Friday, December 11, 2009

Anthology: Prefaces and introductions

Another issue to consider in putting together an anthology is: “to preface or not to preface.” In other words, 1) should I write an introduction to the collection as a whole, and 2) should I include any introductions to individual stories within the collection? One could argue that you hardly ever see introductions to novels, so why should short story collections be any different? Stories are different, though, in that they are likely written at different periods of an author’s career rather than straight through as one would a novel. That provides an opportunity for the writer to share in a preface some things they’ve learned over time.

Personally, I like introductions, and I even like when writers introduce individual stories, although they need to say something interesting when they do so. If I’m the reader, however, I want the introductions short, especially for stories. But here is the problem. I read, at least in part, as a writer. I like to know what the writer of an anthology was thinking and where his or her influences came from. I like to hear about a particular story that has an interesting history. But I also know plenty of readers who aren’t writers who just want the stories. They don’t care about where they came from or what the writer’s influences were; they want to get right into the action. And, ultimately, a story has to live or die by its own merits.

In looking through the anthologies I own, a very large number, I see that short prefaces are more common than not, although there are anthologies without them. I see that introductions to individual stories are rare, however. I’ve decided to take these observations as my general guidelines, though not as a firm rule.

I’ve already written a short introduction for the whole collection and will probably use it. It’s about three pages long and still needs shortening, I think, but it keeps the focus mainly on the history of the Sword & Sorcery genre, which is where 99percent of the stories in the collection fall. It also specifically gives credit to Robert E. Howard as the major influence in my fantasy writing. So far, I’ve decided against introductions to individual stories, but I haven’t been through the whole collection so that may change. If I do introduce specific stories, I'll keep that intro to no more than 5 sentences.

Once again, I come up against the issue of target audience. Of course I want my fellow writers to enjoy the book, but I also want to attract those readers for who “the story is the thing,” the only thing. Any feedback from…out there?

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38 comments:

Lana Gramlich said...

I say include one (if you have something you want to say about the collection, in general.) If a reader's not interested in the introduction/preface in a book, they have the option to skip it.

G said...

I actually enjoy reading intros, for both non-fiction and fiction.

To me, it gives me a great overview of whatever book I'm reading. I think with what you're proposing to do, having an intro of some kind would be great for readers like myself, who have not a clue of the type of genre you write in nor a basic idea on what kind of theme a short story anthology would have.

Richard Prosch said...

One of my fave anthologies read in 2009 is Dan Simmons' WORLDS ENOUGH & TIME. He's got a general intro and a short intro to each story and the balance seems just right.

Randy Johnson said...

I enjoy a short word about each story as it gives clues to your mind-set at the time. An overall introduction is good to, something like you've discussed in these posts about the job of selecting and ordering the tales.

As someone else sauad, ifone doesn't like that, they have the option of skipping them, going straight to the story.

Randy Johnson said...

that's "good too..." Sorry about that.

Charles Gramlich said...

Lana, I've written the opening and will decide eventually whether to use it. How interesting about the Frazetta robbery. Thanks for the link.

G., that's much like what I was thinking.

Richard, I haven't seen that collection. I like the individual story intros a lot. Harlan Ellison usually does that.

Randy, Yes, good point that you and Lana made about skipping the intros if folks don't want to read them.

Voidwalker said...

I just awarded you, my friend. Check it out when you have a free moment.

Barbara Martin said...

Introductions to anthologies are a must for me, as I like to read short snippets of how the author came up with the idea or what prompted them to write it.

Richard Prosch said...

Charles --I've always enjoyed Ellison's intros and nonfiction pieces. Probably more than the stories as he does a great job of getting you into his mindset.

ArtSparker said...

I think of the individual story introduction as charmingly old-fashioned, And it could make for a nice sense of inimacy. Many years ago, I wrote a fan letter to John Crowley about "Beasts", and he wrote back that the book had its inception in a vision he had of a lion in a truck stop smoking a cigarette. This is a delightful thing to know.

laughingwolf said...

i'm with lana on this... and agree with five-sentence limits

Cloudia said...

Yes, the story readers may skip the preface anyway!





Aloha, Friend!


Comfort Spiral

Laurie said...

I think prefaces are totally appropriate for anthologies, especially when the stories are written over a long period of time. People always have the option to skip them.

Scott Parker said...

I love introductions. It's like a Behind the Scenes or Making of part of a DVD. Definitely do one.

David J. West said...

I like having a preface-people can skip it if they aren't interested-no big whoop-but I really like collections with a little somthing something before the stories too-I always read them.

It's a bonus. Of course I am speaking as a writer who likes to see what other writers motivations and inspirations are and again if people don't like em they can skip em-they already got the book.

Charles Gramlich said...

Voidwalker, thanks! I appreciate the kind thoughts.

Barbara Martin, I feel that way myself, and am usually disappointed if there is none.

Richard Prosch, yes, I remember one particular collection where he introduced every story and it made me write intros for all my stories, if only for my personal amusement.

ArtSparker, I get that feeling too. I like to feel a sense of communication with the author. but I'm not sure all readers like that.

laughingwolf, intros are like speeches. Keep 'em short!

Cloudia, maybe I should make the point in the general intro about skipping them if readers want.

Laurie, the stories I'd like to include, for example, have been written over 20 years so there's stuff I could talk about with them.

Scott Parker, the consensus certainly seems to be running that way.

David J. West, I'm probably overly concerned. And I like writing them too, because it gives me a chance to look back.

Natasha Fondren said...

Like you, I have a biased opinion. But I love the author intros. I've written a pop culture essay on the Anita Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton, and I can't wait to read her intros to the essays and her intro to the book.

Of course, if you get to a certain point, I think your readers want to read your grocery list.

ANNA-LYS said...

For whom are You writing, and why?
I think a preface/intro is a great opportunity for the writer to but the "right" lens on the reader, and in that way come closer to You, to establish an relation between the writer and the reader. This inter-subjective relation will be a shared context for experience and understanding. Julia Kristeva have a lovely expression for what I am trying to say:

INTERTEXTUALITY, meaning that the text will be understood in the light of former texts.

Charles, IF you have a latent or/and manifest goal with this anthology, that is related to some change in the reader, I think an introduction is a must. When it comes to the preface I myself should have asked someone trusted and wellknown writer to write it for You. I think the preface then will give You a good hint about what is needed in the introduction.

Good Luck my friend!

*May The Light be With You*

Bernita said...

I think both a preface and short introductions would be most interesting.

jodi said...

Charles, I love intros. It gives a voice to the author with a little tease as what to expect. I prefer it not be too long, because I am usually dyin' to get into the story. Good luck, Charles and try not to overthink it!

the walking man said...

You saw what I did with stink...broke it into sections and titled each section that was (hopefully) explanatory where I was headed.

One page intro at the front an two page conclusion at the end. That format worked out ok for the poetry I think.

pattinase (abbott) said...

As someone who writes, this sort of thing interests me as much as the stories. I love to hear about the process. But to the general public, I bet they skip over it.

Charles Gramlich said...

Natasha Fondren, hey, an anthology of my grocery lists was next on my list of things to-do! ;)

ANNA-LYS, hum, you know, an introduction by someone else more famous would be an interesting possibility. I never thought of that. I should have. Thanks for the input.

Bernita, Anna-lys now has me thinking about getting someone else possibly do the introduction. Hum! But yeah, it looks like everyone would want an intro. At least here.

jodi, overthinking is my personal hazard. but definitely it would be short.

Mark, I did an intro for my poetry collection that I liked pretty well. I'm going through it now looking for themes that could be put into possible 'Segments.'

Charles Gramlich said...

Pattinase, I definitly see a difference between writers and regular readers. But as long as they don't mind skipping...

ANNA-LYS said...

What I meant was ask someone else to make the preface ... THEN you know IF you need an introduction chapter AND what the content should be ... depending on how Your work is understood from someone else perspective.

AFTER ou have done an intro, upon the others preface, You give him/her Your INTRO and s/he can either change the preface OR You just skip it :-D

Jo said...

I always skip introductions. I think a story should speak for itself (and stand on its own without an introduction). But, that's just me, and I have been known to be wrong -- many, many, many (!!!) times.

Cheers,
Jo

Erik Donald France said...

If you like into.s, inlude one. I agree with Lana and others, some can skip it (like those who skip footnotes, perish the thought).

Another possibility is the endnote, but I'd go with what you prefer.

Mary Witzl said...

I definitely prefer anthologies with introductions, but I almost always read them AFTER I've read the stories. When I start off, I just want to read for my own pleasure. I don't want anyone preparing me for what I'm going to read or telling me why they wanted to write it; I want to judge it by its own merits and make my own personal approach to it. After I've finished an anthology, though, I feel terribly cheated if there ISN'T an introduction to go back and read.

Charles Gramlich said...

ANNA-LYS, well I don't know if I have anyone who is really a scholar of my work, but it's a good idea.

Jo, I think quite a few readers do. I never skip introductions myself, although I don't allow them to influence my appreciation of a story one way or the other. At least I try not to.

Erik, yeah, I've seen endnotes on occassion. I think if I were going to do something long it would be an endnote rather than preface. I'll have to see how long my possible intro becomes.

Mary Witzl, that shows the wide variety of ways folks get into reading. You'd probably appreciate an "end note" rather than a preface. It's intersting to see how different folks are in their reading experience.

jennifer said...

I like an introduction - especially if it feels like a personal message to me, the reader.

sage said...

If an introduction, keep it short. However, I think an introduction written by another author is more helpful--or maybe a conclusion

Angie said...

With the assumption that the introductions have to be well written and interesting, I think they add a lot to a story collection. If you feel inspired, I say do them.

A funny, sort of -- when I was a teenager getting into SF, I got both the two Hugo Winners anthologies Isaac Asimov edited, and Dangerous Visions and Again Dangerous Visions edited by Harlan Ellison. All four were good books, but I found that once I'd read them, I went back to reread the introductions -- to the books themselves and to the individual stories -- much more often than I went back to reread the stories themselves. Weird but true. I'm only a single data point, but in my case at least, really good introductions can make a huge impact, and make an anthology as a whole very memorable.

Angie

Charles Gramlich said...

jennifer, that's a good point. I like those kinds too.

sage, I think I would get another author if it were horror, but for fantasy I'm not sure. But definitely short. I'm thinking no more than 500 words.

Angie, I haven't done that often but have done it. Especialy for intros having to do with heroic fantasy and Robert E. Howard. I'll strive for well written and interesting. :)

Rachel said...

All the Sword & Sorceress anthologies have both a preface to the book and little intros to each story, perhaps because each story is by a different author. But again, I say go for it.

Rick said...

I think you should write an introduction for the whole set; but I also like the idea of individual introductions as well. Crap, I'm no help at all, am I?

Hey did you get your Miskatonic story to proof?

cs harris said...

I like the idea of a preface, so that those who want to know more can read it and those who simply want the stories can skip. Some of those who at first skip might be inspired by the end of the collection to go back and read the intro material.

L.A. Mitchell said...

From what I've noticed, the intros are usually posturing on the part of some who-knows-who-decided expert about another writer's work.

When an author writes their own, I personally read the stories first, then go back to the intro for two reasons: (1) you're right, the story is the thing for me and I'm dying to get to that first line and (2) usually the author frames or provides an anecdote about certain stories that mean nothing to me until I have the context of the story in my mind. JMHO, but I think you should put it in :)

Brother Catfish said...

I used to read Harlan Ellison collections just for the intros :-)