"Prologues sit on a reader's mental clipboard and some of their attention goes on wondering where it fits." - Emma Darwin
In the final session of Emma Darwin's Building the Novel course, we covered hooks and why you need them. A hook is needed in order to pitch the book to agents and publishers, and will tell you who is telling the story - the main character and main problem. This will then lead naturally into writing the blurb, should you be lucky enough to need one.
We also covered one of the eternal questions - how do you know where to end/begin a chapter? Sometimes (more common in literary fiction that genre, apparently) one scene equals one chapter. However, Emma's suggestion was to judge it by content, so that a change of theme would indicate a need for a new chapter, or by showing events linked by stages (either parallels across multiple storylines, or by the stages of a single storyline). If ending with a cliffhanger, Emma suggested it should involve a change of p.o.v. or location, to create a true break rather than the irritation "false" cliff-hanger.
Discussion of chapters naturally led to discussion of prologues. I've never been a big fan of them myself - I skipped every single prologue in David (and Leigh) Eddings' epic series, and agreed with Emma's opinion that if it's important enough to need a prologue it's important enough to be in the story. The best reason not to have one was, for me, the quote at the top of this entry - "Prologues sit on a reader's mental clipboard and some of their attention goes on wondering where it fits". Time the reader spends worrying about your prologue is time they're not focussing on the story.
Finally, drafts and synopses. Emma reiterated what most writers know and spend the whole of NaNoWriMo trying to convince themselves - the first draft is about getting it down. She suggested that the best was to do this is in the way you're most happy brainstorming. In my case this varies every five minutes, because while typing is fast notebooks (the paper sort) are more portable and don’t need recharging.
If you get stuck, writing a synopsis can help to expose problems like having no plot or a lack of connections between ideas. I guess that if combined with some sort of notecard/outlining idea it could also make rewriting a lot easier. Short stories are infinitely easier to hold the whole of in your head, at least that’s what I find.
Emma’s final thought was that any project has its outer limits, things and problems it won't ask of you. She suggested setting exercises to learn the rest. Myself, I think writing outside of your comfort zone would work quite well. If only it wasn’t so uncomfortable.