The Sound of Music vs Star Wars

It is with great trepidation that I am about to publicly disagree with a cultural icon.

I am talking about Sound of Music – one of the most awarded films of all time. Five Oscars and The Golden Globe for Best film can’t be wrong. And there were many, many more accolades. It’s one of those films you either love or hate. Most people love it. It’s very dated now, but watching it at Christmas has become a family tradition. Everyone sings along with Julie Andrews and the kids.

Ok – so where do I disagree? It’s with Do Re Mi… and the first line of the song.

Let’s start at the very beginning. It’s a very good place to start.

(Go on – admit it… you just sang that, didn’t you?)

It's is an iconic scene in an iconic movie. I've seen it at least a dozen time.

It’s is an iconic scene in an iconic movie. I’ve seen it at least a dozen time.

Of course, I’m talking here about where to start a book. I’ve done a lot of critiques for emerging authors who do just what Julie Andrews suggested. They start the book at the very beginning and give the reader time to get to know the characters and their backstory. Then do something to launch the story.

I was guilty of the same thing myself when I started out. A book is a character’s journey and therefore, I thought, we need to really explain and understand the starting point before we set out. I no longer think that.

I think it’s more important to be presented with the characters challenges and fears and conflict as early as possible. The reasons for them – the backstory – can be drip fed into the story at various places throughout the book. Sometimes seeing a character reacting to a situation can work better if we don’t know the backstory. It we haven’t started at the very beginning.

When I was starting out, someone once told me to remove the first three chapters of a book I was writing. I was horrified – but now realise that person was right. I had started the book in the wrong place. And do you know how I knew? I had written a prologue.

Now – prologues are a cause for much debate. In or out?

I tend to think prologues are of two types. One is a genuine flash back to a time and/or place outside the main part of the novel – to an event that will shape the novel. I think this sort of prologue can work.

BUT – I’ve also read prologues that are a flash forward… to an event or action later in the book. The book then builds to that prologue. I’m far less happy with this idea. We all look for the ‘hook’ to drag the reader into our story. If we have to steal a scene from later in the book to be the prologue, that makes me think the book has started in the wrong place. Maybe that prologue should simply be chapter one—and the story can just move forward from there.

Possibly the most famous prologue is the crawl from the opening titles of Star Wars – the first film, which was later re-titled as Episode four.

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, George Lucas wrote a prologue

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, George Lucas wrote a prologue

In the crawl, George Lucas tells us everything we need to know to be in the right head space for the film. He originally wrote six paragraphs of four sentences each. This was edited to the final sequence as seen in the film – three paragraphs. 83 words.

He didn’t start at the beginning. In fact – when you look at the Indiana Jones Films, and American Graffiti and probably others, you see that Lucas never starts at the beginning.

Stars Wars won seven Oscars – The Sound of Music won five. And now I think of it, The Sound of Music didn’t start at the very beginning either. It could have started when Maria entered the convent to find it was the wrong place for her. But it didn’t. It started as she left the convent.

So – what do you think? Is the very beginning a very good place to start? Do prologues work for you?

Are you a Sound of Music or a Star Wars kinda person?

Two very different but equally successful films - and both of them started at exactly the right place.

Two very different but equally successful films – and both of them started at exactly the right place.

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13 thoughts on “The Sound of Music vs Star Wars

  1. Hi Janet, thoughtful post. I don’t mind reading prologues but am not sure I actually remember what they said by the time I finish a novel! I’m far more likely to remember where the action actually started. Does this make the prologue redundant? Possibly – but if it’s really gripping then it’s also a great tool for pulling me (the reader) in.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s a good point, Rae. I wonder if we do forget all about the prologue when we get to the actual scene. Using a flash forward to pull the reader in just seems a bit like cheating to me 🙂 But, as you say, if it gets a reader involved, that’s always a good thing.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lots of food for thought, Janet! I’ve been told about ditching the first three chapters too – you do need to get right into the story for today’s readers. And no back story till after chapter three. I’m not a hundred percent sure about your Prologue comment though – I quite like stories that build towards a scene you know is coming. Often you don’t really know who is the narrator in such a scene, so you are really kept on your toes. I think … ooh, now I’ll have to be vigilant in my reading to find examples.

    Thanks for a stimulating post!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think a flash forward in a crime or suspense novel can work… where its all about the action. I think less so in more thoughtful books that are emotion driven. Having said that, of course, there re books that do it very well. You never know, one day I may try another prologue and see what happens.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Star Wars, Star Wars, Star Wars, Star Wars, Star Wars, Star Wars … Should I mention I like Star Wars? (Except for Ep III, obviously.)

    Thanks for an interesting post, Janet. I agree completely. I tell students to jump into the story at a point of conflict or suspense and treat Chapter 1 as the access corridor to the rest of the book – don’t clutter it up with too much description (static) or backstory (going backwards instead of forwards). If you keep your reader through Chapter 1, you’ve probably got them.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You are a girl after my own heart, Sue. I didn’t really like any of the prequel trilogy. Loved the original three and thought the newest was OK. I was at Pinewood while the were shooting the new one – walked round the corner from my office one day and saw a line of stormtroopers, helmets off, sitting on a wall eating their sandwiches. Made me smile.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I loved The Force Awakens, too. If I could have, I would have got a fresh cup of tea, visited the loo, and watched it all over again. My son plays a PlayStation game that fills in a lot of the backstory so he keeps telling me stuff about it, too.

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  4. Interesting post, Janet. I prefer to start a book which has me asking lots of questions in the first few pages – questions which are answered as I read on.
    I hadn’t watched the Sound of Music for years until my son said he’d never seen it so we watched it. I had forgotten how dark a story it is despite the singing.
    I’m probably the only person on the planet who hasn’t watched Star Wars!

    Liked by 3 people

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