Monday, June 4, 2012

Getting Past the Hobbits: In Media Res


There's a running joke in my family about my dad and Lord of the Rings. After the movies came out, he decided he wanted to read the books for the first time. To make a long story short (yes, pun intended), he started The Fellowship of the Ring but couldn't get past the beginning section set in the Shire. "Too much stuff about hobbits," he complained, "and nothing was happening." Sacrilege, I know, to all true LOTR fans, but that was how he felt. After this incident, my family began to use the technical term "hobitty" for any book or movie that starts out slow.

Family members are always the kindest critics, and I've had my younger brother, more than once, refer to my first book I Serve as hobbity. My book hobbity? How dare he! What's wrong with a prologue? Victor Hugo himself spent eighty-some pages discussing Bishop Myriel before the protagonist, Jean Valjean, enters the scene.... Wait a minute. Bad example. I know more than a few people who skim through that part until the real action begins with the silverware thievery.

I'm rather fond of the prologue that leads into the story of I Serve, but recognizing that some readers dislike that style, I've attempted a different approach with The Chronicles of Tancred. Book I, Road from the West, begins with the Normans attacking a city and our hero, Tancred, striding off the field and leaving his post right in the middle of the assault. Book II, Flower of the Desert, also begins at a pivotal point in the story. I won't spoil the surprise my telling you what that is, but if you simply can't wait for the book to be released at the end of this year, I've posted Chapter One for your perusal.

There are many classics that begin a story from the very beginning with a thorough description of the setting or with a long, drawn-out history of the early life of the protagonist (The Mill on the Floss comes to mind). But in our current age of fast-paced television and fast-paced life, perhaps authors should adopt a different approach. Perhaps we should mimic Homer, one of the oldest storytellers of them all, and dive right into the action in media res.

5 comments:

  1. I dont generally have any real issue with prologues myself. I think after having read Shakespeare plays I can put it with slow moving stuff a bit more now.

    I have never read LOTR but have it, and seeing as Tolkien was hte Professor of Anglo Saxon at Oxford and one of my professors claims to have excavated the very hall that Edoras in the movie was based it its pretty much compulsory reading.

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    1. The good thing about never having read LOTR is that the awesome experience of reading it for the first time is still waiting for you!

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    2. Well if Historians and Historical writers who know thier stuff say so it must be pretty good.

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  2. Every time I try to start one of my stories off I'm always rotating from a slow intro to a fast one. The fast one always ends up being unnecessary because it doesn't fit the plot layout...that, and I hate giving into the wants of the crowd.

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    1. The first chapter/section is always the hardest, isn't it? I find that I always do the most rewrites on the beginning of a story.

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