An argument for a Prologue

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Demesnedenoir, Jul 15, 2017.

  1. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Dark Lord

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    First, I will preface this: It is often best not to have a traditional worldbuilding prologue (not speaking of chapter prologues, like GRRM has) in the novel, the info is best twined through the book proper.

    I read the "sample" of The Warded Man a couple times thinking about buying it, mainly as a possible comp for my WIP. So, I broke down and bought it, and right after the sample Brett goes into the age old story teller giving us the history of the world setup, in this case, the demon corelings and their relationship with humans.

    My eyes just glaze over. I would rather the author just hit me with a prologue up front than stop the story to tell me a story. It would take fewer words and get it over with. Then, no need to break my flow in the story while reading later.

    So, if the writer decides they can't weave in the history in small doses, which do you prefer? Obvious info dumps framed as story tellers, or whatever, or a quick, succinct prologue?
     
  2. Steerpike

    Steerpike Staff Moderator

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    I put that same book down because I thought it was boring. Had it been in a prologue I might have done the same, or maybe just skipped the prologue to see if the author could actually tell a story or not.
     
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  3. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Dark Lord

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    Yeah, what I'd do is skip forward and if at some point I'd decided to read the book, I'd go check out the prologue, LOL. Rothfuss is boring in this way in exponential degrees, heh heh.

    Since I paid for it, I'll at least try to read it.

     
  4. If knowing the creation myth or whatever is essential for the story, then yes, I'd rather have a prologue infodump it to me than interrupt the story with it a few pages in.

    If it's not essential immediately, probably the best thing would be to infodump it later, like sometime during the second act. So I'm already invested in the story and i'm not interrupted in getting situated.
     
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  5. FifthView

    FifthView Dark Lord

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    Well it really depends, doesn't it?

    Isn't it odd that the draw of a fantasy or sci-fi world is....the world, heh, but people get so worked up about infodumps that give us a view of that world?

    I'm tempted to say that if your world is rather boring or cliche, please don't dump it on me, neither in the prologue or early after the story has started. Don't tell me about the number of farms surrounding the city, the types of crops, the farming tools, if these aren't strange and wonderful in some glorious way. Please.

    I seem to remember Douglas Adams doing this sometimes, breaking to give us a view of the silly and absurd world. Comedy helps.

    There is also the issue of making the world relevant in some way. If it's simply strange, that might not be enough, and a prologue might be worse than a story break after some interesting character and event involving that character have been introduced. If the dump throws a lot of interesting light on that character or event, maybe I'd rather it happen within the story.

    I don't know. Depends.
     
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  6. Steerpike

    Steerpike Staff Moderator

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    I know others who feel the same way about Rothfuss. Name of the Wind actually held my interest all the way through. Haven’t read the rest of the books yet.
     
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  7. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Dark Lord

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    Weird how that works, isn't it?

     
  8. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Dark Lord

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    Almost nothing is ever 100%. But so often, as is the case with Warded Man, I just don't see why not to dribble out the info during the plot rather than breaking into a history lesson. I'm sure it's arguable in all directions, but in this case I was quite annoyed coming right after the sample pages, heh heh.

    Now, I can also defend (potentially) the storyteller infodump if it turns out to be inaccurate... although, it could still be better served dripped instead of dumped.

    I did a flash-forward preface at the behest of my editor, but what I did was to take full advantage and feed the reader information that no POV character knows

     
  9. FifthView

    FifthView Dark Lord

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    The problem I've had with worldbuilding prologues is that they give information out of context. This could be a bias of mine. In high school, I remember being absolutely bored learning facts, having to memorize exact dates and names, in history class as if these were the most important data points. But I love history when it's done well. Ken Burns's The Civil War might be the best documentary ever made; at least, it's my favorite. Because it's not just about facts, dates, the name of a law that was passed, etc. History is (or at least was) life, lives being lived. So the kind of prologue that becomes a dry history lesson about people and events that happen, just pushing forward the base facts, bores me. I was actually a little bored by that portion in yours, but it was short enough and offered a little more besides. If the facts themselves are odd and unusual, my attention might be held.

    But too often that kind of a prologue is the "I'm just going to put this here because it'll become important later" sort of thing. Sometimes, the later is much later. Also, sometimes I get the impression that these tidbits are important to the author, but he's simply failed to make them important to me.

    Edit: I suppose the same experience would happen with an infodump within the story, with that same kind of info. In which case, sure, put it at front rather than break into the story, heh.

     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2017
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  10. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Dark Lord

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    I certainly believe in short as possible. Ideally, I'd leave it out, but the editor thinks it serves a purpose. And, as often as you see info dumps in one form or another (as opposed to info dribbles, which I try to do) they must not be as disliked as we tend to think. I know trying to reread Sword of Shannara once, I hit the info-duuuump and about choked. It's good I read that book when I was young, heh heh. I had more patience then.
     
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  11. FifthView

    FifthView Dark Lord

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    I've thought of mentioning in other threads, on other topics, that I don't need to be sitting on the edge of my seat every moment of every novel. I guess this is like sitting on a porch during sunrise sipping on a cup of coffee: I don't need a battle happening in front of me, heh, or some kind of zombie horde rising from the ground, or a family argument happening out on the lawn.
     
  12. Aurora

    Aurora Mystagogue

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    OP, are you trying to figure out if your prologue should be kept in? What does your gut tell you? Editors aren't always right and by no means am I saying not to listen. But the times I've kept stuff in, readers have responded favorably when editors said "nope." Just a thought. If you think it adds to the flavor, ambience, depth of the story and it's short, I'd say it's worth considering.
     
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  13. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Dark Lord

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    Not really, I'm good with it even if I fought it, LOL. It adds a certain something that wouldn't otherwise exist. The story works with or without, but it gives a depth of story feel and raises questions that otherwise might not get raised. I brought it up more because of the anti-prologue bias that seems to exist out there, and hell, I'm a part of that. But in some cases, I can see the justification. It's a hypothetical, if you feel you must info dump, is it better to get it over with in prologue or in some (probably) overused tactic to dump in media res? So to speak.

     
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  14. Aurora

    Aurora Mystagogue

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    Ah, see. I happen to think that info dumps are a no-no ever ever ever. Such information is best weaved into the narrative, brought in through dialogue, character motivation, and even plot events. If there's an ever urgent need to info dump at all, chances are that dump (heh :poop: ) can be changed into an actual scene. Just my cents FWIW.
     
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  15. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Valar Lord

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    For myself:

    'Labyrinth: Journal' is just that - a story told in journal form. However, it does have a prologue and epilogue outside that format, dealing with the journal coming into the characters possession, and what he does after reading it.

    Prologue: character finds journal
    Journal: main story
    Epilogue: what actions the character takes as a result of reading the journal. (this is also the first chapter of the next book).

    Then there is the 'Empire' series. This is a collection of interlinked novellas or short novels detailing the highly local/personal adventures of four characters, within a larger setting. Thing is, characters and events from that larger setting intrude upon the these tales. The more crucial of the characters and events are covered in short stories I wrote beforehand. Hence, I am contemplating using some of these short stories as prologues, to put the events of the novellas in context.
     
  16. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    *side musing: Have you ever noticed how almost all Disney movies start with a backstory prologue? This was hit home to me when I watched the new Beauty and the Beast (four times *cough cough* in two days). Then I watched Moana a bunch of times with my kid and it was the same history info dump prologue. Sometimes it is just necessary.

    Back to fiction.

    I don't get the prologue hate. We had this discussion recently I think. About half the books I read have them. They work. Sometimes they are boring, but like FV says, there is more to fiction than fast passed action ever five seconds... unless that is your schtick. In which case, good for you.

    God. Has anyone read Life of Pi? That book was soooooo boring for the first third, but great story once it got going.
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2017
  17. My friend keeps trying to make me read that...

    But yeah, I really don't understand why infodumping is so deeply and widely reviled. It's not like they are *never* necessary. Sometimes an infodump really is better than dropping info in little bits and snippets. Infodumping where it's not necessary is a hallmark of an inexperienced fantasy writer, but that doesn't mean infodumps are all bad.

    I guess if you hold on too tight to any rule of writing, you can potentially hurt your story.
     
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  18. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Valar Lord

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    1 - Movies are a very different format than text. What works in a movie will likely flop in a book.

    2 - Disney movies are hugely successful.
     
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  19. Aurora

    Aurora Mystagogue

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    It depends on the type of storyteller you want to be and your audience. Does infodumping add to your story? Or does it slow the narrative? If it slows the narrative why is it there? Story forward is the goal. As for the bolded bit in your post, I absolutely agree that infodumping (although for me in general) is the sign of a writer struggling with story. Nothing negative, just that they're still growing in their craft.

    As a side note, I do enjoy prologues and most often read them. Rarely do I find that they don't belong there. Honestly, I don't care. If the author wants it there, then I'll read it. I do not hate prologues. I do, however, find that when a reader opens an ebook on Kindle it automatically opens to Chapter 1, missing the prologue or anything before it entirely. This is a discussion I've had with author friends in recent times. There's a way to switch it so the story opens to the prologue or acknowledgement but readers don't seem to want to read anything before Chapter 1. It makes me sad because I enjoy putting poetry and a monster legend at the beginning of my books.
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2017
  20. FifthView

    FifthView Dark Lord

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    That's a good question. I do think that the info dump dropped into the narrative ought to do something other than simply provide info. I also strongly believe that the reader should always experience a sense of progress.

    But slowing the narrative down might be a part of what the info dump is meant to do. Progress, forward movement, may happen even when it's not full speed ahead. I actually think that some kinds of stories work better when the pacing is varied.

    I think that dropping an info dump is a little like inserting a flashback. I've disliked most flashbacks I've encountered. (In books and television, both.) Often, a flashback is used to tell some part of the history of a character, so comparing world-building history infodumps to flashbacks makes sense. Flashbacks work best when they shed some new light on a character for the reader—or shed light for the character, in the case of characters who take that remembered info and have their perspective on current events altered in a meaningful way. (I think Shyamalan's Signs did a great job of this.) For a mid-narrative info dump, I'd look for something similar, a new perspective on things that have just happened and/or that are about to happen. The sense of progress in this case is a sense of having gained new information about the story and character, information that will alter how we look at things going forward; it's not much different than other types of reveal, in this case.

    But the flashbacks I've hated most, in books, are those that happen as the climax is winding up, or during extended tension-filled events, and I'm on pins and needles. I groan, literally out loud often enough, and feel a little angry that my experience has been so interrupted.
     
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