Jeanne: The Sign of a Master Storyteller

Have you ever picked up a book and within a few pages or even just a few sentences found yourself relaxing back into your chair and smiling because you already know that you’re in for a great ride?

Recently, on the advice of Eight Lady Jilly (who found it from a recommendation from This Is a Good Book Thursday on Jenny Crusie’s Argh blog) I picked up Lord of Stariel by A.J. Lancaster. The prologue (which is titled “An Ominous Prologue”) is only half a page in length. It shows someone named King Aeros activating a gate to a non-faerie realm.

His touch fell upon a stone acorn buried among the leaves. He drew up ropes of magic, filling the air with his signature of storms and metal, and twisted. The space between the stone columns shimmered.

“The Iron Law is revoked. The Mortal Realm is open to us once again.” His smile widened.

It was not a nice smile.

And just like that, I was hooked. It was clear from the nine-paragraph prologue that Ms. Lancaster was a masterful storyteller and that I was in good hands. I finished the book late last week and it kept its promise.

That got me to thinking about other times I’ve had that experience of knowing right off the bat that I was in the hands of a master storyteller.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor, gave me that feeling.

Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love.

It did not end well.

I loved that book enough that a few years later, on the strength of Ms. Taylor’s descriptions of Prague, I took a riverboat cruise from Paris (which I’d always wanted to see) to Prague. Both were amazing (and the rivers in between, with neat German vineyards climbing steep hills on either side, weren’t too shabby either).

Another book like this is Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon. Before the first chapter, there’s a statement:

People disappear all the time. Ask any policeman. Better yet, ask a journalist. Disappearances are bread-and-butter to journalists.

Young girls run away from home. Young children stray from their parents and are never seen again. Housewives reach the end of their tether and take the grocery money and a taxi to the station. International financiers change their names and vanish into the smoke of imported cigars.

Many of the lost will be found, eventually, dead or alive. Disappearances, after all, have explanations.

Usually.

The book then launches into a fairly prosaic description of a holiday weekend in Scotland taken by a couple who have been separated by WWII and are trying to reconnect. The 1940’s Scottish weekend was mildly interesting, but what kept my attention was knowing that all this normal stuff was going to somehow connect back into that opening statement about people disappearing. With every page flip, I was wondering, “Is it going to happen NOW?”

Without going into the same level of detail, I got the same feeling the first time I read Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer. When I went back to look at the opening just now, I see it has the same thing–a five-paragraph prologue. In it, an unidentified protagonist contemplates the fact that she’s about to be killed.

Apparently, tiny prologues or little disembodied statements of fact are on my Id List.

All of these books are paranormal romances. One of the things the tiny prologue does is to tell the audience that the story has paranormal or other-worldly elements, so even if the first chapter or two seem pretty solidly set in this world, hang on because the supernatural stuff is coming.

My work-in-progress, The Demon Wore Stilettos, is the story of a writer who sells her soul to Satan to make the New York Times Bestseller list. The first line is: “The road to Hell is paved with coffee beans.”

As a first line, it’s okay. It makes a statement about the narrator’s life (she works in a coffeehouse) and frame-of-mind. It also tells us she’s both quirky and prone to placing minor events in her life into a cosmological context.

Now, though, I’m wondering if I want to use this tiny-prologue approach that I seem to enjoy so much to set the mood more strongly. Something along these lines.

Who among us has never wanted something so badly we would have sold our soul to the Devil to get it? The only thing that stopped us was that no emissary of Hell appeared at the right moment to make us an offer.

What about you? Do you love a tiny prologue?

2 thoughts on “Jeanne: The Sign of a Master Storyteller

  1. That tiny “prologue” from Twilight wasn’t a prologue. It was just a snippet of a later scene. I see those a lot in Lynsay Sands’ books (Argeneau Vampire series), too. I tend to ignore those because I just want to get to the story. As for an actual prologue, I read them, no matter how long (a lot of readers don’t, and I’ll never understand that). It usually sets up the world I’m about ready to jump into. What you wrote would probably work best in the blurb or back cover copy (especially if it’s that short). For your story, I would assume the prologue would be about how she made the deal with the demon. Then Chapter 1 jumps forward several years, when her part of the bargain is due.

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