In Dwight Swain’s screenwriting guide Film Scriptwiting: A practical manual, he likened story conflict to target shooting, he suggested that bringing one thread of story conflict is like flinging one clay plate into the air – one is more interesting than none, but it really gets interesting when there are multiple plates in the air simultaneously. Priorities have to be made about which order to go for the plates in and their is an urgent time factor.
A prologue can be a useful way to ‘fling a plate in the air’ then cut away, with the reader knowing that it will have to be dealt with after more immediate concerns. Think of a cop show, where the prologue features a murder to be solved, or a horror movie where the prologue features a maniac on the loose to be captured or killed.
Fiona McIntosh began the prologue to King’s Wrath with:
They fell swiftly and silently.
Any moment they would hit the ground and it would be over. She didn’t know why he had chosen to kill her. She was his only friend.
To use Swain’s analogy, from the first few sentences clay plates are being propelled into the air; the character and her friend are falling, she thinks she is going to die, she doesn’t understand why her friend caused her to be falling, and so on – then, about a page later, the prologue ends with:
And then suddenly they were tumbling on something solid. Her fall was cushioned though; first her legs then her back and shoulders touched inanimate objects. She had no idea what but it didn’t hurt. How did that happen? She wanted to open her eyes but they were squeezed shut with fear. It sounded as though branches were snapping! Trees? … How could that be?
With no warning the breath was sucked out of her as Genevieve, the first princess of the Valisars to survive in centuries, blacked out.
And across the empire, various people felt the stirrings of a mighty magic they had never felt before.
This resolves some of the immediate conflict began in the opening sentences of the prologue, but raises more questions, including where Genevieve and her friend have fallen, what broke their fall, and the nature of the mighty magical disturbance which occured and what that means for the characters in the story.
For the beginning of chapter 1, McIntosh has cut away from the prologue to follow other characters while the events of the prologue remain unresolved, leaving questions for a reader to wonder about. Chapter 1 begins:
Though the two men walked side by side they looked anything but companionable.
‘Did you feel it?’ the younger one asked.
Greven didn’t want to admit it but there was no point hiding much from Piven these days. While his mind was essentially his own, his actions were not. It didn’t matter how hard he fought the bonding magic, it had him completely at its mercy. ‘I felt it’ he said, gruff and disnterested.
‘And what do you think it is?’
‘Why are you concerning yourself with what I think? I just do as I’m told.’
The opening sentences of chapter 1 take up from the moment of the magical disturbance from the end of the prologue but focusing on different characters. Although the magical disturbance is felt by the characters, their own relationship with one another take over as the more immediate conflict. It continues:
‘Is this how it’s going to be from now on Greven?’
‘What did you expect?’
Piven made a soft scolding sound, clicking his tongue.’And I can remember not so long ago your telling me just how much you loved me and wanted to protect me.’
‘I did, but my love was given freely then. And I had two hands then. And I didn’t know what you were then.’
‘And what am I? No, don’t, let me say it for you. A monster? Is that the right word?’ When Greven said nothing, Piven continued. ‘Because I really haven’t changed that much, you know. I still love you Greven. I always have.’
‘You once loved your brother.’
‘Ah, but you haven’t deserted me as my brother has. He must pay for that.’
‘Your sister had no choice in the desertion.’
This passage piles on further conflict (or strong potential for conflict) for the two characters featured in chapter 1 as well as other characters mentioned but not shown in the first chapter. It continues:
‘This is true,’ Piven admitted, slapping at some tall grasses at the side of the Tomlyn Road.’She was helpless, but she is helpless no longer, and you know as well as I she will try to destroy me now. That disturbance we felt was likely none other than her returning home.’
Greven was genuinely startled.’I felt the disturbance but had not given it much thought … of course you’re right. Are you frightened?’
Piven threw him a wry glance. ‘No,’ he replied with a gentle scoff. ‘I have you.’ He pointed to where the main road forked. ‘We go left to the capital.’
‘Let’s go right, Piven. Let’s head south, keep you safe.’
‘I am safe. You are here.’
‘I think you are depending on me too much.’
‘But that’s the role of the aegis. To be entirely dependable. Come on,’ he said, increasing his speed. ‘And don’t claim fatigue; I know you don’t even feel it. That must be amazing. No need for food or water, rest or any form os sustenance.’
‘Does that not strike you as a living death?’
Piven smiled openly. ‘Not at all. It’s surely immortality. I envy you.
In this passage, the chapter 1 characters have a good idea about the general nature of the magical disturbance but that raises the possibility of more specific threats to come.
In the space of just a few pages Fiona McIntosh has set up many threads of story conflict, short term and longer term, major and minor, to intrigue a reader with the possibilities of what might happen, what problems will arise from each conflict, and whether or how each conflict will be resolved.
King’s Wrath is the third novel in Fiona McIntosh’s Valisar trilogy. More on Fiona McIntosh can be found at www.fionamcintosh.com and in her interviews with The Australian Literature Review here and here.
The Australian Literature Review