I have a number of favorite authors. Folks like Steinbeck and Kazantzakis to start. But perhaps my favorite, for both his originality and style, is Elmore Leonard, the king of crime fiction. He was once asked to sum up his rules for good writing. Here they are:

  1.  Never open a book with weather.
  2. Avoid prologues.
  3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
  6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

This posting is about Rule #2:  Prologues. Since every novel I’ve written—even the business book I co-wrote with my partner, Carol Broadbent—has had a prologue, I need to defend why I defy the rules of my idol and mentor.

Prologues usually are out of synch with a novel’s timeline. They either took place a while before the main action or at a later place in the action. There are any number of reasons for a prologue. Mine have one of two purposes: 1) To open the book in a manner that grabs the reader’s attention and encourages them to read further; 2) To give them a chance later in the book to harken back to it and either: a) congratulate themselves for remembering it (“So that’s how it fits in. I wondered about that.”) or b) To be surprised that their earlier take on where the prologue was going, when it turns out to be something other.

With that, I’m attaching the Prologue to my upcoming novel, The Forever Game, a suspense novel set in the startup world of Silicon Valley. On my own first, then with input from my co-author, Amanda Iles, and finally from our reading group, we’ve tried three different approaches to the Prologue. Each would have done the job, but it was only when we combined elements of the different approaches that we hit on the formula that worked for us.

Please enjoy. And, as always, would love to hear from you on what worked and what didn’t.

Tom and Amanda

The Forever Game Prologue

“Don’t listen to Vinod,” Trina says to Zac, the new guy. “When it comes to biohacking , he’s our resident Luddite. I’ll bet he’s still drinking his own piss.”

         “Filtered or unfiltered, Vinnie?” Maksym asks. His English, learned in Ukraine, is more precise and bookish than casual, but it also has a confusing southern drawl, a remnant of his four years at the University of Alabama.

         “Unfiltered, but with a twist.” Even though Vinod’s been in the US for over a dozen years, his Indian accent is still heavy. It’s one of those accents, with the odd intonations and rise and fall, that Valley folk think they can mimic but can’t. He stands up unsteadily and gyrates his hips. “Shaken, not stirred.”

Click here to download full PDF prologue.