Honesty About Perfect Writing

Read time: 2 mins

I think honesty from the outset about the quality of writing is important. Clients sometimes ask for their manuscript to be edited to be perfect, but quality in writing has a subjective component. There will be improvement, but perfection is an elusive aim.

Every writer decides at some point that a piece of writing is finished and ready. However, they know that if they leave their document for a while, then go back to it and read it again, they are likely to tweak and improve what they have written – to improve the clarity or the pace of the story or the words which are used.  Redrafting and editing are all iterative processes; many writers produce multiple versions before they feel that their work is complete. What writers aim for, and what readers seek, is good writing, but it is difficult to pin down exactly what that is.

Perfection v. improvement

Editorial professionals, be they developmental editors, copy-editors or proofreaders, work to improve the content they are presented with. Ask a dozen copyeditors to work on the same manuscript and give them all the same reference books (such as Butcher’s Copy-editing, The New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors, New Hart’s Rules or Merriam-Webster and The Chicago Manual of Style), then read the twelve edited versions. You will find that no two versions will be exactly the same. Why is this?

They will have spotted a great many of the same changes needed in spelling, grammar, capitalisation, consistency and the use of language. But their individual suggestions will differ, if only slightly, and across the manuscript there will be a number of variations. Each edited version will be an improvement, but no two versions will be exactly the same improvement.

As an editorial professional, I aim at perfection, but writing is subjective and each revision of a text will find further enhancements to make. There are constraints on everything and deadlines need to be met so, at a point, the work must stop, and the improvement be deemed sufficient.

I work to lift your text and voice to the next level. Realistically, perfection is the aim and improvement is the reality.

To see how I can help with your fiction or creative nonfiction, do get in touch.

Illustration courtesy of sketchrobin.com

For How to Present Your Manuscript click here.

When to Find an Editorial Professional?

Read time: 3 mins

There isn’t an easy answer to when an author should find an editorial professional, be that for developmental editing, copyediting, line-editing or proofreading. However, it is best to give a collaboration of this sort some time for consideration. It is good to be clear what the different services provide and to approach suitable candidates with enough time to find a good match to achieve the best outcomes for yourself and your manuscript.

It would be an understatement to say that how writers write varies. The amount of planning which different writers undertake ranges from the highly detailed plotters like John Grisham, who feels that the longer he spends preparing a detailed outline, the easier the book is to write. Through to writers like Steven King, who plans very little, preferring to work things out as he writes. To him, very thoroughly outlined books have a somewhat stale quality.

Some writers use a Pomodoro approach, with disciplined daily word count goals, and others will take a cabin in the woods with the aim of not resurfacing without a completing manuscript. Bashing out a first draft and not looking back is the advice of many how to write books, and some writers edit as they go along.

As a writer, you will know how writing a book is a major accomplishment and the culmination of a great deal of time, discipline, perseverance and not a little emotion. Many will be unable to say the number of hours it took to reach that stage, and will frequently answer with the number of years since the first idea came to them.

Redrafting and editing choices

However, it is arrived at the completed manuscript, it is a good idea for the writer to distance themselves from the manuscript, at least for a while before embarking on the next stage. Self-publishing writers will not have the same set-up as a publishing house, with the team focused to ensure all the necessary stages of the production process are carried out in a coordinated way so that deadlines are met and all the preparations are carried out smoothly.

If you are thinking of using the services of an editorial professional, you may want to involve them at any stage. Once the manuscript is written, you may request a developmental edit or ask for a manuscript critique. This would be to help you identify where there may be difficulties of plot or with the structure of the writing. Perhaps you do not want to change any of the big picture features of your manuscript, and you have time to rework the manuscript through some rounds of redrafting. After this, you may decide to collaborate with a professional copyeditor. You could feel you have reached the point where your latest draft would benefit from being looked at with a fresh pair of eyes. Even if you set aside time and decide that you are going to rely on your self-editing skills, you may seek the reassurance of a proofreader for a last check before it goes in front of a reader, be that publisher, agent or beta readers. 

Some authors feel their time is best spent creating the next title and may already be preoccupied with that. From an editor’s standpoint, schedules get filled up, and earlier approaches are easier to accommodate.

If a publisher is already interested in the manuscript, planning for editorial services will help get the manuscript to be as good it can be for the publisher. Experienced authors appreciate the value of booking their editorial collaborations to meet their deadlines and aspirations.

Illustration courtesy of sketchrobin.com

To see how I can help with your fiction or creative nonfiction, do get in touch.

For What is Likely To be Cut in Editing click here.

Being an Ambassador: a Different Dimension

Read time: 4 mins

What is an ambassador?

You can have ambassadors who are envoys for their country, and you can have brand ambassadors who promote a brand. But the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) have voluntary ambassadors who represent the profession and help introduce others to editing and proofreading, as well as encouraging engagement with the CIEP.

What are important skills for ambassadors?

Any ambassador would be expected to know a great deal about the thing they represent, and it is not a role for a newbie or novice. Alongside this subject knowledge, they should have a high level of professionalism and be interested in spreading awareness of what that professionalism means to stakeholders. This, as far as the CIEP is concerned, means that they are members and thereby follow the Code of Practice.

This set of standards, entitled Ensuring Editorial Excellence, covers both in-house and freelance professionals as well as their clients. It sets out relevant definitions to help with clear communication. Professional standards are detailed in relation to issues including working agreements, working relationships, confidentiality, legal issues, levels of work and loyalty. Different forms of editorial work are defined and materials and practices are covered which include online content, page mark-up, multimedia and project management. The Code of Practice goes on to set out advice and a wealth of information on training, finances, health and safety, contracts, copyright, data protection and British Standard Institution marks.

Furthermore, an ambassador is likely to be keen to meet with others, to raise the profile of the profession and to set clear and accurate expectations of the profession within a wider context. They will be passionate about their chosen specialisms and happy to discuss them.

An ideal skill set for the role includes ability at networking, strong interpersonal skills and some confidence with public speaking.

What do CIEP ambassadors do?

Ambassadors might be asked to attend local CIEP groups, perhaps get involved in discussions or give presentations. Each ambassador will have particular subject expertise, depending on their experience and background. The groups they address are often not CIEP members but may have a particular interest in publishing, writing or collaboration.

During 2018, as an ambassador for the CIEP, at that time known as the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), I attended a two-day conference of the Materials Writing Special Interest Group (MaWSIG) at Oxford Brookes University. This group is a specialist section of the International Association of Teachers of English (IATEFL). As a group which includes many professional writers and professionals who write, they were interested to hear about editing and proofreading professionals and their organization. Several of the delegates were also SfEP members, but others had not heard of the group before. Many of the delegates were considering how materials they had created for their own lessons might be shaped either for sharing with their work colleagues or as publishable resources to be shared more widely.

What’s a cauliflower got to do with it?

At the conference, presenter Johanna Stirling proposed that teaching materials were becoming too strongly focused on testing. She stressed the need to move learning forward in interesting ways rather than just assessing current knowledge.

There was a lively talk by Fiona Mauchline about designing material for teens and adults entitled, ‘Not rocket science but brain science’. Speaking spoke enthusiastically, she waved a halved cauliflower to represent the brain and discussed how being aware of how the brain works helps with creating engaging, motivating and memorable materials. Her understanding of memory, and how memories are made, led her to urge teachers to go beyond language, language acquisition and methodology and to incorporate creativity and fun within their materials and within their lessons. She described these as valid and desirable, exhorting teachers to include creativity and fun as it would lead to greater retention. She stated that ‘if you use sensory stimuli to encourage an emotional response, you facilitate learning’.

The final session by Jon Hird, ‘Adapting texts for ELT: intuition, analysis and authenticity’ included a look at the importance of sensitivity. There is a risk of reducing authenticity when texts are altered. This thought-provoking presentation included some amusing adaptations of original texts which had been changed to avoid, in some cases, copyright infringement.

Jennifer Dobson and Michelle Worgan presented a session, ‘Giving up the day job – a double-edged sword’, in which they pointed out the pros and cons of leaving the teaching profession to write materials full time. They discussed some pitfalls of working as a freelancer, both full and part-time, and stressed the importance of maintaining close links with the profession.

As a CIEP ambassador, I have become a regular visiting speaker at Roehampton University, on the MA in Publishing course, in their School of Humanities. The thriving course is led by the author of A Poetics of Editing, Dr Susan Greenberg. It is a relatively new postgraduate course designed for students seeking a career in the publishing industry. The course can be studies full time for a year or part-time for two years.

One of the optional modules presented to students is Dimensions of Editing. This takes a practical look at different editorial services, and provides an insight into how the processes vary when carried out on hard copy and digital manuscripts. Although this is usually an in-person event, due to the Coronavirus pandemic it was held online in 2020–2021.

Being a professional body ambassador has led to meeting interesting people involved with words, writing, teaching and publishing. There have been some engaging discussions which have enriched my continued professional development in a dynamic and fascinating business.

Illustration courtesy of sketchrobin.com

To see how I can help with your fiction or creative nonfiction do get in touch.


Fiona Mauchline, 6 June 2018 ‘Fun, Fun, creativity, imagination… What do secondary language learners really need?’ [Accessed 25-01-21] https://yltsig.iatefl.org/2018/06/06/fun-creativity-imagination-what-do-secondary-language-learners-really-need/

Why Editors Need to Know about Genre

Read time: 3 mins

3 min read

The written and unwritten rules of fiction, which readers and authors acknowledge, group stories into recognisable genres which usefully serve as a form of jargon or shorthand to guide readers to find the types of novels they enjoy by knowing which genre they are choosing. On the other hand, genre also helps the authors to deliver fulfilling writing to their readers and to meet reasonable expectations based on the chosen genre.

Publishers also use genre to inform their purchasing decisions and to direct their marketing. Genre is of great importance in fiction writing and there are many tropes and standards which apply within a particular genre and do not apply in others, for example, a story from the romance genre and a story from the horror genre will attract different readers. For an author to include extremes of the horror genre within a romance is very likely to put off a swathe of readers, who will then avoid selecting titles by an author who does not write in a manner which conforms to their expectations. 

The term genre comes from the French word for kind and is helpful for everyone in choosing the right content or type of story. Knowing the genre of a book helps to recognise what can be expected from it without having to read it first.

Text in context

Whatever story an author writes a genre will be fitted to it by the world at large and that labelling will, to some extent, select who chooses to engage with the story. Readers come to a title with certain assumptions depending on its genre. Knowing this, authors wisely craft their stories to fulfil those expectations in the reader. If it is a humorous work, the reader will have different expectations to those they would have for a thriller, where they are looking for suspense and intrigue.  Umberto Eco states that no text is ever read independently. Authors and editors do well to steep themselves in their preferred genres to help create the emotional effect of stories on the readers, while at the same time avoiding the presentation of cliché.

The reader should be offered an entertaining experience where they can be drawn into a story and feel that the author has crafted a believable world, without the distraction of unpleasant surprises. These pull the reader out of the story, leading to dissatisfaction and disengagement. This is especially a problem with long form, due to the greater investment of time for both the reader and the writer. Whatever an editor can do to steer a work to better fit a genre will serve both the author and the reader.

Dynamic nature of genre

McCaw notes that genre is not static. So, whereas there is a temptation to view what works of a genre have in common, as though there was a fixed set of criteria to be met, genres change over time.  The differences within a genre can be studied and change is ongoing, which points to the importance for both authors and editors to be aware of recent works written in the genre they are writing for, or editing within.

At the online Edinburgh International Book Festival 2020, The Midnight Library author, Matt Haig, points out how he has witnessed massive change over the past ten years. He says ‘genre snobberies have evaporated remarkably’ and the barriers which used to exist between literary and commercial works have moved, making it much more possible for authors to take creative influence from everywhere. Which he sees as a more natural way of doing things.

Experience shows that editors may come across a manuscript which pushes the boundaries of genre, and they must be ready to embrace this in their work, otherwise the dynamic nature of genre could be restricted and the new could be stifled. As with much about fiction editing, sensitivity and tuning into the author’s voice is paramount. I would argue that this craft element will always present a problem to techniques of artificial intelligence and will ensure human editing retains its elusive, unique quality and value.

Illustration courtesy of sketchrobin.com

To see how I can help with your fiction or creative nonfiction do get in touch.

For How to Write Speech in a Story, click here.


Eco, U. (1981). The Theory of Signs and the Role of the Reader. The Bulletin of the Midwest Modern Language Association, 14(1), 35-45. doi:10.2307/1314865

Edinburgh International Book Festival http://www.edbookfest.co.uk/media-gallery/item/matt-haig-the-library-of-second-chances.

Iglesias. K, (2005) Writing for emotional impact, WingSpan Press.

McCaw, N.  How to Read texts, continuum.

Which Service Do I Need?

Read time: 3 mins

Illustration courtesy of sketchrobin.com

Book coaching

When you have yet to complete a full first draft, you may like some help getting your thoughts written up and your ideas nailed into a manuscript. As an experienced and trained book coach, I help writers to get their manuscripts finished. With an outcomes focus and with targetted support, we would collaborate over the time needed to reach a complete first draft. This is often the best way forward when there are blocks or sticking points which have halted writing progress. Once the initial draft exists, it can be the source material for future drafts, beta reading, self-editing and further editing services.

Developmental editing

Developmental editing is carried out at an early stage of preparing a manuscript. You may have written a full manuscript and be aware that aspects need improvement, but not have certainty of how to make those changes. There may be issues with the plot which, if improved, would increase your book’s success and appeal to readers. A developmental edit will consider the big-picture aspects such as plot holes, unconvincing characters, character development and themes. From a developmental edit, you will have a report on the strengths and weaknesses of the manuscript, as well as comments and suggestions within the manuscript to consider. Click for more details on pricing and how our collaboration would work. Do get in touch with the form at the bottom of the page if you would like a developmental edit.

Manuscript critique

Manuscript critiques are similar to development edits, and you’ll get a similar report on your manuscript considering the big-picture aspects but without the additional comments and suggestions within the text.

Following both a developmental edit and a manuscript critique, it is likely that you will want to apply some or all of the suggestions and prepare a redraft. Click for more details on pricing and how our collaboration would work. I would like to work with you to improve that redraft. Do let me know about your book with the contact form at the bottom of the page.

Copyediting or line editing

Copyediting and line editing is carried out on a manuscript which may already have been reworked and could have had some developmental editing. You will be happy with the structure and the big-picture aspects. Having been redrafted, the writing is ready to be thoroughly checked through and consistency improved where appropriate.

This will help the next reader to have a smooth and immersive reading experience without the distraction of inconsistencies and errors. When copyediting I edit the work line by line and word by word. I will be aiming to increase the clarity and flow of the sentences and words. I will be checking for:

  • Clear, effective and well-paced narrative
  • Spelling, punctuation, grammar, hyphenation and capitalisation
  • Suitable use of tenses
  • Clarity of dialogue, expression and presentation
  • Consistency within the word choices with character and author voice
  • Believability of characters through consistent traits
  • The avoidance of overwriting, repetition, cliché or unintended confusion
  • Suitability of balance between showing and telling within sentences
  • Spacing of chapters, paragraphs, sentences, lines and words.

Following a line and copyedit you will receive the marked-up manuscript (in MS Word and with Track Changes) and a bespoke style sheet showing the style decisions which have been made, including those relating to capitalisation, numbering, spelling and punctuation styles. Click for more details on pricing and how our collaboration would work. Do get in touch with the form at the bottom of the page.


Proofreading is carried out on the manuscript when it has been written, redrafted and edited so is almost ready for the final reader. Proofreading aims to catch issues of spelling and grammar which remain, and other mistakes that may still have slipped through. You will probably have read the manuscript so often by this stage that it will be harder for you to spot mistakes.

Traditionally, proofreading is carried out after the manuscript has been typeset and the layout of the paragraphs, lines and words on the page can be viewed as they would be when the book is published. A trained and experienced second pair of eyes will help to ensure that the manuscript is as good as it can be before the next reader, be that publisher, agent or the public gets to read it. Click for more details on pricing and how our collaboration would work.

It’s OK if you don’t know exactly which service you want, that’s what I’m here for! Drop me a line with the form below and I’ll get right back to you.

For what other authors are saying, click here.

Should Dad Be Lowercase?

Read time: 2 mins

Illustration courtesy of sketchrobin.com

Speech can bring difficulties when it is written, and one area of difficulty is that of whether to capitalise some naming words. This is because the words Mum, Dad and Grandad have different forms. These words can be used in their proper noun form, and this is when they should be uppercase.

Proper noun form

Sentences where these words are used as proper nouns:

Did you like the flowers, Mum?
Can I borrow your glasses, Dad?
I asked Grandad to pass the map.

To check that a word is being used in this form, you can keep the sentence the same but swap out the proper noun form and swap in their proper name, if the sentence still makes sense, then the word was being used in its proper noun form.

The same sentences with the names swapped in:

Did you like the flowers, Mary Gilesbie?
Can I borrow you glasses, Ian Telling?
I asked Alfred Potter to pass the map.

Generic noun form

However, these words can also be used generically – as generic nouns or regular nouns and when they are, they are lowercase.

Sentences where these words are used as generic nouns:

If these sentences are given the same swap test, they don’t work because the word was being used as a generic noun.

My mum does not like red flowers.
All dads have children.
My granddad called on us.

Sentences where generic nouns have been swapped for proper names:

My Mary Gilesbie does not like red flowers.
All Ian Tellings have children.
My Alfred Potter called on us.


Rules of thumb

  • Whenever these words are preceded by a possessive adjective like (my, your, his, her, its, our, your, their) the noun will be lowercase.
  • Whenever you use these directly as a name, they will be uppercase.
I brought this for your mum.
The coat was from my dad.
These are from Grandad.
  • When there is a determiner preceding the word (such as – a, an, the, this, that, these, my, his, their, much, many, some, two, seven, all, every) use lowercase.
Some mums drove the car.
Seven dads ate the pizzas.
His grandad was in the play.

This works for other similar words in the same way, these include: uncle, aunt, father, mother, daughter, cousin etc.

Is it a name?

Changing between upper and lowercase depending on usage happens with other words. This applies to when the word is a title or political entity.

Where a word is used as a name it will be uppercase:

They followed Captain Wilson over the bridge.
We walk up the steps to meet Queen Bess.
Come on let’s go Governor. (instead of name)

Where a word is not when it is not being used to replace a name and is being used as a description, it will be lowercase.         

Our old captain turned to fight.
The girl was a princess.
The governor was going to the meeting.

Style guides often have requirements regarding capitalisation and these should be followed where applicable, but as with general rules about writing, it is important that the rule is applied consistently or the writing can be jarring, and the reader can be distracted from the meaning of the content.

Illustration courtesy of sketchrobin.com

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How to Use Dashes

Read time: 4 mins

I have checked back to my references for crystal clarity, referring to the New Oxford Style Manual (2012) and to the Chicago Manual of Style, although these do not state every instance and are only conventions adopted, or not adopted, by publishers. There are also instances of exceptions, so these are far from being strict rules.

How to create dashes

The en dash can be found on the ribbon on the Insert tab and at the right-hand side. Click on Symbol and the then on More symbols.

Select the Special Characters tab and the top two offerings are the Em dash and the En dash, select the one you want and click Insert.

The keyboard shortcuts are:

Alt+Ctrl+Num for Em dash and Alt+Ctrl+Num for the En dash.

Alternatively hold down the Alt key and using the Numbers Pad:

key 0151 for the Em dash or 0152 for the En dash.

When introducing a phrase at the end of a sentence

A phrase at the end of a sentence can be introduced with an em dash (closed up) and the example given in New Hart’s Rules which, in my copy of the New Oxford Style Manual, is p81 (4.11.2)

            Everyone understands what is serious—and what is not

So, this is a single parenthetical usage, and replaces a colon and is widely accepted in UK English.

When used as a pair of dashes

Where you use em dashes with a space before and after, these would be parenthetical. This is not currently a general UK English publisher’s preference.

New Oxford Style Manual (2012) 4.11 p72 states:

‘The en dash … Many British publishers use an en dash with space either side as a parenthetical dash, but Oxford and most US publishers use an em dash.’ And

(p80) ‘The em dash … Oxford and most US publishers use a closed-up em dash as a parenthetical dash; other British publishers use the en dash with space either side.’ …

A pair of dashes expresses a more pronounced break in sentence structure than commas, and draws more attention to the enclosed phrase than brackets:

           ‘The party lasted—we knew it would!—far longer than planned’


… Use an em dash spaced to indicate the omission of a word, and closed up to indicate the omission of part of a word:

            ‘We were approaching — when the Earl of C— disappeared.’

So, both the em and en dashes can be used to set off an augmenting or explanatory word or phrase in a sentence that could stand alone without the insertion. Examples include:

That small flower – the pink one – is as fresh as can be.
That small flower—the pink one—is as sweet as can be.

He knew the price of that rare vintage – everyone did.
She knew the price of that rare vintage—everyone did.

In the UK, it is conventional to use a SPACED EN DASH. This is not a law, but is the conventional style used my many (although not all) UK publishers (an exception being Oxford).

In the US, it is conventional to use a CLOSED-UP EM DASH. Not a law, just a convention, but one which many US publishers follow.

It is also true that there are some style guides which ask for spaced em dashes; however, this is relatively rare.

So how are authors using the dash conventions?

Beyond the reference material it can be useful to look at how published authors’ work appears.

Publishing in the UK

In Stephen King’s Everything’s Eventual (2002)

There is an example of the single parenthetical en dash:

(p299)  ‘… for what I’ve done – for what I did to Skipper, even.’

And in Val McDermid’s Killing the Shadows, (2001)

(p159) ‘That someone hated Kit – or his word – even enough to pour out such venom…’

Whereas publishing in the US

In Emma Donoghue’s Room, (2010) there is an example of a pair of parenthetical em dashes:

(p133) ‘Old Nick will carry you into the hospital, and the first doctor you see—or nurse, whatever—you shout …’

And in David Baldacci’s The Finisher (2014) there is an example of the single spaced em dash:

(p1) At first light, I was almost always up in my tree — a stonking, straight-to-the-sky poplar with a full towering canopy.

In conclusion: I recommend using spaced en dashes or closed-up em dashes because that is what readers are most familiar with. The choice of which depends on where much of the target audience are (US or UK), however, where there is an international audience either style can be chosen, as long as it is applied consistently.

Illustration courtesy of sketchrobin.com

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For How to Capitalise Family Names click here.

Should I Use a Prologue?

Read time: 4 mins

Illustration courtesy of Tom French

What is a prologue?

A prologue will delay the start of a book for the reader who, having just opened it, is champing at the bit, or at least more interested than they have ever been up till now or will ever be again, to find out what the book is about. A prologue is a piece of writing separate from the start of a book, setting out an early thought that the author really needs the reader to know to be fair to them embarking on this reading.

Rather like a host at a party will mention a whispered aside to the only guest who has not been to their home before, ‘We don’t open the red door, that’s where we keep Grumpy the Doberman when we have visitors, everyone else knows not to go in there.’
Good to know, important to know, the newcomer is grateful to have been clued-up, so they don’t inadvertently upset the social occasion but finding this out was not the main reason they called at the house.

Likewise, the reader will be better prepared having the information set out in a prologue, but that detail is not the main thrust of the story they’ll be reading in this book, and it is not usually the thing they are reading to discover. The aside is what should, if it is needed, go in the prologue.
On another occasion, a newcomer to the house might call when someone has kindly taken Grumpy on a long hike, there would be no need for any concern that the red door might be opened and on that day no need for the aside – no prologue.

If there is no need for a prologue, do not have one, do not hold the reader up unnecessarily when they are at their most ready to engage with the content of your book. If it is not needed because you have no secret which they will be at a disadvantage not knowing about at this point, leave it out, let them get on with what they have come to do.

Useful background

Placed at the front of a book before the start of the story, a prologue should say all it needs to but briefly and should not take up a great deal of time. A good prologue gives a little extra information about the background of the story, which will help a reader fully appreciate the context in which the story is being told. So, it will help to create a satisfying rounded story and, used well, will help the reader feel engaged and immersed in the world or setting of the story right away. So, include an event or at most two events which help to draw the reader into the best place to be to start reading the story set out in the book. To write a good prologue, consider the timeline of the book and if there is information outside that timeline but which you feel should still be included, this is likely to be the right sort of material to make into a prologue.

Particularly in sci-fi, using a prologue can introduce unexpected features of world-building or alien characters which are in the early scenes of the story without slowing those scenes down with the description. This also makes for an intriguing context being set out in the prologue which will give more to those readers who do take the time to read the prologue without delaying readers who prefer to dive straight in and try to work the contextual detail out for themselves.

A prologue may be a great place to mention an event which gave the characters their motivation so, for example, a character who has lost a young child may have that reason to become over-protective of a child they later adopt. To show this actively, the past event could be placed in the prologue, making the reader aware of that context for how the character goes on to act.

Another use for the prologue is to give a different point of view from the main story and fill in some detail or insight from a different character’s perspective. So, for example, how a murderer feels being taken away to prison, may be given in the prologue when the main character in the story would have no way of knowing that information. As perhaps, the story is about the first-person experience of the murder victim’s sister.

You can use a prologue to start the story from a different point in time from the main story if that would be useful for some information which you feel the reader will need as context for your main story but which cannot, for some reason, be delivered within the main story set up.

Why not to include a prologue

Don’t write a prologue if your story makes sense without it. The content you were thinking of putting into a prologue may fit in the main story, and if it does, no prologue is needed.
Avoid just using a prologue for mood, atmosphere or for world-building alone. These can be uses for a prologue, but there should also be a further reason that a prologue is required because all these things could be done within the main body of the book.

What is a good prologue?

If you still decide a prologue is needed

  • Make it interesting imparting crucial information.
  • Make it short in length (considerably less than any of the book chapters). Some recommendations are between one and five pages, others suggest around 1,500 words.
  • Refer to one or at most two events; otherwise you risk overloading readers with too much information.
  • Make sure the language is consistent with the rest of the book; otherwise it will appear odd.
  • Make sure any questions posed in the prologue are answered by the end of the book.

In conclusion, when it comes to whether to have a prologue, it is good to remember the words of Benjamin Franklin, ‘If in doubt, don’t.’

To see how I can help with your fiction or creative nonfiction do get in touch.

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