Category Archives: Prologues

The Twilight Zone

A Guest Post by Matthew Becket

Warning: This post is not a safe alternative to nicotine.

Guilty pleasures. I have two of them while watching TV, the unrelated duo are scifi/horror anthologies and infomercials. This time we’ll focus on the first thing. I’ll share my thoughts on the Ninja Blender and that wacky garden hose you can fold up in your pocket for another entry.

Give me the grit, give me those low budget masterpieces from the eighties, then sit my happy little bum in front of the TV and I won’t make any noise but laughter for a good ten hours. I see through the camp and I imagine the script, but more importantly the script writer. I visualize the poor bastard pounding out his manuscript on a tight deadline and an even tighter budget just to give me and my comrades (assuming I’m not alone in this) an irremovable smile. But here’s a question—Is this good writing?

I want to say “no” right off the bat. I should, but I can’t, not completely. All these anthologies (by the way, I’m mostly referring to Tales From the Darkside and Monsters, two gems from the eighties that I cannot part with) have a Grandaddy, a Master, an I’m-way-better-than-you prototype. I only need to say three words – if I’m lucky it may even make you tingle when you read them. You may even hear a certain song.

The Twilight Zone.

SerlingRod Serling. Rod Serling. Rod Serling. The man almost wants me to take up smoking. He held that lit thing in his hand and bravely gave the intro to each and every original episode. And did you know he wrote ninety-two? Yep that’s right, ninety-two of the one hundred fifty-six episodes were written by Mr. Serling. I’ve read a few in script form, but also as short stories—they’re beautiful. I have a tiny area of bookshelf space dedicated to things relating to The Twilight Zone. The stories and TV show age quite well. Not bad story writing. NOT guilty pleasure.

I do have a tinge of jealousy. Jealous of Serling? Sure, I can only aspire, but no, I’m talking about that generation of Baby Boomers who saw the images glow on their black and white screens for the first time. No VCRs, no DVRs, no DVDs (I officially despise acronyms after writing this) only magic! A special Serling sort of magic served with nicotine and sometimes Shatner. A journey into a dimension that made your senses feel puny. Four dimensions were not enough for Serling. If you hopped into his small black TV-shaped vehicle for a ride you signed a contract to breach this plane—an invitation to Heaven, Hell, and all the junk in between. These were bold messages that often were only found in the quirky comic books of the day. Some episodes still scare the hell out of me. Some give me a near Bradbury-ish nostalgic hug. They all make me smile.

Why does it work so well? I think (I may be wrong) it’s utter expectation. Serling gives us a promise every episode. He promises to take us to a weird place. He makes good on his promises.

It sounds simple, but that is a common problem with new writers. In fact, I’m struggling with it right now. I first have to ask myself, “Shit! Does this story even make a promise?” But the paranoid state is good for a writer, or so I hear. Master storytellers like Serling have laid certain foundations and have shown us that these seeds of expectation work. They make the reader feel crafty as if they’re in on the joke.

We don’t need to stand in front of our reader, take a healthy drag off our cig, and give a two paragraph soliloquy just before they start on the first line. (Although let’s face it, that would be cool as hell). However, we can present it in the prose just as we’ve been taught. Promises, expectations, whatever you want to call them they need to be there for the reader. When the promise has been met then we are one step closer to resonance. This is what we want, fellow writers!! We can hear “that was clever”, “you’re so funny”, “beautiful writing” and those are great compliments, but if someone looks you in the eye and says, “that thing in your book resonated with me” in so many words or less – you wrote something Serling might like. I, as you do, very much want to be “might liked” by Serling.

Picture if you will, finding a promise and making good on it. It’s somewhere out there in the ether we call—The Twilight Zone.

MattBioPicMatthew started lying as soon as he could talk. Thrilled with the reaction he received, he started making the lies bigger. Some of the lies he had kicked around for years became commodiously appropriate for the written word. Matthew has fun lying in the Middle Grade genre, but lately has been taking on the Adult Dark Humor Crime Thriller genre. He is currently working on his novel – The Sommelier.

When not lying, he is usually traveling, or hanging out with his wife and three cats in Celebration, Florida while looking up words like “commodious” on .

Where do I find this guy?




Saving people. Hunting things. The family business.

The TV show Supernatural has gotten a reputation for being a show about two male models (who happen to be brothers) who hunt paranormal creatures, while repeatedly coming back from the dead. Much like the seasons and story arcs after the end of Eric Kripke’s Era of the first five seasons. So we’re not going to talk about those, or I’d be here all night.

The first season of Supernatural opens with a prologue. Family settles down for the night. Mother hears a noise and goes to check on her infant son, Sam. Father goes to check on his wife, and finds her on the ceiling. Bleeding. And then on fire.

So, hello there inciting incident to the overall story arc! Character motivation and high-stakes villain, so nice of you to join us so soon!

And then it does something very subtle, but important. The father hands off the infant to the six year old Dean, telling him “Take your brother outside as fast as you can. Don’t look back.” Translated? “Protect your brother and keep him safe. That’s the most important thing.”

The child cradles his infant brother and tells him, “It’s okay, Sam.” And then he looks up to the room consumed by flames and the family that was there. He looked back.

His father snatches them both away before the fire bursts out of the windows and doors.

Title screen.

Like oh, wow, okay, so that happened. And then what?

Cut to Halloween at Stanford, ‘present day’. Sam is grown up and has a seemingly normal life. A girlfriend. Excellent LSAT scores and his choice of a full-ride at just about any law school he wants. But then Dean shows up, looking like he doesn’t want to be there, and asks for help. “Dad’s on a hunting trip, and he hasn’t been home for a few days.” And Sam knows exactly what Dean means.

Our only indication outside of the, you know, title, that this is about paranormal hunters is the strangeness of the circumstances in the prologue.

You can tell that Sam and Dean are a bit estranged, and it’s revealed that Sam didn’t like growing up in a transient lifestyle of constantly hunting monsters. Dean wasn’t much into it either, but he saw it as a necessity, because he was old enough to remember the stakes and what he’s lost. And now he risks losing his father, too.

So with a truck full of guns, hatchets, and silver-bullets, they drive off together, on the road again in a black ‘67 Chevy Impala while nostalgic rock music plays in the background.

And as the story progresses, as each new season is introduced, the stakes are raised higher, and higher. ((We’re going to ignore the episode with the possessed racist truck ghost.))

First, there’s the yellow-eyed demon who killed their mother. He is amassing an army of demons, who are near impossible to kill at this point, for God knows what. ((Except God is missing, but we’ll get to that later.))

At first, they risk losing each other. Then their father, who they do lose, and it’s just them. And then they risk losing each other, again, because one’s dead, then not, and the other is destined for hell in a year.

Whew, okay, deep breath.

Stopped the demon army, learned about family and being there for each other, and reinforced the bond that was established when they were very young. Dean will do anything, anything, up to and including “Promise your immortal soul to the enemy that killed your father and mother” to protect his little brother.

Sam is just as loyal to Dean. He wants to try to find a way around

And then an angel literally grips Dean tight and raises him from perdition. Oh, yeah, now there are angels, too. They’re not all good, let alone on our duo’s side. In fact some of them are actively working against them, on top of all the demons they have to deal with.

They get a blade that can take care of demons, and oh look, now there’s another Big Bad even more powerful than the first one! And the seals that keep Lucifer locked away are being broken faster and faster. You gotta move, boys. Gotta figure this out.

So angels and demons are all warring amongst themselves and with the Winchester boys as they try to cause or stop a full on Apocalpyse, and God is still missing.

Until he isn’t.

And you think, oh, wow. So is God going to be on the Winchester’s side and fight the devil himself with a set of unified angels behind him? Are the Winchesters going to have to fight frickin’ God now?

And sadly, no, the God figure is more of a literal author who just organizes the world and lets the characters have free will to play out the story as they see fit.

Which means, they have to take down Lucifer themselves. Together. After all they’ve been through. But to do so, they might have to lose each other (…again.)

Took notes? All caught up? Good.

One of the writing lessons I took away from this series was how compelling, emotionally charged characters with a deep connection to each other (and a lot of humor, rock and roll, and self-awareness thrown in) can still drive a story when the plot seems to consist of the “…and…?” impromptu technique.

Now the series has 11 seasons and is being renewed for a 12th. Tumblr and DeviantArt and every other fandom forum out there are still talking about the show and analyzing the details in it years later. I’m pretty sure half the internet right now is Supernatural .gifs.

So, find something about your story, some aspect that you do really, really well. Work it. Respond to the fans and rework it to give them more of what they want.

Clive Cussler, Guy Gavriel Kay and DJ McIntosh are Masters at …

… the dreaded, overused, abused and misunderstood prologue.

I’ve never been a fan of prologues. Sometimes prologues create expectations that the book doesn’t meet either in story content or style or it’s an info dump. If it’s designed to foreshadow or tease I read no further because I want to experience that within the context of the story itself. The prologue must signal that it contains important information which can’t be placed elsewhere in the book. Before I buy a book, I’ll skim the prologue and the first chapter to ensure that chapter one is gripping and that the prologue wasn’t added because the first chapter failed to hook.

Sometimes the prologue works well and in the hands of good writers, you know the story wouldn’t be the same without it. The prologue should entertain, read well and provide a set-up that can’t be integrated into the novel proper.

In The Navigator, Clive Cussler and Paul Kemprecos interpret history to create a fast paced action adventure. Set in 900 B.C., the prologue is a well written short story with compelling characters, feuding brothers, interesting detail and contains a mystery that the reader knows will be revealed in the thriller’s modern day setting. Like the novel, the prologue is an action adventure with plot twists and turns. We expect that in Cussler’s books and he delivers.

The prologue in Guy Gavriel Kay’s novel Tigana is set back only 20 years and is a delight to read because although it is set in the time of war, it isn’t an information dump and it skillfully sets the mood and the theme. Unlike Cussler’s story approach, Kay paints only a scene between the court’s sculptor and the prince who are steadfast friends. This scene, in the hours before the hopeless final battle, the sculptor and the prince reflect that, despite knowing that they will lose this battle, their legacies will live on through their children and their work and they will die at the hand of a vengeful sorcerer for they have killed his son. There is also the delicate touch of themes, remembrance, the good and evil in people, the ugliness and beauty of a situation, hope and despair. ‘There was singing on the other side of the river too, he noted, listening to the enemy soldiers north of them. It was curiously hard to impute any absolute sense of evil to those harmonizing voices, or to hate them quite as blindly as being a soldier seemed to require.’ The writing is introspective without being melodramatic. ‘There will be ripples of tomorrow that run down all the years.”

D.J. McIntosh is a historical thriller writer touted as the next Dan Brown. The first book of her series, The Witch of Babylon, is set in 2003, just after the National Museum of Iraq becomes a casualty of war. The prologue is unusual in that it has three vignettes: the first sets the time and place, in the ruins of the museum where a thief after a relic observes a museum archeologist; the second where the American archeologist outsmarts the thief; and the third, where a woman is tortured for information and is left to die in a sandstorm. The intimate nature of these situations is information which can’t be known or revealed later because the story is told in the first person and not by any of these characters. These vignettes are handled deftly for they contain well-paced action and adventure written in vividly descriptive, yet not overdone, prose–just like the rest of the novel. For example: ‘And yet on the ninth day of the month of Nissan, a time well chosen by the invaders to avoid the brutal heat of summer, the city did fall, crushed as easily as the delicate shell of a baby bird.’ and ‘She dreamt of water—the feeling of cool liquid slipping down her throat, reedy pools at the edge of the Tigris, icy moisture on ancient rock walls. She was cracking and she knew it.’

These three authors wrote their prologues in very different ways. Each successfully conveyed information without it being an info dump and promised a story/writing style upon which they delivered. They all made for good and memorable reads: Cussler’s ability to deliver action adventure with an interesting historical twist; Kay’s ability to weave a poignant scene with thematic overtones; and McIntosh’s deft delivery of an action based thriller with roots in ancient and modern history.

Yes, that dreaded, maligned prologue can be a joy to read!