To write a prologue or not to write a prologue? That is the question, and it's one that's been frequenting message boards and twitter. I thought I might as well throw in my two cents about this somewhat controversial topic. 

The first, and most important, question to ask yourself is, what purpose does your prologue serve?

Prologues are generally used to introduce something important in the story that can't happen in any other way.

  • Is a prophecy told?

  • Does something happen in the past that's vital to the present?

  • Are there characters who need a brief introduction at the beginning so their presence makes sense later?

  • Are there Gods or Goddesses at work that demand their own part of the story lest they curse you with writer's block?     

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you might consider writing the prologue. 

However, if your prologue only serves to: 

  • introduce information that can easily be told through flashbacks or exposition (ie info dump),

  • create an entire world that you completely obliterate at the end of the prologue because you want to start your story with more action,

  • make the story seem more epic, 

  • prolong getting to the heart of the story, 

then maybe it isn't for you. 

Keep in mind that readers tend to decide if they're going to continue reading the book after the first chapter or the first few lines. You want to wow them. If you write a prologue that's long, dry, and unimportant to the rest of the story, you're going to lose your reader before they even reach the main plot line. It can also distract readers from your main story, leaving them to wonder why the prologue was put in place at all. 

On the other hand, prologues are great for pulling readers into your world. It stands alone and can be used in many different capacities. Say you write the majority of your story in one character's POV. Your prologue can serve to be another character's POV. If an ancestor plays a big role in your main character's life, the prologue might be the place to first introduce them. Is there an epic battle that takes place in the past that foreshadows the rest of your story? A prologue is a good place for it. 

Every book is different, and so while a prologue might work for one book, it may fail for another. You, as the writer, have to judge for yourself what your book needs. If you give your book to beta readers and they indicate that the prologue doesn't add anything, listen to them. If they say they feel like they're missing something at the beginning, then you may very well need to include a prologue. 

Prologues don't have to be long either. They could be as short as a few sentences, imparting vital information to the readers before they step into the main part of the story. The prologue could be several pages, perhaps reminding readers what happened in previous books if you're working on a series. Experiment with it. You might be surprised what you come up with. 

In the end, while prologues may have fallen out of favor, they're neither bad nor good. They exist for the sake of the book. If there's a purpose to it, then that's all that matters. 

How to Create a Writing Routine

One of the biggest excuses we writers have about not writing is that we don't have the time. I get it. We have kids, pets, or spouses to take care of, jobs that eat away our lives, volunteer positions that make the days long, and health issues that steal creativity. Sometimes it really does feel like there aren't enough hours in the day. 

So how does writing fit in and still allow you to get enough sleep at night? 

Well, that depends on the writer. Some people work better in short spurts. Others need longer periods to craft their stories. Here are a couple of ideas that can get you started. 

Word Count Routine: Set a word count for yourself that you need to achieve by the end of the day. It can be 50 words or 5,000 words. Choose what feels comfortable for you. Make sure you start out small. You want to create an attainable goal, otherwise you'll just be disappointed if you don't reach it. One author said her goal was to write a sentence each day because sometimes a sentence is all you need to get back into the story. This can be completed at random periods throughout the day or in one sitting. 

Sprints: One of the fun exercises that NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) people like to do is sprints. No, I don't mean run around a building (though I think we could all use a chance to stretch our legs). Someone will set a timer, usually about five or ten minutes, and then everyone writes as fast and as much as they can in that time period. The goal is to have the most text written by the end. Friendly competition might get your brain moving or at least keep it motivated. You don't have to do it for very long, but you can get a lot out of it. The more you do it, the more you'll get used to it. This is a great thing to do if you're with a group of writers and trying to help one another get motivated. 

Time Routine: Similar to the previous two, time routine means you set a certain amount of time to write. Maybe you want to make sure you write for 30 minutes every day, no matter the word count. Treat this like a work meeting. This isn't something you can just "miss" each day. For me, I tend to start writing at about 9pm because that's when my day ends. My friend, romance author Eliza David, likes to write at about 5am when I'm still dead asleep. Sit down, shut off all distractions (that includes twitter!) and just write. Make sure you have a timer. You can also use a phone app to help you stay focused. Forest is a great one. The entire time you work, you grow a virtual tree. Eventually you can make a little forest. If you stop early, your tree dies and never goes away. Morbid, I know, but it's a good motivator. 

Weekday/Weekend Routine: Sometimes a busy life means you can't write everyday, and that's okay. You have to have time to take care of you and everything else in your life. If that's the case, schedule a time during the week or weekend that you can devote solidly to writing. Maybe Friday night is your night. Someone else takes the kids or cooks dinner. This is time for you and your craft. You can set up times every other night if you're able to fit it into your schedule. Do what works for you. 

Spurt Routine: A spurt routine is a little similar to sprints, only you're not racing anyone. This routine comes from taking whatever available time you have in the day to write. Maybe you have 10 minutes at breakfast to get out a paragraph or two. You're waiting at the doctor's appointment; what a great time to jot down ideas or outlines. Friend running late? Pull out that journal and write some sentences. This may seem a little haphazard, but honestly, I sometimes get some of my best writing out this way. I have an intense 5 or 10 minute session where I just focus on nothing else but my writing. By the time I'me done and have to leave for work or get called back for my doctor's appointment, I might have made my word count. Heck, I could have written half of a chapter during the hour it took me to get into one of my doctors! 

People who truly want to write will find time in their daily lives to make writing important. You might have to give up an extra episode on Netflix, or maybe you can't get together with friends on a certain night of the week, but we sometimes have to make sacrifices to do something we love. Keep in mind, though, that if you pick a routine that just doesn't work for you or seems too insurmountable, it's okay to change it. Try it for a month or two. If it doesn't feel right, try something else until something sticks. 

And remember, it's okay if you don't write everyday. We all need breaks, and if you really don't feel the passion to put words on paper, don't beat yourself up. Breathe. Take a step back. Adjust your routine. Going from a timed routine to a weekday routine might work better for you. 

What kind of routines do you follow? 

This topic is brought to us by @just_dahhhling on instagram! If you have topics you'd like to see, post them below! 


Tips: Writing Query Letters

A few months ago I decided that I wanted to try out for the Zebulon contest through the Pikes Peak Writing Convention in Colorado. The goal is to submit 2,500 words of your story, write a mock query letter, and create a synopsis. Up until that point, I hadn't tried to write an official query letter. I had made a draft of one when I was a student at the Denver Publishing Institute, but that was more a trial and error attempt. It was very, very real for the Zebulon. They even created a mock agent that you had to address. I don't claim to be a perfect query letter writer, but after that experience, I do have some tips I would like to offer to those of you who are trying to get your novels published. You can try to go through a publishing company without an agent, but from what I've read, you'll have a better shot if you have an agent at your back. So, here are just a few tips:

  • Research your agent: Know what he/she is looking for. You don't want to send a fantasy query to a person who only accepts non-fiction stories. Look at some of the stories he/she has already chosen. That might help you decide if you have the right fit.
  • Include information about the agent in your query. This makes the letter more personal and lets the agent know that you've taken the time to research her. This may include mentioning the books she's acquired, or the types of things she likes to read.
  • Understand the query guidelines for your agent. One mishap can cause your letter to get thrown in the garbage.
  • Make your query letter only a page long, or follow the word count guidelines on the agency site.
  • Be confident, but not cocky. Make the agent believe that you have confidence in yourself, but don't be arrogant.
  • Be professional.
  • Sell your book. Create a strong attention getter that makes the agent want to keep reading your query letter. Depending on what resource you go through, you might include the hook at the beginning of the letter, or right when you discuss your story.
  • Don't talk too much about yourself. If you've had work published, then include that, and the numbers too of how many books were sold. If you're a beginning writer...don't say it. Just show that you're confident in your book.
  • Include word count in your query letter. Agents can often tell just how much revision you might need by the amount of words in your story (i.e. 300,000 words might be a red flag for a first time fantasy book).
  • Know your facts. If your book falls under a very popular genre that's sold millions of books, say it. This means that your book might be easier to sell, and therefore the agent might be more inclined to look it over.
  • If the agent asks for money upfront, RUN AWAY. This is not a legitimate agent. An agent should not be paid until your book has sold, and she'll take commission from that.
  • Spell check. I can't emphasize this enough. One misspelling is a good way to get your query letter thrown out.

These are just a few things that I learned. If you want additional guidance, you can check out How to Write a Query Letter.

There are a lot of resources on the internet, but your best bet is to go through the agency website to see what they require. Good luck!