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How writing this prologue landed me a publishing contract.

Reuben Walker first mainlined crystal meth in the summer of 1996 in Devil’s Lake, North Dakota. He was seventeen, skin and bones, and had an anger in him the size of a Zeppelin. He was alone in a five-dollar-a-night motel, and when he shot up, he’d never felt anything like it. He’d smoked and snorted drugs before, but this time was different. When the needle pierced him and the meth rushed into his blood, he was roused by a sudden quiet that made him sit upright. Everything around him was soundless. The TV was on, but he couldn’t hear it. The children outside playing made no noise. Cars floated by his window without making as much as a whisper. He looked around and listened and realized this sudden quiet was everywhere around him. No matter where he moved, he was forever in the middle of it. It was inescapable.

On that day, when Reuben lay back and that mysterious quiet surrounded him, he was content; he felt safe and happy. He could never have imagined that six months from then, he would be in North Dakota fighting for his life.

Pale and sick looking, Reuben staggered through the brush of Devil’s Lake Forest. He hauled his skeletal body past hulking trees and dense shrubbery, his bare feet torn apart by the frozen ground. Lit by the reflection of star shine, his face held an unsettling look that no young man his age should have the experience to express.

He lunged for a low-hanging branch on a towering, frost-covered tree, snapped it off, and fell on his back. Thrusting the jagged end into the moonlight dark, he stabbed at the blackness and cried. As he had anticipated, two masked figures emerged from the black of the forest. The only sign that they were human was the snow-white breath that escaped their mouths. He lay there for a moment, gasping for air, and then got to his feet and held the branch out like a sword, swiping it at his assailants as he scanned the dense forest for an escape route.

“I said I don’t want to do it no more,” he shouted in a cracked voice, too dehydrated to get the words out clearly. The masked figures looked at Reuben, not moving. The larger one peered at him and cracked his neck. The smaller one smiled, the white points of his teeth like the grin of a sinister ghost. The larger masked figure stepped forward. The moonlight revealed his hulking size. He pulled a claw hammer from behind himself and held it out. Reuben cowered at the sight of the bloodstained lump of steel. The masked figure rushed Reuben, hitting him on the shoulder with the claw of the hammer. A crunch echoed through the forest. Reuben fell back from the force of the blow and landed on a tree stump. The masked figure dropped the hammer and jumped onto him. Reuben kicked out and fought, but the smaller masked man joined the fight.

The shrill cry of crickets disturbed by the struggle echoed about the dark space. Reuben’s panting and gasps drowned them out as he battled against his two larger and stronger foes.

Reuben squeezed the frosty branch. The ice melted under his sweaty grip. He swung the branch and made solid contact with the smaller masked figure’s face and then stuck his finger in the larger masked man’s eye. This gave Reuben the moment he needed to drag his weary body upright and run.

Down a beaten path, Reuben spotted a light on the horizon. Blood streamed from a gash between his neck and shoulder. He sprinted toward the light. It seemed miles away, like a lighthouse beacon to a weary sailor on the choppy high seas.

All Reuben had to do was keep moving, keep running, and not stop until he was at the light and free, free of the masked figures that stalked him.

The light tilted and disappeared from Reuben’s view. Tackled around the waist by the smaller masked figure, Reuben fell. The two slipped down a frosty ravine. At the bottom, Reuben cracked his head on a sharp rock. Blood spurted from his temple all over the ice. Through his blood-covered eyes, Reuben saw the large masked figure’s boots approach him. They made a crunching sound over the frozen ground. Reuben looked on as the steel-capped toe swung back and snapped forward, making contact with his eye. His eye socket shattered, and his brain rattled off the inside of his skull.

The masked men threw the bloodied and unconscious Reuben into the back of a dusty van and locked him inside. The van tore out of the forest and down a single dirt track. It made a sharp left onto a small country road lit by a single golden light.

Reuben awoke. The metallic tang of blood lingered in the back of his mouth. He tried to open the doors, but they would not budge. Dizzy and unable to see out of his right eye, Reuben hunkered down to quell a wave of nausea overtaking him.

The van came to a sudden stop and threw Reuben about his makeshift cell.

The back doors swung open, and the two masked figures pounced on him. They carried him by his hands and feet toward a barn covered in shadows. The smaller masked figure said, “Your time’s up, boy. Best start sayin’ your prayers.”

Reuben couldn’t speak, his muscles were dead, and his breathing was shallow. He had given up the fight. The masked figures hauled him into the barn and slammed the door behind them. Loud barks filled the air, followed by Reuben Walker’s haunting cries and screams.

Reuben knew there was no getting out of this now. He knew that had been his only chance of escape. He knew he would be dead soon, and worst of all, he knew there was no one out there who could save him, not even me.

Your best friend can also be your worst enemy.

My novel took me three years to complete and I can say without doubt that I would not have sold it to a publisher without going back and writing the prologue you just read. How? Because the prologue hooked the publisher and left them asking a question that I did not answer until the final chapter.

A slow start to your novel can ruin your chances of success. When you write a novel you want the publisher or agent to form a connection with your main character. And, in order for this to happen you need to develop the character over numerous chapters, preferably the opening chapters. This is your best friend and your worst enemy all rolled into one. You do not want the agent or publishers reading your novel to get bored. If they get bored the reader will get bored and you will get a nice, professional, rejection letter. The solution to this problem is an awesome prologue.

How to write a prologue that will land a publisher.

1: But first. Write the best novel you are capable of. Create an intriguing character, put them into a situation they are uncomfortable in, give them a goal and make it almost impossible for them to achieve it. I’ll talk more about this in future Medium articles.

2: After you have written the best novel possible, plan your prologue. Decide what will happen and make sure it throws the publisher into the story.

3: Write a killer opening sentence, or two:

“Reuben Walker first mainlined crystal meth in the summer of 1996 in Devil’s Lake, North Dakota. He was seventeen, skin and bones, and had an anger in him the size of a Zeppelin.”

Your opening sentence is as important as the prologue itself. Think of something that will mirror your novel’s genre. If you are writing a thriller, write something that will get the publisher’s heart pounding. If it’s a horror, scare the publisher straight away. If it’s a romance, start with something steamy.

4: Forget about backstory. You can weave backstory into your novel by using conflict, dialogue, narration, and flashbacks. Backstory can be boring, forget about it until the publisher has made a connection with your main character.

5: Action, action and action. Make your prologue exciting. Place your character in peril and have them battling against the odds. Do this by writing ACTION.

6: Leave the publisher dying to know more: Do this by ending the prologue with a hook. You want the publisher thinking, what happens next? And, that will make them turn the page to the first chapter. But remember, do not give them the answer to that question until your final chapter.


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