Back Side

Before the post, here’s info on a free virtual event: I’ll be talking about fairy tales on June 9th at 7:00 pm Central Daylight Time at the Waseca Le Sueur Fairytale and Folklore Festival. Here’ the link to register for my event: And here’s a link for the festival itself with all its great events: Hope you can e-come!

And I can’t resist showing you this in-depth review of A Ceiling Made of Eggshells:

Onto the post!

On December 10, 2019, Blue Rive wrote, How do you write long periods of character introspection/exposition on their backstory? When I do it, it tends to feel out of scene or ungrounded.

Katie W. has the same difficulty: Yes, help, please! With my traumatized MC I mentioned above, she does a lot of relating her past to the present, and I have her telling other characters about her backstory (so I don’t actually have to write it as narrative, since there are long periods where almost nothing happens), and I don’t want the backstory to take over the main story. Essentially, I don’t want a frame tale, but I want her to think about her past a lot, and I’m stuck.

First backstory, then introspection.

I’ll get to the questions as asked below, but first off, in my books, I mostly turn what might be backstory into the beginning of my book in forward moving action, if, that is, the character with the backstory is my MC and the backstory is important so that the reader can understand her. Fairest is an example of this approach. I start with Aza’s adoption, rather than much later with her first day in the royal castle as the duchess’s companion. This gives me space to develop her family and the consequences of her unfashionable appearance. By the time she gets to the castle, the reader knows what to worry about.

This way also allows me, since I’m a pantser, to make discoveries about Aza and my secondary characters along the way.

My guess for both Blue Rive and Katie W. is that their characters’ backstory is significant and probably dramatic. Then why not let it unfold and give it all the detail that front story allows?

About the long periods when not a lot is going on, we can use telling to zoom past these dull patches. For example, suppose our MC Madi’s trauma is bullying and the bully torments her only when she goes to her dance lessons. We can use the times in between to show events in other parts of our story, but when none of these are available, we can just say something like, Time flies when you’re having fear. It seemed like only seven minutes had passed in the seven days since the green-paint incident. Poof! The week (or months or even a year) is gone.

The problem with backstory can be that it interrupts forward momentum for the reader, who has to leave the excitement, get engrossed in the backstory, and then return to the story, which will have cooled in his mind.

If backstory is a must, though, we have choices. We can reveal it in memory or dialogue, or we can show it in a flashback. If in memory, we can use short bursts that provide bits of the history, which the reader assembles over time. Bursts mean that the reader doesn’t have to leave the unfolding action for long at all.

If we use dialogue, we can make the conversation part of the drama. Or we can have the chatting take place between high-tension scenes, when the reader is happy to have a little break.

If we choose flashbacks, we can show what happened in detail. This one does have the problem of interrupting the flow, but if the reader is invested in our story, he’ll make the leaps. I’ve posted here on the blog about flashbacks, so you can take a look, if you like.

Next introspection.

As a reader, I love being inside an MC’s head. I want to know how she’s reacting to everything that’s done to her and everything that she does back. Otherwise, I feel on uncertain ground. Sometimes I’m not sure I understand what’s going on.

When we’re writing in first person, the reader learns everything from the narrator, who is usually the MC. Unless she’s emotionally flat, her thoughts and feelings will flow naturally onto the page.

I just pulled out a few of my books to see how I handle thoughts, which, weirdly, I couldn’t describe without looking. I generally include them in little bits dropped into my story, but I found two pages of pretty solid thinking in The Two Princesses of Bamarre when MC Addie makes an important decision.

So that’s a strategy to keep the reader engaged in thoughts: use them to advance the plot.

Another is to use them to develop character. The reader learns how our MC processes what happens to her by thinking. A great example of this is J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, which I think is for high-school age readers and up. It’s a classic, though I was never fond of it. Still, when I looked a minute ago at an online sample, I saw that it’s all thoughts and without them I don’t believe there would be much. Worth looking at if you’ve never read it, or worth revisiting.

Our MC can also enhance the reader’s understanding of other characters through her thoughts. The reader, who’s gaining insights, is happy.

Voice and surprises are another strategy for keeping readers interested in our MC’s thoughts. If they’re entertaining to read (they don’t have to be happy thoughts), if she keeps surprising us with the workings of her mind, the reader will be eager to follow her through her ramblings, knowing he’ll be pleased with the journey.

Here are three prompts:

• Try writing “Cinderella” from the POV of a stepsister. She has a backstory that explains her cruelty to Cinderella. Think of what that backstory might be. Make a list of possibilities. Reveal the backstory in thoughts as the front story moves forward.

• Now do it the other way around. Start the stepsister’s story with what happened to make her cruel. Write it that way, as front story. Compare the ways the two versions unfold.

• Let’s use “Cinderella” and the bullying idea I introduced above. One stepsister is worse than the other, and every interaction with her–even just the sight of her–sets off compulsive thoughts in Cinderella. Write the story, including these thoughts, but vary them. Sometimes they show how Cinderella thinks, sometimes what she decides, sometimes her perspective on other characters. Explore the workings of her mind as if you’re on a tour: in this part charming flowers grow, but here is the circus of performing monsters, and here is the tunnel to early memories.

Have fun, and save what you write!

  1. I’m new to this blog and this is really helpful, Ms. Levine! Thank you!

    Does anyone here have tips on writing subtly? I use a lot of symbols and metaphors in my stories, but mine are a lot more obvious and pointed than I’d like. They come off as pretty dramatic and in your face. Maybe that’s not inherently a bad thing, and I have a dramatic nature, haha! Still, a lot of books I admire use symbols so subtly that I don’t notice a thing, and then only later when someone points it out to me, I’m flabbergasted. For example, the fairy tale references and fortune telling in Jane Eyre are always associated with emotion and love. That connection blew my mind! I think good symbols are important when it comes to developing the theme of a story. How can I write like that?

    I should probably sum up this mess of a question. How do I use symbols subtly? What makes a symbol subtle and epic, and what makes another symbol cheesy and obvious?

      • Mostly I do what Melissa does, and bring out symbols in later drafts, but I’m trying to think of symbols that I’ve done on purpose. My magic system is pretty symbollic–for instance, it takes a member of each diverse clan to gain enough power to defeat the villains, and it plays with color a lot. Keita’s pony is symbollic of her relationship with her homeland–it follows her even when she leaves. In one scene, four girls show each other a small keepsake that represents their families, which each carries with her.

        Different readers are going to pick up symbols differently. It might be obvious to one person, while another won’t realize it until they’re reflecting on the book later–or not at all. I think one solution is to put a variety of them in your story. Maybe a couple are blatant, and a few are more subtle, and a few tiny ones that it would take a very astute fan to pick up on.

    • If there’s a particular symbol you feel is obvious, maybe you could try using it less, or in situations where te symbolism needs to be stretched a little further, depending on the nature of your symbol. I’m with Melissa Mead, though. I don’t usually try to include symbols or allegories, I just write my story and let other people see what they like.

    • Writing Ballerina says:

      I agree with the others, and also, don’t be afraid to take notes while you’re writing. I use Gdocs, so I’ll comment to myself on the side, like ‘this can be symbolism for X’ or ‘this is an easter egg for Y’ (once even ‘*cackles at subtext* cause I felt clever that day XD). Just little notes like that to myself, so I know a) why the little mention is there, or b) as a placeholder/reminder to go through and make sure it still flows and stuff, or maybe make it more subtle, etc. But yeah ;D. Just focus on getting the words actually down, and then go back and make them actually nice later :).

    • SluggishWriter says:

      I think the key is balancing it. Having layers, so that not EVERYTHING is a symbol, as well as having multiple metaphors, is important. Unfortunately, it’s also very hard ? good luck!

  2. A couple of months ago, maybe longer, someone shared a link to a site with a list of writing contests and opportunities to be published. Does anyone remember what that site was?

  3. Writeforfun says:

    I’ve been using introspection to help with the voice of my characters in my current books as well. Of course, I’m not sure if that’s normal! But I have three POV’s in my current books, and each of them is different in this regard. One introspects, overthinks, and gets curious about pretty much everything, so a lot is revealed in his busy thoughts. One tends to act before thinking, and has to talk to people or at least write things out to really think too deeply about stuff. The third tends to introspect only when he is alone; when he is around other people, he introspects very little. I like the contrast of the three, because I love writing introspection a little too much (in real life, I also do it too much myself!), so I can indulge myself with the introvert, but force myself to tone it down accordingly for the other two.

    That said, I do have a quick question! I’m using the three POV’s (third person limited) for these books because all three characters are involved in parts of the central plot that are critical, and they all have their own character arcs – and I can’t get the whole story told with just one of them. However, for Book 2, the first character is the one that the overarching plot is centered around the most. Book 3 affects the second character the most, and Book 4 involves the third the most. In book series with multiple POV’s, do you think it’s okay to switch the person who is the slightly more “Main” of the main characters in each book?

  4. Kit Kat Kitty says:

    Does anyone have any advice on how to create a unique magic system? I’m working on a hard magic* system for my story right now, but so far, I don’t think I’ve come up with anything that makes it very unique, which is something I want since the magic is very important for the story.
    So far I know that the magic was given to the people by the goddess of everything good. If you know magic, you can either create or destroy (It’s one or the other, not both. Magic users have to choose at some point during there training) You can only use magic if you have specific runes written on one of your hands (hence the reason why most magic users wear gloves.) Even though the Magic was a gift, it was corrupted by the god of chaos, so using it is physically painful, and unless you have a familiar (who prevents you from dying unless it dies) you’re likely to die earlier then you would’ve otherwise.
    I guess I’m wondering what else to add. I haven’t been able to come up with any limitations that make sense to me, besides the fact you can only create/destroy, depending on which type of magic you choose. I know the amount of time you spend studying the magic correlates to how well you can use it (which goes for most things in real life anyway) but beyond that, I’m not sure. Is there something about magic systems all of you like to see? Do you have any suggestions?
    I know this is long and might not make a lot of sense, but any suggestions would be great.

    *For anyone who doesn’t know, a hard magic system has specific rules and limitations that cannot be broken. Hello Future Me has some great Youtube videos about hard magic on Youtube if you want to check them out.

    • RedTrumpetWriter says:

      I haven’t read magic systems extensively, but I think that some of the “limitations” could come from the reaction of nonmagic, or even magic users. What I mean is do they admire magic users or are they afraid? If they fear them then they would probably create laws or ways of stopping magic users from practicing. For the magic itself I think if it physically harms users that would clearly be a limitation in not only how much or how often you could use without really damaging yourself and if it leaves physical effects like disfigurement it could cause other problems, especially if magic users are feared and a limp or something would give them away. Also, depending on your characters, they may have sort of self-imposed limitations because they want to use there gifts for good even though they are corrupted so you could do something like what Gail does in Ella Enchanted and have people refuse to do “big magic” for fear of doing more harm than good. I realize this is very long but hopefully it helped a little bit.

      • Writeforfun says:

        I like the explanation behind what you’ve got so far, it sounds pretty cool!

        And sorry, no advice – but to answer you question on what I like seeing as a reader, I definitely agree that I like there to be limitations! The one thing I can’t stand is when magic is unlimited, because I never understand why it can’t be used to solve all the problems – for the good guys OR the bad guys.

        I don’t know what exactly it is in your world that the magic allows you to create or destroy, but as a reader, I think I’d appreciate it most if it were clearly limited. Perhaps you can only learn to create (or destroy, whichever the case may be) one type of substance at a time – like, say, wooden objects. So, say your magic user has studied and learned to create wooden objects; but maybe at the climax they’re facing a dragon with scales that can only be pierced by aluminum. As a reader, I’m still worried about them – and I’m also not yelling at you, the author, saying “why not just create a really cool aluminum partizan and stab the dragon already!”

        Sorry, that’s not a very good example! But do you know what I mean? I think I, the picky reader that I am, would still be fine with some people gaining the power to create/destroy other types of objects through more training (especially if it means they have to become monks, or something, and give their entire lives over to their study – which would require some pretty major sacrifices on their part). I just don’t like it when everyone has that kind of unlimited power – or has access to someone with that kind of power. In those cases, I’m mostly either not worried for the characters, or annoyed by all the plot holes popping up because the author forgot about their own characters’ magical abilities!

        • Kit Kat Kitty says:

          It’s funny because your two examples- the monks and the dragons- are actually kind of relevant to my story. Dragons are the main enemy and monks are a significant part of the plot! Your idea to make it so they can only create/destroy certain things depending on what they study was very helpful. I’ve considered something like it in the past, and I’ll probably end up using it! Thank you!

        • NerdyNiña says:

          This reminds me of a Doctor Who episode. The Doctor has his sonic screwdriver that can do basically anything. It opens doors, scans for alien tech, whatever. But it can’t do anything with wood. So in one episode, there are aliens made out of wood. He can’t do anything about it.
          Even the Doctor and his sonic have limitations.

      • Kit Kat Kitty says:

        Thanks for giving me some suggestions! You made me think about my world more. I had always figured because most magic users are evil (regardless of which form of magic they use) all magic users are disliked, but I realized that should affect the story more than just being a casual fact. My characters will have to go out of their way to hide the fact they have magic, and wearing gloves all the time probably won’t work. Thanks for the suggestions!

  5. RedTrumpetWriter says:

    I have a question that’s sort of related to this post, I’m trying to write a story from 1st person POV but I can’t seem to get the protagonists “voice” right. I know a little bit about his backstory but I’m predominately a pantster and so it seems like the more I fuss before hand the worse it gets. Will I get to know him over time or should I just change the POV to 3rd person? I’ve also played with having two 1st person narrators but I’m not sure if that is better either. I really love this character but I just can’t get him to “sound” like the person he is- Any suggestions?

    • Write in both 3rd and 1st person and see which one you like better. Also, don’t worry about a character’s voice until at least the second draft. One of my MC’s was totally flat and lifeless in the first, 3rd person, draft. As I wrote it, though, I learned more about him, and over the course of the story, he gradually started coming to life. It wasn’t quite enough, so I rewrote it in first person, which helped some more, and then the lightbulb moment came and now I understand him perfectly. So, to answer your question “Will I get to know him better, or should I just change the POV to 3rd person?”, I would say yes to both questions. You will get to know him better, and switching to third person might help with that. But I would also suggest, if you do switch to third person, to make the switch in a separate document, so you have a version of the story in first person and a version in third person. That way, it’s a lot less confusing when you’re going over it later.

      • RedTrumpetWriter says:

        Thanks Katie W. The other book I’ve written is in 3rd person so I know I could do it that way but I guess I’m just afraid that I’ll start head hopping or pulling away from my MC because I really want it to be his story (or his and the other character I’ve had narrate). I think the problem is that I know who he is but not how he expresses himself, even if it’s just in his head. I also hate editing so writing the story twice sounds overwhelming at this moment, but I do agree that it is an excellent idea to try something else and having two separate documents. Maybe I should just stop procrastinating and let myself fail a few more times!

    • RedTrumpetWriter says:

      Okay so I went and read the other posts in the voice category and I feel like I need to clarify/ expand my question. Most of the things I read were about author voice, but my problem is that my voice and not the character’s voice seems to be speaking. So the story I’m trying to write is inspired by Snow White and set in roughly the same time (1550s germany) but the MC with the white skin, black hair, etc. is a boy. His mother died when he was born and his father left him in the care of his uncle and grandmother. Now the MC is 16ish and his father has remarried a woman who has a young son. I was trying to explain all that when I kept running into the issue that he, the MC sounded whiny or girly or too young. I then tried to write from the POV of his new mother because some of her experiences follow the snow white story line but when I switched between the two he still sounded wrong. I don’t just want to abandon his POV because his experience is so important to the story. Also, I tend to start at the beginning and figure things out as I go along so I can’t really jump around since I don’t know much about either character other than a little backstory and the snow white source material. Maybe this is just a personal problem but if anyone has any advice I’d really appreciate it.

      • Gail Carson Levine says:

        There are two posts that may help. One is in the category “gender perspective,” and the other is in the category “writing gender.” Also, I know you don’t like to revise, but trying out several ways your character expresses himself may lead you to the voice that seems right for him.

  6. Fiona Wherity says:

    I’m finally around 1/8 through a story I’m hoping to get published. I realized a lot of stuff needs to be changed and I don’t have a big plot for the book yet. I have a plot for the (what I’m hoping for) series, anyone have any tips for making a small plot into something bigger? Or making a smaller plot for a single book out of the bigger plot made for the series? I know I should have planned this out better, but I’m not much of a planner when it comes to writing books, I like to go with the flow of the story.

      • Fiona Wherity says:

        Gosh, I must be having trouble thinking straight today, I’ve made so many silly mistakes today, sorry!

        • Song4myKing says:

          As we like to say in our family, “Some days are like that, even in Australia.” 🙂 I know the feeling.

          About your question, though, there are several different approaches for a series. Some, like the Chronicles of Narnia, are a collection of stand-alone books set in the same world with some of the same characters, and no over-arching plot. Others have a big plot, and each book in it moves the plot along and leaves unfinished conflicts up until the end. Of these, some of the plots take on the form of a treasure hunt or quest, in which each book is a step along the way – maybe there are seven objects that must be collected and each book focuses on getting one of them, or there are five cities the characters must pass through to reach their goal and they end up having a complete adventure in each one. Other series have a plot that looks more like a book plot. These often are trilogies, probably because the three act structure works well for plots. I’m guessing from your question that you’re thinking of this type of series.

          If you have a small plot that you want to expand, think about the conflict in the first plot, and whether it is – or could be – a symptom of some larger problem. Example: in The Hunger Games, the plot is about surviving the games. It’s a complete story arc: beginning, middle, climax, and resolution. But even though it ends there and is satisfactory as a stand-alone book, there is a problem behind the games and greater than them, and that hasn’t been solved yet. The following books deal with addressing the bigger problem of the broken society. To make this work well, you’ll want to set up the bigger problem in the first book, though it might not have to be in the first draft.

          On the other hand, I personally think it sounds easier to take a large plot and break it into smaller plots. Maybe that’s because I lean toward the planner side. This probably would take more planning from the start, before even beginning the first book. Here you could look at the big plot and look for sections, kind of like how you might break down a story into the three act structure, or how you break a story into chapters. In reality, each section, each chapter, and each scene has a story arc to it. So to turn a plot into a series, you could break it down into three or four or however many sections feel natural for your plot, and turn each of those sections into a satisfying arc. And here I’d recommend thinking very carefully about how much tension you want between each book. In some series, such as On the Run by Gordon Korman, the tension doesn’t ease much at all between books. Just as you can’t put down the book from chapter to chapter, you also want to have the next book on hand as soon as you finish reading the first. While that’s great for someone like me who had them all on hand at once, I really feel sorry for people who started to read them before they were all out, and had to wait months between them!

    • I would suggest, for making a small plot bigger, that you try brainstorming. I like to start at the end of what I’ve written and come up with two/ or three things that can happen next. Each of these possibilities can have two or three more results, although sometimes I overlap. Whenever you start getting way too many possibilities, you can pick the sequence you like best and either start writing that or continue expanding the possibilities further. It’s a little more complicated than making a list, but it helps me avoid major problems with the plot when I revise.

    • I’ve done that recently. I had a rough draft for a standalone book, but I realized there were too many characters and too much going on to really work in a single book, so I’ve been expanding it into a triology. So I have the overall plot but a lot to fill with the individual books.
      I mention this a lot, but I love KM Weiland’s plot structure (free on her website, helpingwritersbecomeauthors), which breaks down plot into eight parts. Obviously, I’m a plotter, so this might not work for everyone. I used a spreadsheet (because I am a little too obsessed with spreadsheets) to keep track of the different scenes, including the ones I haven’twritten yet, and move them around between the different parts/chapters.

      Quick breakdown of the eight parts: 1.A Exciting beginning/characteristic moment, climaxes in an inciting incident. 1.B Normal world, climaxes in the First Plot Point/Point of No Return. 2.A climaxes in the First Pinch Point (antagonist causes trouble and reveals itself/crucial information about itself). 2.B climaxes in the midpoint (character discovers Truth about themselves, world is shaken up). 2.C climaxes in the Second Plot Point (antagonist causes trouble again, reminds us of the stakes). 2.D has a False Victory, followed by the Second Plot Point/Darkest Moment. 3.A wraps up subplots and leads to climax of the book, climaxes in the “trigger”. 3.B Climax of the whole book and resolution.

  7. Fiona Wherity says:

    I feel like this should help, but I have ideas for the next books in the series and I keep getting excited and sidetracked on expanding my ideas on those instead of focusing on making a plot for the one I’m working on right now. Another problem is I’m working on it with my friend and I should be going to her for ideas we just aren’t on at the same time and we can’t really talk about it in person since, you know, all of this. I’m mainly at the beginning but I know I should have ideas for the middle (I need to become a better planner and organizer). For me it’s just I need to get ideas for the plot, I’m just kind of hoping that something bigger will come to my mind so I can actually get some exciting stuff happening in my book. Thank you for the advice it will help (hopefully sometimes I just work weirdly and advice doesn’t help haha).

    • SluggishWriter says:

      I’m also a panster and I struggle with fully expanding/contracting my ideas as well. My best advice is focus on the present – let the other books in the series sit. If the first book isn’t fully fleshed out and written, there won’t even be sequels.
      In my own writing, I’ll usually plan something out, get very excited about it, then get there and realize there are thousands of words that need to connect those ideas and thousands of words to get to the next idea, and I realize my plot isn’t quite as big and complicated as I thought. I take a step back and re-evaluate a bit, and this is the time when the real plot starts to take shape, in those moments in between ideas.
      Hopefully some of that was helpful 😀

      • Fiona Wherity says:

        Thanks for the advice! Honestly, that sounds exactly like me I get too excited and then realize how much work I have to do in order to get it done and then I procrastinate. I have never fully finished a book either, I only have written short stories so I get scared I’m not good enough to write a full-length book. Another reason is I am younger so I don’t have as much experience writing so that’s another reason why I have never really focused on one book and finished it. But thanks again for the advice it really helps!

  8. Oh dear. Gail, I don’t think I registered for your event in time. The virtual conventions I’ve been doing allow you to register and enter right up until the panel starts, but this doesn’t seem to work like that.

  9. Mary Sloat says:

    Thank you for the library event this evening. I enjoying hearing you talk about your different approaches to writing stories. I wanted to let you know that after I attended your SCBWI workshop in New York several years ago, I wrote an entire novel based upon a prompt you gave us.

    Take care and stay healthy!

    iPhone Mary

  10. Gail Carson Levine and friends:

    I have a question about timelines. Many writers create timelines for the plot of their stories to keep track of content, pacing, foreshadowing, etc. What is your approach to creating a timeline for your story, and how do you typically craft it? So far I have a piece of paper with a line that looks like a camel hump and the “big events” that happen throughout the story. Are there any thoughts, notes, or advice when it comes to that sort of thing?

    • I’m in the middle of creating a timeline for my WIP, and I’m just using bullet points on a Word document. I list the date (or dates, if I’m doing a range), then with subheadings, I list what happens on that day/in that range in chronological order, with as many details as I think I need. Here’s an example.
      Day 1-Day 3
      Day 1
      Event 1
      Event 2
      Day 2, event 3
      Day 3, event 4
      Detail 1 of event 4
      Detail 2 of event 4
      Detail 3 of event 4
      I’m pretty sure the spacing is off, but you get the idea. It helps me keep track of what’s going on, because it’s easier for me to glance over an outline than sort through a list. I’m sure other people have more complicated systems, but this is working for me so far.

      • Okay, so apparently, it ignored my attempts to format it. Humph. Hopefully, you’ll still be able to get the idea. (And I would post a screenshot of my timeline if it accepted pictures, but so far as I know, it doesn’t.)

    • I generally use schedules more than timelines, although I do use timelines for history and backstory. The format is basically the same either way. Here’s a sample, using characters from my latest WIP.
      6:00 AM- Daniel gets up and gets ready.
      7:30- Breakfast.
      10:00- Start of the shooting demonstration.
      10:15- Daniel is injured by the princes.
      10:20- Chris finds Daniel, Daniel taken to hospital.
      1:45- Daniel gets out of surgery.
      And so on from there. I don’t put everything on the timeline into the story or everything in the story on the timeline, but using the timeline helps me keep things more realistic.

    • I use a calendar on Google Spreadsheets to keep track of everything. I’ll just write a brief summary of the main events of the day, ignoring what month or day it is, as my story is set in a desert without ordinary seasons. I mostly use it to keep everything organized. One week looks like this:
      Su: Dances in front of Amir
      Mon: Gets found, trains, first has dreams
      Tue: Learns Telekinesae
      Wed: Goes shopping
      Thur: Dances for the Asims
      Fri: More Telekinesae
      Sat: First goes to Telanis, learns voice throwing

  11. Love this post! Does anyone here have an opinion on prologues? I’ve been hearing lately that not a lot of people like them and they’re often something that an editor will throw out. Is this true? I still think that my prologue might be necessary for my story because it introduces an important memory that will help one character find another. But should I find a different way to work it in?

    • I, personally, like prologues. They can be very useful, either as backstory, frame tales (when paired with an epilogue, at least), world-building, and foreshadowing. So, I would say that if the prologue works for you, put it in and worry about taking it out if/when you have to. If you want to look at examples of prologues, you can look at the Redwall books by Brian Jacques, the Wings of Fire series by Tui T. Sutherland, and the Ranger’s Apprentice and Brotherband books by John Flanagan. All of these are middle-school and up. For high-school and up, you might try Eragon by Christopher Paolini and The Host by Stephanie Meyer. (which, just for the record, isn’t part of the Twilight series. She claims it’s an adult book, but it’s less objectionable than a lot of the YA stuff)

    • Well, most advice I get says to not do them, but the book that my agent said yes to has one, so they can’t be THAT bad. I’d say only do it if you really can’t think of another effective way to impart that information.

      Prologues usually make the most sense when they’re separated from the main book by a large stretch of time, or need to be told by a different character, or something else that makes them necessary, but too different from the rest of the book to be just another chapter.

      To use the book as I mentioned as an example, then I did get feedback from the agents who rejected it, it was along the lines of “It’s well written, but I just can’t relate to the main character/he’s not sympathetic.” Which, since Malak was a half-demon being raised by demons, was reasonable. So I went back and wrote a prologue where he was a little-bitty baby demon with a 3-word vocabulary (“My Mama! Mine!”) standing up to the ruling demons who thought he should be killed for being different.

      This time, the reaction from beta readers was “Aw, poor baby! I just wanna hug him!”

      If I’d made that Chapter One and gone from that spunky baby to the original opening that turned people off, where Malak’s hunting rats on a garbage heap, it might’ve been too jarring. Making it a prologue lets readers go “Ok, this is probably that baby, now a teenager, and he must’ve had it rough all this time, but he’s still hanging in there. What’s he up to now?”

    • I like prologues and I always read them and enjoy them, although I’m the kind of reader who reads every word between front and back covers, whether or not they’re a part of the actual story. The mood of the prologue sets the mood for the entire rest of the story if you choose to use one and it’s easier to slide into a beginning.

  12. Fiona Wherity says:

    I was wondering if anyone would be interested in looking at a blog I’m making, I personally am not a very experienced writer because I am younger, but I’m hoping that you may be interested in some of the things I am writing because I am looking for advice to make it better and I am aiming to get one of my books published. If you do I can give you the link.

  13. Gabriella Shell says:

    So I just wanted to say something here real quick.

    In Gail’s last post I said that I wanted to get a book published with a friend but I was to scared to tell my parents for various reasons.

    Well I finally worked up the courage and talked to them about it! Me and my friend have on parents on board and are moving forward in the publishing process.

    We are planning on publishing our book with Amazon Kindle. After some research it just seemed like the best fit for us right now. We are editing the book ourselves along with the help of a grammar teacher (Mrs. Dymes) and some trusted adults. My question for you Gail, is what things should we definitely do before we submit the book?

    I want to get this right, that is why I am trying to get advice from people who might have some this before. This is a real l big step for me and I don’t want to mess it up.

    Also side note we are planning on submitting the book in 2-6 months.

      • Fiona Wherity says:

        Wow, that’s really cool! I honestly wish I could even finish the first draft of a book! But seriously, congratulations on that, it’s really amazing. I hope I can read it someday!

        • Gail Carson Levine says:

          CONGRATULATIONS on the book! CONGRATULATIONS on getting parental support!

          I’m sure you’re making the book as good as it can be. I’d say that in the editing you and your co-writer need to be as honest with each other as you can be and not let your feelings be hurt. It’s all for the book!

          I’ve never self-published, but I just looked on Amazon, and there are books on the subject. One is SELF-PUBLISHING FOR DUMMIES, and I like the Dummies series. There are also books devoted to self-publishing on Amazon. For these, I’d look at the page count to make sure you’re getting a book and not a pamphlet, and I’d Google the authors to see how qualified they are to be writing on the subject. Personally, I’d stay away from the book that wants to tell you how to make a million dollars! But I would read one or more books and have a publicity plan in place before you release the book.

          Good luck, and please keep us posted on how it goes. We’ll all learn from you.

      • I just wrote a long response, but now I don’t see it here. That’s really annoying.

        Sorry I missed this when this was the most recent post.
        Yes, I publish through KDP.
        First, I suggested joining the facebook group 20books250k, an excellent resource on indie publishing. Look for the “All Star posts”, a sort of FAQ post.
        Self-publishing is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t expect to make a ton of money right away (you’ll be pleasantly surprised if you do!). Usually it takes a lot of work and a lot of books until you get to profitable levels.
        Self-publishing is relatively easy. Marketing is the hard part. You’ll want to consult other sources, but here are a few that work for me:

        Have a website that you update frequently. Instead of a blog, I have a “bonus material” section where I share snippets from books or short bits of information about the story or the world.

        Pick one or two social media platforms that you already use. Don’t spread yourself thin trying to use them all. Personally, twitter works best as a marketing platform. I like the hashtag #shamelessSelfPromotionSaturday on the weekends. April is my best month for selling entirely because of the #IndieApril hashtag.

        Newsletters work well. I like using to grow my mailing list.

        Seeking review requests can be important. Review requests are similar to query letters to agents (with a higher success rate). You still want to be professional, use a hook, personalize to the blogger, etc. I find people to ask using the website My success rate is about one review per forty requests–so it’s high, but reviews are gold to indie authors. You’ll be giving the bloggers that accept a free copy of your ebook to review.

        Personally I don’t use paid advertising much. You have to be prepared to lose money at first while you figure out what works for you, and I usually don’t have the money to spare. You might consider doing more research into AMS, bookbub, and facebook ads.

        The best way to market your first book is to publish another. You want to stay relevant, if you can. I’ve been doing one book a year since I started, and I’m working on moving up to two a year. This doesn’t work for everyone, but if you can put out a quality book quickly, it will definitely help. Right now I’m saving up three books in a series so I can release them all within a few months of each other. It’s called “rapid release” and it’s supposed to be really successful.

        I’m not an expert on these things, but if you want to ask more questions, you can find a ‘contact me’ form on my website (linked to my name), or I’m “TheSpectraBooks” on facebook and twitter 🙂

  14. Fiona Wherity says:

    Gail, the third prompt reminded me of a story that I love. It’s called Pennyroyal Academy, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it before, but in the second book, you learn that one of the characters is Cinderella and that her stepsister who is unusually cruel to everything (these mice who she had tortured showed up and had bald spots and were injured horribly). You also learn that she hid her other stepsister sister who had a change of heart and was also tortured by the evil stepsister. It’s a very interesting story, it reminded me of this because Cinderella has some thoughts that she shared with the MC’s.

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