If you’re super organised and plan your story down to the last letter, then you’ll probably write your prologue before anything else. As I’m super UNorganised in my planning, the prologue usually comes right at the end. That way, I have the entire thing to look back on as a resource to plunder. You’ll see a lot of prologues in books that are actually scenes for way down the track, re-tooled to misdirect your expectations.
A good example of this is the prologue in Scott Lynch’s second Gentlemen Bastards book, ‘Red Seas Under Red Skies.’ He’s already had the space of one book to get you emotionally involved in the two main characters, who happen to be the best of friends, and in the prologue of Red Seas he smacks you in the blindside. The two main guys, Locke and Jean, are seen pointing loaded crossbows at each other, and give the impression that in fact they’d dearly love pull their triggers. You then spend the entire book wanted desperately to know how and why such a scenario could come to pass, and when you eventually arrive at the offending scene in the main narrative, the reality is quite different.
This is done to great effect by modern media, and it works just as well in books. The prologue for Serabella follows along on similar lines. It takes a scene from near the end of the story and twists it to change the main aims of the characters, so that you read the majority of the book thinking that this person or that is different to how they actually are. Then when you arrive at the scene in question, you discover you’ve been duped, you curse the author for a talentless hack, and promptly throw the book in the fire.
A song of Fire and Ice’s prologue is much different. It sets up the main themes of the entire series, and by the time you reach book seven, that initial sequence has faded mostly from memory.
Many books don’t have prologues, and for good reason. They’re not necessary, and if done poorly, can turn readers off from venturing further. My own efforts for The Adventurer’s Daughter have been done over many times. Finally, I feel I’ve arrived at a prologue I’m almost vaguely happy with, and in time I’ll be posting it up for your perusal, but for now, here’s something slightly different. I said I’d post up sections of a work-in-progress draft called Rogues’ Redemption, and I suppose I have to now follow through…Here’s the first stanza. Not entirely sure if stanza works outside of poetry, which is super gay, but I’ll use it anyway. I usually write long chapters, and sectioning them off with numbers is a good way of breaking them up. And as I may not even bother with a prologue for this story, this is where it currently begins. Just a reminder that this is a raw draft, barring a few changes and as many corrections to grammar and spelling as I could find over a couple of read-thrus. My aim here is to lay out a story as I write the draft, and offer notes on how it’s planned, changes, structure, character profiles and so on. If it all goes well, I’ll have written an entire book…
Anyways, this first part introduces one of the two main characters, Whispers Winterleaf. She’s seen only briefly in Adventure’s Daughter, but there was no need to extrapolate much on her personality or backstory, as it didn’t pertain to the main plot. In this one she gets the full work-up.
CHAPTER ONE: THE TAKE
Sitting damp and stiff in the bushes waiting to rob a carriage wasn’t most people’s idea of a fun evening out, but for Whispers Winterleaf, if she wasn’t doing something dangerous, she wasn’t living.
The dark gloom of the forest added atmosphere, and the steady patter of rain hitting leaf and underbrush was just ambient background noise, like a good brass band at the back of a gaming hall. And besides, the sound would muffle their own movements when the time came.
Whispers glanced up to the shadowed branches above, and cursed softly when a drip hit her in the eye.
‘Shhh,’ hissed an unseen voice in the darkness, completely betraying the whole point of what he was in fact saying.
It wasn’t exactly cold—southern summers are generally anything but—however, when a body has been sitting still for several hours, not to mention soaked through from a passing shower, it gets a little chilly when a wind blows through.
‘Feels like we been out here all night.’
That was Brains, Whispers knew. A bruiser they brought along for the sole purpose of swinging his fists if their little show turned into a brawl. A big thick lumbering wall of balding fat, Brains could be relied upon to complete one single task at a time, provided he had been briefed several times beforehand. With diagrams.
The third member of the team, a man who fancied himself handy with a rapier, added his strangled murmur to the fray. ‘Shut him up. I’ll not be killed for his incompetence.’
Drips fell and leaves rustled in the wind. It was a night as black as soot, with only here and there the faint glimmer of water reflected off a puddle, or a leaf, from some unseen source of light. Whispers strained her eyes, squinted them and made them bulge almost from her head, but she couldn’t see a thing. The road lay just a few meters before her, through a screen of bushes, but for all she could tell, they were alone in the eternal forests of The Springthain.
Kard, their rapier expert, chose to further jeopardise their position by offering more of his carefully considered insights. ‘We all know what we’re going to do, right? Remember, if the coach has its lamps off, we wait until it passes before we go. No sense in alerting the guards before we have to.’
‘Shhh!’ Whispers smirked in the darkness. The shusher was as conniving and treacherous as a stoat. Which was what they all called him. ‘Everybody shush,’ he squeaked, his bushes rattling. ‘Plans don’t mean diddly if we’re all found and killed for your bloody whisperings!’
The throaty Eletrossan accent of the fifth member of the group, Starboard Fluke, further shredded the silence of the wooded highway. ‘Don’t nobody live out this way. We be perfectly safe and sound.’
‘What if there’s another band waiting on the other side of the road, eh?’ Stoat said. ‘What then?’
‘Then if you’re quiet,’ Kard growled, ‘you’ll hear the squeaking whine of a man named Ferret moaning like a coward. All of you, keep your gobs shut, for the Five’s Holy sake.’
All went quiet for a time. Whispers knew it couldn’t last. These were men ill-suited to sitting still. They liked tavern brawls and running away from White-Blades, and in Kard’s case, killing men front-on under the harsh light of day. But times were lean for folk who worked outside the Empire’s Law, and nobody here could deny that the roads between Port Pride and Vellidroco were untapped rivers of gold. The Law kept most of it safe, aye, but there were certain patches—this damp forest being one of them—that went unguarded. As a field of fully-laden apple trees was to a grower, so too was a deserted forest road to a highwayman.
Whispers’ fingers tingled at the anticipation. Three hours chafing and shivering without seeing a single soul hardly mattered to her; she knew the time would come soon enough. She did worry about the others in the band, and knew their patience wasn’t quite as saintly as her own. Of course she couldn’t hope to hold up an armoured merchant carriage all by her lonesome, no chance, and unfortunately, she hadn’t the credibility to gather her own force. She had simply accepted a position in the first group that would have her. Corkknife had been given command of this little venture, so he had claim to the biggest share, while Whispers herself was new, and at the bottom of the pecking order. Still, they left her well alone, knowing how light on her feet she was. The others back in the city had wanted her for another job, and thought to put her on the highwayman team to test her mettle. She was determined to prove her name. If she could, then she would get the job on the country villa all to herself. One sneaker through the window would be better than a mob through the front doors any day.
Most people thought Corkknife got his name because he’d stabbed some poor joker in the eye with a spiralled bottle-corker. Whispers had asked him once when he was good and sloshed, and he’d said that it was because he’d been defeated by a particularly stubborn bottle in front of a whole tavern-full of people. In the end he’d smashed the bottle across the counter, cut his hand to pieces and covered himself in cheap wine. He finished by saying that he’d cut Whispers’ head off if she repeated it to anyone, and promptly fell asleep, only to wake with no memory of their conversation. Now, Whispers could barely hide her smirk whenever he talked to her, which was making him steadily more self-conscious.
The bushes shook again somewhere out in the darkness. An owl hooted. Breath from six mouths huffed in and out, while leather creaked and steel scraped. It was all very well and good to demand that everyone sit still and quiet, but nobody here had the faintest notion of exactly what that was supposed to mean. Whispers chaffed at the noises. She herself was the very soul of silence, and longed to tell everybody so, if it didn’t mean she had to make a noise to do it. Her talents were wasted in this darkness, especially when she was surrounded by a horde of smelly, noisy oafs. If there was indeed another party of criminals lurking in these woods—and that was entirely possible considering the quality of the location—then it was a good bet they were in for a nasty surprise before long.
‘What happens if the carriage has got lights?’ Brain rumbled.
‘For the love of the Gatherer, gag him or cut his throat.’ Kard was especially enthusiastic when it came to action. He even punched things in his sleep.
‘If you don’t pipe down I’ll cut your throat,’ Corkknife snarled, none too quiet himself. ‘Brain, you are to pull the rope tight, remember?’
A chorus of despairing sighs and muttered curses followed. Corkknife shuffled through the bushes, as loud as a charging ox in this quiet world. ‘The one that’s in your hand.’
‘Oh! Right. Gotcha.’
‘Shhh!’ Stoat hissed again. ‘I think I hear something!’
‘That’s you,’ Kard said.
‘No, seriously. I hear something in the trees.’
‘So I just pull the rope,’ Brain repeated. ‘That’s it?’
‘That’s it.’ There came the leathery slapping sound of Corkknife clapping Brain’s huge shoulder. ‘Pull it very hard, and don’t let go. The horses will just tug it from your hand if you don’t hold on tight, understand?’
Corkknife shuffled back and sat down with a squelch. ‘Surrounded by utter, utter idiots.’
Silence descended for a full thirty seconds this time, before the echoing thwop of a cork being pulled from a gourd made everybody flinch.
‘Starboard,’ Kard growled, ‘what in Gethai are you doing now?’
‘Having a drink, sol.’ The sloshing of liquid followed, and then a throaty swallow.
‘Can I’ve some?’
‘Stoat, I don’t tink you’d like this brew. He got a strong set of jaws on him, and you are only small.’ Whether by the barrier of language or the fact he was simply very slow on the uptake, Starboard hadn’t grasped the concept of lowering his voice. He spoke in a soft, deep tone anyway, which was often hard to catch. Out here, his voice boomed.
‘Put that gods damned thing down.’
More liquid sloshed. Whispers felt it burn her nose, and she had to have been at least three meters away. She longed to cough, but mastered the impulse, rubbing her nose instead. She thought about what Stoat had said before, and strained her ears to pick up the ambient noises in the trees. Branches scraped across one another, while trunks cracked and creaked. Leaves rattled and drips dripped. Out on the road, the wet clatter of leaves being blown by the wind was like hearing a fortune teller shaking her necklace of bones. It was easy to trick herself into thinking that something was lurking, especially when she allowed her imagination to wander. The creaking was really boot-leather straining under weight, and the scraping was a blade being drawn from a sheath. That odd tinkling sound that she couldn’t indentify could have been anything. Or nothing.
She grew tense, and hated the distracting noises of her fellow crewmembers in the darkness. If there were foes creeping up they would neither be heard nor seen.
The second stanza will follow next week…