here,” I said. I didn’t wait for their protests.

I took a deep breath and jumped. My hands landed perfectly inside the first little red square. I shoved off. The landing was on one leg. Pain shot up through my shins at the short landing, but I kept going.

“Angel,” she hissed. “You can’t go in there alone!”

On the other side, I saluted them both and kept running. One more wall. I cut myself again, this time on a sharp stone. Ahead of me, the building loomed. I found the door. Yards and yards of chain wrapped around the door bar.

Three minutes, and it was open. I ran soundlessly into the building, down a hall, turned a corner. It was dark and cold, but I could hear him.

I’m over here.

Then I was there, in the prison unit. I pressed my hand against the DNA reader and the door slid open.

“Freeze!”

There was the sharp retort of a gun and pain exploded in the back of my head. I staggered, stumbling against the wall. The darkness grew even more complete as I slumped to the floor.

“Don’t fight, Angel,” a voice whispered. “Just die already.”

Can I just say wow? I seriously love me some breaking and entering. I’m worried about myself.

You’ll notice only one person in this entire piece of writing was named beside Angel. No one. And honestly, I have no idea why. This is book five, and if you’ve read all four preceding books, you’ll know exactly who everybody is (besides the shooter).

And, again with the vagueness. The writing style feels disjointed; there aren’t clear connections between all of the paragraphs.

The main reason this prologue fails at its task is because it’s ill-placed. Right now, this feels like a dream-sequence because it doesn’t communicate an important fact: Angelica sees the future, and she’s having a premonition of her own death.

Lesson learned: While information in your prologue may be absolutely, positively important to the novel, it may better serve its purpose later on in the novel. 

And that is all, folks! But before I close, I have a question for you. Two questions, actually. Number one: is there a topic you want me to write a LftM about? And two, what’s a how not to do this… that you’ve learned from your own writing or another writer’s?

Adios, peeps!

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2 thoughts on “Lessons from the Monster: The Prologue

  1. AWESOME! I missed these 😉

    Though, i see a lot of books with prologues lately. i don’t think they are THAT frowned upon. As long as they are used effectively and in the right context, I say go with it!

    1. This is true. I think prologues work well with fantasy/sci-fi/paranormal titles, and those seem to be the big genres lately. Another trend I’ve noticed is titles for chapters rather than just numbers, which I like. Chapter titles are so much fun.

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