Monday, December 24, 2012

Hope for This Season of Light

by Kelley Lindberg


I wrote this a few years ago, but I decided to dust it off and repost it, because it still sums up my wishes for us all in this season of light. Best wishes to you and your family, wherever you are.

The season of light is upon us.

Earlier this month, we celebrated Chanukah, when Jews light the candles on their menorahs to celebrate the miracle of a sacred lamp burning steadily in the reclaimed temple for eight days on only a single day’s worth of oil. Christmas is tomorrow, when candles everywhere will be lit to welcome the newborn Prince of Peace to earth. Kwanzaa starts on Wednesday, with candles for Kwanzaa’s seven guiding principles. Last Friday was the winter solstice, and drum circles and candles said good-bye to the shortest day of the year and welcomed the lengthening hours of sunlight. In another week, the New Year will arrive in a shower of booming fireworks.

In the middle of our darkest times of winter, we use candles and fireworks to restore light and remind us that the darkness will not last. The cold will give way to warmth. The ice will thaw. The spring will come. Leaves will bud and flowers will bloom. And we light candles to show we remember, we believe, and we will persevere until light spreads around us once again.

Last week, I was outside at my mailbox when I heard a flock of geese approaching. We live near a bird refuge, so geese are forever flying overhead, even in the winter. I stopped and waited to see them as they came up over the house across the street. It was a small flock. There were nine geese.

And one seagull.

The seagull was white and shining in the sun, almost glowing beside the darker, larger bodies of the geese. But the seagull appeared to be a welcome member of the flock. He soared and glided in the middle of the others, keeping perfect time and formation with them. As one, the entire flock, including the seagull, curved into a turn and headed for the mountains, finally disappearing in the distance. There was no honking protest. There were no missed wing beats. There seemed to be nothing but comfortable acceptance. The seagull was simply a member of the flock – whether temporary or permanent, I don’t know, but it was clear he was welcome. Adding the seagull didn’t diminish the flock – it enhanced it, adding a quiet splash of sunlight to a routine flight of noisy shadows.

It was a lovely thing to see. If nature can make acceptance look that easy and beautiful, perhaps all hope is not lost for us human beings after all.

So my wish in this season of light is this – that we all find, somewhere in our hearts, the capacity to welcome each other’s light into our little shadowed worlds, because there is strength in numbers and beauty in new colors. And strength and beauty are good things to keep close as we push through the cold months ahead.

May the lights of the season be yours. Merry everything!

Love,
Kelley

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Why I Love Being a Writer

by Kelley Lindberg


Lists are great. Lists can keep you organized, remind you of your priorities, or prevent you from making a faux pas (by forgetting to invite Aunt Myrtle to the birthday party, for instance). They can help you remember to pick up yogurt at the grocery story, and they can show you how many more editing changes you have to make before you can turn in that story to your editor.

And of course, there’s that all-important list we hear about this time of year – you know, the one where we hope our name is under the “Nice” heading, so we can get that shiny new e-reader we’ve been eyeing.

Since the holiday pace has picked up to somewhere around Mach 3, I find my lists are my lifeline. I’ve got my Christmas card list, my grocery list, my work assignments list, and my gift-shopping list. And my general end-of-the-year To-Do list is about 20 miles long, with no rest stops.

So in the spirit of list-making, and because I sometimes need reminding, I decided to jot down a quick list of the reasons why I love being a freelance writer:
  1. I get to daydream and call it “plotting.”
  2. I get to surf the web and call it “research.”
  3. I receive a crash course in a brand-new subject every time I write a new article, and for a brief time, I get to be an expert in something new.
  4. I have an excuse to meet really fascinating people. And sometimes famous ones.
  5. I get to wear my slippers to work.
  6. NO OFFICE POLITICS. Although I sometimes have heated arguments with myself. But I always win, so it’s okay.
  7. The lunch room is always stocked with potato chips.
  8. I love reveling in words, rhythm, and emotion.
  9. I measure my commute in cups of coffee, not miles per gallon.
  10. I get to live several lives simultaneously – and in only one of them must I wash dishes and do laundry.
  11. I can say “no” to jobs that look suspiciously unsatisfying.
  12. I can write off lunch with writer friends.
  13. I can ensure there’s a happy ending if I want one.
  14. Or I can bump off a bad guy if he needs it.
  15. I have seen my words touch the lives of strangers around the world. And theirs have touched me in return.
Those are just a few of the reasons I love writing. What are yours?

 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Just-In-Time World Building

by Kelley Lindberg


You’re sick of hearing “Show, don’t tell.” Got it. But then you’re told to use vivid description and setting to enrich your story. So how do you describe the world your character inhabits without “telling” about it? This is a constant balancing act, whether you’re writing a space opera, a medieval fantasy, an urban paranormal romance, or a contemporary thriller set in your own neighborhood. Somehow you have to describe that world without looking like you’re describing it. Good trick.

One technique I particularly like is when authors reveal the world as a character encounters it, rather than using info-dumps that sketch (or worse, expound upon) the world’s history, politics, religion, or geography. Let’s look at an example. Here’s a tempting little info-dump:
“For years, the region had been dominated by the Brat’an religion, which was led by power-hungry priests who seemed to delight in sowing political unrest with their weekly sermons. Bob the Mercenary hated the priests. They seemed the worst sort of humanity to him. Fortunately, their toe-hold in this part of the region seemed fairly small.”
Sure, it’s short and to the point, but it’s boring. (I think it’s boring, and I wrote it!) I’m telling the readers something that I think they should know about my world. I’m not showing them what this part of the world looks like in my story. Big difference. Here’s an alternate paragraph that shows how I can stay focused on the story, and let the story reveal the world naturally.
“Bob the Mercenary pushed into the bar and bumped into one of those nasty little Brat’an priests with tattooed earlobes and a crescent moon shaved into his head. “Been sacrificing kittens again?” Bob asked the priest. “Or just whipping the crowd into a treasonous frenzy, as usual?” Bob looked pointedly around the bar, where there was a definite lack of frenzy happening.”
Okay, sappy example, but still…This kind of writing is more fun – we get all kinds of information about a religious faction, some politics, Bob’s attitude about them, society’s view of them, and so on. But there’s none of the long diatribe about the religion he clearly disdains. It’s what I call “just-in-time” world-building, where aspects of the world become visible to the reader as the character interacts with it. In fact, because we’re not just describing the world but showing Bob’s interaction with that world, we get even more information, atmosphere, emotion, and insight than in the first info-heavy paragraph.

To be sure, sometimes you can’t avoid info dumps – to have characters talk or think about it might seem too obvious and staged or slow down the pace unnecessarily, so narrative may actually work better in some instances. But in general, our job as writers is to find the most natural, organic, real-feeling way to show how our worlds work, and that often means that letting our characters do the world-building for us.

Look at some of your favorite authors. How do they bring their characters' worlds alive? If you've got a favorite example or author, post it in the Comments.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

So Many Words, So Little Time

by Kelley Lindberg


We’re a wordy bunch, we English speakers. According to the Oxford Dictionaries website (“How Many Words Are There in the English Language?”), “the Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words. To this may be added around 9,500 derivative words included as subentries… This suggests that there are, at the very least, a quarter of a million distinct English words.” And that excludes different means of the same words and other such variations.

A quarter of a million words? I’m at a loss for words. (Ha!)

The number of words in the English language dwarfs that in its nearest competitors: German, Russian, Spanish, and French. This is largely because English is notoriously sticky-fingered – we’ve been happily stealing words from other languages since we migrated away from our Germanic language siblings, Dutch and German. We were especially thrilled to find ourselves within pilfering range of Norman French and Latin after the Norman Conquest in 1066.

All that filching (and purloining, lifting, pinching, robbing, thieving, and appropriating) means we’ve ended up creating a language that has multiple words for almost everything. English is beyond compare when it comes to expressing ourselves with limitless layers of meaning and emotion.

In all of his plays, sonnets, and narrative poems, Shakespeare used between 18,000 and 25,000 distinct words (the number varies depending on who’s counting and how many variations of words they choose to count separately). Of those words, Shakespeare supposedly invented over 1700 of them, which means he invented somewhere between 7 and 10% of his own vocabulary. (What have YOU done for the English language lately?)

Shakespeare’s facility with language is one of the main reasons his writing is still considered so incredible, even more than four centuries after his death. He didn’t just kill off a character, he murdered them in a hundred shades of palpable intrigue, pain, or remorse, made possible by a complex language (which, by the way, he didn’t think quite rich enough to do the job, so he enhanced it).

When asked how many words the average English speaker knows and uses, linguistic experts typically respond: “Not that question again! Leave me alone, I beg of you!” Then they throw up their hands in despair and strap themselves into a straightjacket.

That’s because it’s nearly impossible to count the words we use. A single English word can take on many different variations, meanings, compounds, and tenses, so how do you know what to count? For example, there’s “dog.” Sure, you just thought of the four-legged animal, but what about the verb form, as in “I will dog you until you get your homework done”? Then there are variations like dogs (noun and verb), dogged, doggie, dog-tired, doggedness, and dog-breath. Are all of those separate words, or do they get counted all together with the single headword "dog"? (And would you say "dog," "breath," and "dog-breath" count as two words or three?)

So estimates of the number of English words we each know range from 25,000 to over 100,000, and we can multiply that several times over if we want to include all those variations, inflections, compounds, and tenses.

Where am I going with all of this?

Only this: We English writers are blessed to have at our disposal a language that is rich beyond our wildest dreams. We can evoke the caress of a springtime breeze, the horror of a grisly murder scene, the terror of an earthquake, or the shattering longing for love in finer detail and clarity than any other language can approximate.

So when we’re exhorted by our teachers, mentors, editors, or critique groups to “find not just an adequate word, but the right word,” we should listen, and listen well. Well-chosen words can separate a beach-read from a gotta-read, a “yeah, it was okay” from an “I’m giving this book to all my friends for their birthdays,” and an “I couldn’t get past Chapter 1” from an “I stayed up until 3:00am reading it.”

Pay attention to your words. Listen to them carefully. Nurture them. Prune them, train them, coax them, and strengthen them.

Revel in them.

They’re waiting for you. All quarter of a million of them.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tips for Writing a Profile

by Kelley Lindberg


Recently, I was asked for some tips on writing a profile. When it comes to writing for magazines, profiles are my favorite projects. A profile is a story about a particular person and their life, their passions, their inspirations, and their contributions.

It can be a little intimidating to interview someone for a profile, though. After all, a human being’s life is a pretty broad topic. Where do you start?

To begin, think about the goals of your profile – are you going to focus mostly on their body of work, their personality, their inspiration, a particular project, an interesting hobby, or a unique angle (such as overcoming a disability, or someone with a different ethnic background)? A good profile might have a sprinkling of all those types of information, but will devote the bulk of the story to your top-priority goal.

Profiles in magazines tend to focus on a particular aspect, like “here’s Joe, a great gardener, who is going to tell us about heirloom tomatoes.” The article might profile Joe, describing why he’s a great gardener (his background, credentials, experience, particular gardening loves), and then it will transition into his specific how-to tips for heirloom tomatoes. It may mention his family, where he lives, and how he learned about gardening, but it probably won’t mention his other hobby of fantasy football (unless he gets clients from his league – that’s a fun fact that relates directly to the article’s goal!).

Earlier this year, a newspaper ran a series of political profiles of candidates. To me, some of the profiles seemed a little off. They focused entirely on making each candidate seem like a super-nice, regular ol’ guy or gal. That’s great, but I also wanted the article to tell me what their political viewpoints were, since I’m not voting for them because they volunteer at their kids’ dance performances or soccer games. I’m voting for them because of what they plan to do while in office. So while the writer spent a lot of time with each candidate and did a bang-up job of giving us an idea of how nice this candidate would be as a neighbor, it left me clueless as to how he or she would perform as my representative in Washington D.C. So I think the editors should have thought a little more about the goal of that series.

After you’ve established your profile’s main goal and narrowed the focus, do a little research on your subject. Don’t waste time for both of you by asking questions that are easily answered elsewhere, such as in online biographies or resumes. You can get a ton of information about a lot of people on their Facebook pages, blogs, company websites, or wiki pages. If they are influential in their field, they may have published articles or been the subject of other profiles. Look them up and get their background information ahead of time, so that you can concentrate your limited time together on the unique and interesting aspects that will go into your article. Then write a list of questions that you couldn’t find answers to online, questions that interest you, and questions that you think will get to the heart of your profile’s main goal.

Then, when you’re finally interviewing the person, try to find the story they want to tell. Anecdotes tell us so much about a person – how they handle problems, how they celebrate successes, how they become inspired or frustrated. Encourage them to give you specific examples, such as a specific example of how they helped mentor a younger person, or how they got interested in their career or hobby, or what they did when faced with a huge obstacle.

And finally, write down or record everything they say. Try not to paraphrase, because their direct quotes are so important and will breathe life into your story. Ask about everything, take copious notes, then know that as you begin to write, you will pare away the less-important and unrelated info and bring up the more-interesting stuff. Sometimes I don’t know what will bubble to the surface until I do the interview. For example, I had no idea singer Klea Blackhurst would be so funny until I interviewed her, so I tried to show a little of that in her profile when I wrote it (“Saying Yes,” Continuum, Fall 2011). I couldn’t plan for that ahead of time, obviously. But it was a happy discovery.

If you’re writing a profile of someone, whether it’s for publication or for a school assignment, the number one thing to remember is that it should be fun! Everyone, and I mean everyone, loves to talk about their passions. The person you’re interviewing will be excited to know someone else is interested in learning about whatever it is that defines and energizes them, whether it’s collecting stamps, raising children, curing infectious diseases, or volunteering for a charity. They can’t wait to share, and you can’t wait to learn. With that combination, how can you go wrong?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Visions and Revisions, with Cheryl Klein

by Kelley Lindberg


Revision. The mere word can strike fear into the hearts of writers. Or hope.

It's where the magic happens. Or the pain.

It’s when everything that isn’t David is chipped away. Or when the whole thing crumbles to dust.

Okay, melodrama aside, revision is a necessary, unavoidable part of writing anything that you want to be good enough to wow editors, charm readers, and stand the test of time.

Cheryl Klein at SCBWI in Salt Lake City, Nov 2012
I know writers who hate revision with a loathing usually reserved for politics, and I know other writers who think the first draft is the ugly, painful part, and who look forward to the revision process as the truly creative act. I think I fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. When I was younger, I thought my first drafts were near-perfect, of course, and once my words were committed to paper, they felt set in concrete. I couldn’t see how to crack open the concrete to make any changes. But with age, comes… well, if not wisdom, then a certain resignation, followed by realization, and finally topped off with epiphany: my writing really does get better with each revision! Hey, who knew?

Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of helping out at the annual SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) conference in Salt Lake City, which this year was a “Plot Intensive Workshop” presented by Cheryl Klein, of Arthur A. Levine Books (an imprint of Scholastic). You know Cheryl’s work. She was one of the American editors of the Harry Potter books, to name just one of the feathers in her cap.

Cheryl’s workshop turned out to be one of the most intense, info-packed workshops I’ve probably ever been to. If you ever—EVER—get a chance to see her speak, go. You won’t be disappointed.

In Saturday’s talk, she covered miles of territory, from three separate methods for looking at your novel’s structure and flow, to ways of strengthening your characters, to how to identify your story’s Emotional Point, Thematic Point, and Experiential Point.

Cheryl also had us go through our novels scene by scene, identifying the driving purpose behind each scene, justifying its existence. Seems so simple; felt so hard.

If you were at the workshop on Saturday, you are probably staring at your pages of notes in wonder right now, already picturing how you can implement some of her ideas into your revision. I know I am.

If you couldn’t make it to her workshop, you’re still in luck—she’s written a book compiling many of her talks that she’s given over the years. It’s called Second Sight: An Editor’s Talks on Writing, Revising, & Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults, but the info in it applies equally well to adult writing. The chapter called “Twenty-Five Revision Techniques” alone is worth the price of the book. You can purchase the book via her website (and while you’re there, be sure you check out her blog and other goodies): http://cherylklein.com/

Want more? How about podcasts? Cheryl and screenwriter/filmmaker James Monohan produce podcasts about just about every aspect of writing you can think of on their site The Narrative Breakdown (also available on iTunes): http://www.narrativebreakdown.com/

As we head into the Thanksgiving holiday, I’d like to thank Cheryl Klein for planting lots of new ideas and thought-provoking insights into my head (and SCBWI for bringing her to us). Suddenly I’m ready to tackle my revision.

Bring it on!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Writing a Better Sentence

by Kelley Lindberg


When it comes right down to it, writing only involves two things: a good story, and the ability to tell it well.

Well, that’s simple enough.

Okay, maybe not.

Obviously, the most fundamental building block of being able to “tell it well” is the sentence. A benign-looking little thing, really. A subject (noun), a predicate (verb), and perhaps a bit of descriptive stuff (adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, etc.). Hang them all together and voila: a sentence!

But clearly it’s in the way you hang them all together that the magic happens. So how do you elevate a basic sentence into an extraordinary one? It goes beyond simple word choice. You must consider meaning, flavor, intention, accuracy, tautness, personality, and rhythm, just for starters. Even experienced writers (or maybe especially experienced writers) spend hours crafting, shaping, and molding sentences to not just accurately express the emotions and images they are trying to convey, but to maximize their impact.

In a guest blog post called “How to Write a Sentence” (on the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America website), Scottish writer Hal Duncan has written one of the best descriptions of sentence-building I’ve ever read. In it, he takes a dreadful sentence from a 1970 novel and proceeds to deconstruct it, then reconstruct it, in an effort to “…see if we can’t perform a little alchemy, transform it… well, if not into gold then at least into a serviceable steel.”

Here is the original, painful sentence:

“A sweeping blade of flashing steel riveted from the massive barbarians hide enameled shield as his rippling right arm thrust forth, sending a steel shod blade to the hilt into the soldiers vital organs.”

Duncan’s article isn’t Sentence-Building 101. It’s definitely an advanced take on a deceptively simple idea. His breakdown of the sentence is truly enlightening, so for a crash course in sentence-rehab, be sure to read “How to Write a Sentence.” (Tender sensibilities warning: Duncan is quite fond of—and proficient in—salty language. Don’t let that stop you from reading it, though.)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Reacting to Good Luck

by Kelley Lindberg


I just got back from a visit to Reality Town, where I got to be random and dole out chance happenings, good or bad, to every resident of Reality Town.

I only bankrupted a couple of them, so I call it a good day.

It was the annual Reality Town program at my son’s junior high school, where each of them is assigned a career (based on their GPA), a life situation (married, divorced, number of kids, etc.), and a salary. Then they are given a fake checkbook and a list of booths they must visit. Somehow, they have to stretch their monthly salaries to pay for everything they need at the booths, such as child care, health insurance, housing, utilities, clothing, and medical care. If they have anything left over, they can visit the entertainment booth, the home improvement booth, and so on.

I was working the “Just My Luck” booth, where kids had to select a card from my stack of Life’s Random Events. Some drew cards like “Buy soccer cleats for your child; pay $40” or “You have to buy new tires for $100.” Others drew cards that said “You hold a garage sale and make $50” or “You cleaned the couch and found $5.”

Each kid approached my booth with trepidation. As they drew a card, almost all would wince, as if the very motion of pulling a card from the fanned-out stack were painful. Many kids said things like, “With my luck, my house will burn down.” Sure enough, as most of them read their cards, their shoulders would droop and they’d moan or sigh, because many of the cards were unfortunate. (Although none of them suffered from house fires, I’m happy to say.)

The funniest reactions were the kids whose cards were positive, however. They didn’t trust the good cards. They would show the cards to me, puzzled, as if they couldn’t believe they were actually supposed to add money to their checking ledger, instead of subtracting it. After all, they’d been subtracting money all morning for all the things they were learning they needed in “the real world.”

How quickly they’d become jaded, disillusioned, and discouraged. How quickly they’d succumbed to adulthood. More than one kid lamented, “Reality sucks.”

Yeah, kid, it does sometimes.

But then, every once in a while, it doesn’t. And just like those kids in the program today, sometimes we adults nearly miss the good stuff. We’re so busy digging ourselves in and out of holes that we mistrust the good things that sometimes fall our way.

Reality Town got me thinking about characters. When we’re writing characters, we’re often told to pile misfortune onto them, to ratchet up the stakes, to shove them out of their comfort zone. Get ’em up a tree, then throw rocks at ’em. Then surround the tree with wolves. Then light the tree on fire. That sort of thing.

But when was the last time you handed something good to your character, and how did he or she react? Did he/she mistrust it? Did she question it? Did he feel guilty about it and try to hide it?

These kids today got a taste of reality and didn’t much care for it. If a half-hour of reality can disillusion a hundred eighth graders, imagine what a decade or two (or five) of it can do to your protagonist.

And how much sweeter a victory must be if it has to overcome all that disillusionment.

So the next time you’re doing one of those personality quizzes for your character or sketching out their backstory, add one more question to your analysis (this week's writing prompt):

How does your character react when something good comes their way?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Imagination

Our annual Witches' Luncheon
by Kelley Lindberg


When I was growing up, there weren’t many store-bought Halloween costumes. If you wanted a costume, you made it. There were tin-foil robots, Frankenstein’s monsters, Raggedy Anns and Andys, hobos, and lots of ketchup-blood. I remember being Maid Marian, the headless horseman, a classic sheet ghost, and a gypsy more than once.

It was a wonderful celebration of imagination.

Earlier this week, I wondered if imagination still exists now that most of our costumes are store-bought. Rack after rack of pre-made monsters, diabolical doctors, giant walking food items, and licensed cartoon characters promise instant transformations for busy parents. But are we stifling imagination?

I don’t think so.

I’m pretty sure that tiny Superman at my door really suspects he could leap a building in a single bound if his mother would just let go of his hand. The zombie princess who just politely said “Thank you” had to hold still for an incredibly long time while her dad glued her fake wound to her forehead, but she did it because she fully embraced the irony that she’s almost too young to understand, and she can’t wait to see how many people she can gross out.

I think we’re still celebrating imagination. Never mind that the accessories came in a plastic bag. The dreams are still real. And the sense of fun and adventure are firmly ensconced.

I’ve made some of my son’s costumes over the years, like Robin Hood (if only I could still fit into my Maid Marian costume!), Captain Jack Sparrow, and Peter Pan. And I’ve bought some of his costumes pre-made, like Ninjas and a whole cast of Star Wars characters. And I discovered it didn’t matter where the costume came from – the minute he put it on, he was that character. Suddenly he was battling Capt. Hook or Storm Troopers. He was sailing the Black Pearl or rescuing a princess or relieving an evil sheriff of his ill-gotten gold. The costume might be a trigger, but the adventure springs from the kid and his imagination. Clothes don’t really make the hero. The kid makes the hero.

As part of my goal to celebrate imagination today, I attended an annual Witches’ Luncheon, where several friends and I tap into our inner children, dress up like witches, and go to lunch. We say hi to all the kids we see and watch as wonder and imagination light up their faces. The best is when they look back at us over their mothers’ shoulders and shyly wave at us. They are imagining a world where witches wear feathers and pointy hats, and smile and wave, and laugh all afternoon.

Imagination is alive and well this Halloween. How will you celebrate yours?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Skipping the Prologue

by Kelley Lindberg

“Write me a prologue…”
        – A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare

Many people admit they never read prologues. They skip right over prologues and go straight to where any self-respecting story should start: Chapter 1.
 
So welcome to Chapter 1 of my blog.
 
But wait…I’m curious. Why don’t people read prologues?
 
Maybe they confuse them with introductions. Or prefaces. Or forewords. Okay, I’m beginning to sense a pattern – lots of stuff at the beginning of the story that prevents the story from getting started. No wonder some readers skip them.
 
But a prologue is different. A prologue is part of the actual story. It might be an event or action that happened earlier and that launched our hero into his current predicament. It might be a glimpse of the bad guy’s past, or of a seemingly innocent encounter between two people that will result in a dire situation later. But it’s part of the story – a “prequel” if you will. It just happens before the rest of the story, the same way an epilogue is the part of the story that tells what happens after the story (the “Where are they now?” part).
 
If a prologue is the “prequel” to the story, what are the intro, the preface, and the foreword? There seem to be a variety of definitions, but all agree that these front-matter pieces can do a lot of things for the story, but they aren’t part of the actual story itself.
 
In a preface, authors explain why they wrote the book, and they might share their background or credentials in the field.
 
Introductions, which are most common in nonfiction, generally explain how the book is organized and what you can expect to learn from it.
 
A foreword is usually written by someone other than the author (preferably someone well-known in the field), and it offers information about the author or the actual writing of the book. For example, an anniversary edition of a well-known book might delve into the author’s life or the impact that book has had on readers over time. Forewords by famous people can help lend the book more credibility, so they are often used as marketing tools.
 
And sometimes authors blend all three into a single “Introduction.”
 
So if you’re anxious to jump right into the story, it’s presumably safe to skip the introduction, the preface and the foreword. Since they talk about the book itself, the author, and maybe the topic, you can read those at any time (or not at all), and not lose any pieces of the actual story.
 
But the prologue? Don’t skip the prologue. It’s a key piece of the story puzzle. Skipping the prologue is a bit like deciding you don’t much like first chapters, so you always start reading at Chapter 2.
 
(But if you do skip prologues, you’re in good company, because an awful lot of folks seem to do the same thing. You can all be puzzled together.)
 
If you’re a writer and you’ve begun your book with a prologue, what can you do to make sure your readers don’t skip your prologue?
 
That’s easy. Rename your prologue to “Chapter 1.”
 
And thanks for visiting my Chapter 1.