Elmore Leonard famously said of his writing: “I try to leave out the parts people skip.” Solid advice for writers of all levels of experience. But what exactly are “the parts people skip?” How do you identify whether you’re managing to leave them out of your writing or not?
I had a couple of encounters this past month that immediately made me think about that quote– and made me think about its relevance in a new light. The first was a conversation I had with my oldest daughter a couple of weeks ago. We were about to start reading a book together–one that my daughter had already read by herself and wanted to share with me– and I cracked open the cover and started reading the prologue.
Bella: Why are you reading that?
Me: Because the author wrote it. She thought it was important enough to work hard writing it, so we should think it’s important enough to read.
[Bella sighs. If thought bubbles could appear in the air over people’s heads the way they do in cartoons, hers would read “Oh help, my mother is talking like an author again.”]
Bella: Mom, look. *patiently flips pages and points to the words ‘Chapter 1’* This is where the story starts. Right here.
That’s kind of profound, if you think about it. My daughter is seven. She’s only been reading novel-length books independently for somewhere around a year and a half. And yet she’s already come to the conclusion (not from me, obviously) that prologues are something to be skipped, that the actual ‘story’ starts with Chapter 1. Which happens to be exactly the argument made by people (Elmore Leonard was, in fact, one of them) who claim that prologues should be avoided.
Which brings me to my second encounter of the month. [Read more…]