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On Prologues And Epilogues In Teen Historical Novels, by Carolyn Meyer

Sometimes it’s better not to begin at the beginning. Historical novels for teens often cover a much longer span of time than contemporary novels, so I look for ways to make the time span more manageable. A prologue to set up the story and/or an epilogue to end it can solve the problem.

In the Young Royals series, I almost always began with a prologue. Mary Tudor, the narrator of Mary, Bloody Mary, sets the scene, blaming Anne Boleyn for everything: “Anne was a witch; I never doubted it. She deserved to die; neither have I doubted that….” The first chapter picks up the story years earlier, Mary at age eleven, and the last chapter ends with Mary’s realization that her enemy is no longer Anne Boleyn, but Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth.

The next book in the series, Beware, Princess Elizabeth, also opens with a prologue. This time it’s Elizabeth speaking: “There was a time, long ago, that I loved my sister. There may have been a time that Mary loved me. But that all changed….” The prologue is dated 1558; Chapter 1 begins at the death of her father, Henry VIII, in 1547. The novel ends when Elizabeth becomes queen.

Anne Boleyn tells her story in Doomed Queen Anne with a prologue dated the night before she is to be executed; an epilogue summarizes events following her beheading, through Henry’s death and Elizabeth’s accession.

Henry’s first wife – Mary’s mother, Catherine of Aragon – narrates a prologue from the tower where she is being held prisoner. The year is 1533 and the duke of Suffolk is at the door, demanding that she agree to divorce Henry so that he can marry Anne. Catherine tells her story, beginning with her voyage from Spain to England in 1501. In an epilogue the duke returns, pounding on the door, but Catherine remains adamant.

In the prologue to Cleopatra Confesses, the Egyptian queen awaits her enemy’s arrival. In the epilogue she summarizes the major events in the seventeen years since Caesar, her lover, left Egypt. The epilogue touches on her love affair with Marcus Antonius, a story that carried Cleopatra far into adulthood, well beyond the range of a YA novel.

Prologues and epilogues are useful tools for setting the emotional tone. The sad truth is that most of the historical novels I’ve written don’t have happy endings. Most of my queens end in prison or at the guillotine. Marie-Antoinette’s daughter narrates the last chapter of her mother’s life in The Bad Queen. Catherine de’ Medici is alive but grieving at the end of Duchessina, she has bested her rival for the king’s affections, and she will go on to make life miserable for her future daughter-in-law, Mary, Queen of Scots in The Wild Queen – another novel with a tragic ending. Queen Elizabeth is an exception. The novel ends with the beginning of her long reign.

I can’t rewrite history and save my characters from their fate or from the executioner. However, with an epilogue I can give a proper ending to a story, leaving the reader feeling tearful, perhaps, but satisfied.

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Carolyn Meyer’s author website: www.readcarolyn.com

Carolyn Meyer’s bio page

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Mary, Bloody MaryThe Bad Queen: Rules and Instructions for Marie-AntoinetteVictoria RebelsCleopatra Confesses     Hurricane SongThe Traitor's KissNecromancing the Stone

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Plotting My Teen Historical Novels, by Carolyn Meyer

One of the things I like about writing fiction based on historical people and events is that real history provides so many fictional possibilities. Deciding where to start is the first challenge in plotting a novel for teen readers.

The age of the main character is an important decision. Common wisdom has it that young teens want to read about older teens – but not too much older; older teens don’t want to read about younger ones, and they also don’t want to read about characters who are a lot older. The sweet spot seems to be about sixteen. But history doesn’t always cooperate. Sometimes the actual story starts much earlier in the life of the historical person you want to write about.

Mary Stuart became Queen of Scots as an infant, upon the death of her father. I decided to begin The Wild Queen when Mary’s mother sends her off to France at age six to grow up in the King’s court. Would a thirteen-year-old reader decide in the early chapters that Mary is too young to be interesting? It was a risk, but I took it.

Marie-Antoinette is twelve when her story begins in The Bad Queen. Mary Tudor is ten in Mary, Bloody Mary. Her sister, Elizabeth, is thirteen in Beware, Princess Elizabeth, and Anne Boleyn is thirteen in Doomed Queen Anne. Less important than the age is the situation in which the main character finds herself in those opening pages. Sometimes it’s better not to state the age at first; just begin with a situation that grabs your teen reader’s interest.

Conflict drives the plot. The next big challenge is choosing which events provide the most compelling way to tell the story to a teen reader and which events to leave out if they don’t move the story forward.

Teenaged Princess Elizabeth is despised by her older half-sister, Mary. Marie-Antoinette must deal with the ladies of the French court who resent her and want her to fail. Victoria must contend with her demanding mother and her mother’s advisor, Sir John. Young Charles Darwin, in The True Adventures of Charley Darwin, has to confront a demanding father and his own lack of focus. Cleopatra’s jealous sisters, in Cleopatra Confesses, want her dead. Far from home, Mary, Queen of Scots, must adjust to a new environment and make decisions that change the course of her life. As the characters mature, the conflicts they face become even more complicated. The writer’s task is to keep teen readers turning pages.

I don’t try to figure out everything in advance. I simply start writing, trying different approaches until I find one that I think is most engaging. In my first draft of Victoria Rebels, the opening chapter recounted the circumstances leading to the marriage of Victoria’s parents. In a later revision, that material – historically interesting but not the way to launch a plot – was moved to Author’s Notes. The final draft of the story opens with preparations for the wedding of Victoria’s sister and her realization that with her sister gone Victoria will be alone.

Just as I experiment with different starting points, I try out various points at which to end. A satisfactory ending may depend on the age of my readers. The ending of Cleopatra Confesses tends to satisfy younger teens, while older readers want the story to go on.

Sequel, anyone?

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Carolyn Meyer’s author website: www.readcarolyn.com

Carolyn Meyer’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Beware, Princess ElizabethThe Wild Queen: The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots (Young Royals Books (Hardcover))Cleopatra ConfessesThe True Adventures of Charley Darwin     The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)Code Name VerityTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

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