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For those dislike prologues

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by glutton, May 15, 2013.

  1. glutton

    glutton Inkling

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    It seems that many people assume a prologue will be an infodump and skip it automatically. However in my case the 'prologue' in my second book is a scene with action featuring the MC, which I originally labeled as Chapter 1 but renamed to 'Prologue' because there's a 4 year timeskip between it and the start of the main story and a beta reader commented it should thus be called 'Prologue' instead of 'Chapter 1'. If it's skipped, the reader misses out on some setup for stuff that happens later, and characterization of the heroine.

    Questions - would you skip this simply because it's labeled as 'Prologue' and if so, do you think I should change it back to being called 'Chapter 1' in spite of the timeskip?

    BTW, the 'Prologue' along with some of the next part can read here with the 'Look Inside' feature here - Iron Flower (Legend of the Iron Flower): Billy Wong: Amazon.com: Kindle Store
     
  2. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Glutton:

    If I buy the book, I won't skip the prologue just because it is called that, though to be honest I will skip it if I get a paragraph or two in and it seems to be representative of the reasons I don't like prologues.

    To be completely honest, the place there the prologue has the most effect for me is when I'm buying the book. If I'm trying to decide between a handful of books, then all other things being equal, the ones with prologues are going back on the shelf first.

    Also, I don't read the blurbs for books so my buying decisions come from doing a bit of reading (Chapter 1, or the book sample for eBooks). When I'm deciding whether to buy a book, I usually skip the prologue and go straight to Chapter 1, so if the prologue is your hook at the expense of Chapter 1 (as some have suggested on the forums) then I'll probably end up putting it back on the shelf.

    My thought is that if the "prologue" is indispensable to the story, it might be better to call it Chapter 1 simply because readers do, in fact, skip prologues.

    Also, I can't think of a single way in which calling it Chapter 1 hurts you, but given the predisposition some readers have against prologues, I can see how it can hurt you. So on balance it seems calling it Chapter 1 would be better, because there's no harm done.

    Others may disagree with that take.
     
  3. glutton

    glutton Inkling

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    Wait how do you know what the book is going to be about, or do you not care about that that much?
     
  4. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I don't really care. I hate spoilers, and I stopped reading blurbs around ten years ago after I came across one too many that spoiled something that happened 100 pages into the book.

    I'm not much to be bound by genre or story line when I'm reading. If a book is good, I'll enjoy it. It could be a romance, fantasy, science fiction, horror, western, thriller, mystery, classic, or whatever. I read all of those, and I'm fine with it. I'd rather be surprised by the story than get spoilers for it. So I'll pick up books with interesting titles or covers, or by authors I know, etc., and I'll read the first few pages of Chapter 1. If that does it for me, I'll buy it.

    I'm probably odd on the not caring about genre or story line, I admit. I'm the same way with movies or music. If it is good, I'll listen to it or watch it, I don't really care about the style or genre.

    Of course, there are times when I feel like a certain genre. I might feel like reading a horror novel, or feel like listening to a heavy metal album, or like watching an action movie, etc. But the vast majority of time I just want something that is done well, and the rest of that is secondary.
     
  5. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    I'm not 100% against prologues. I've read a few good ones that, in retrospect, were necessary. However, I've found that the vast majority of prologues...ones that every author claimed were vital to the reader's understanding of this or that, could've been released throughout the story in clever ways. In my experience, prologues that I read in crit groups are almost always written to ensure the reader "gets it" or "doesn't miss this important detail". That's making the author's job easier & doubting the intelligence of the reader which can damage the reader's participation.

    I'm not saying yours isn't one of those rare cases. I haven't read it nor do I know the story. However, I'd suggest exhausting your creative abilities, trying to figure out a way to avoid the prologue before you label it "necessary & unavoidable".
     
  6. glutton

    glutton Inkling

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    But is a prologue by definition to you an infodump and necessarily not an active scene? It kind of sounds that way and if so, is that something inherent to the term 'prologue' or just a reputation prologues have picked up due to the commonness of those that are non-active backstory-giving ones?
     
  7. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    In my story, the prologue is a character who goes out, causes problems, and shortly afterwards brings the problems back with him. I don't know if it's "essential" that readers read this prologue because the main characters still have to learn about the conflict, but it makes everything more clear, showing it instead of telling it.

    The prologue is the only thing from this character's POV, so I refer to it as a prologue. But do you think I should label it as a prologue or as chapter 1? My concern is that readers will expect more from this character if I call it Chapter 1.
     
    Last edited: May 15, 2013
  8. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    Honestly, I would call it Chapter 1. To me, a prologue is one of those long-winded pieces that some writers feel compelled to stick at the beginning to stuff in world-building info. Anne McCaffrey's prologues to her early Pern books leap to mind as an example of this. I read and loved the books for YEARS without reading the prologues, and even then they didn't make much sense to me... turns out that explaining her dragon-riders were actually interstellar colonists wasn't essential to the story for a very, very long time.

    If you have action which is essential to the plot, characters doing stuff and affecting your world, then that is Chapter 1. Remember, some would call the first chapter in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone a prologue because it happens 10 years before the next chapter (I think you're actually the one who pointed this out in another thread, Dev), but it's not. A time gap between chapters does not a prologue make. In this chapter of Harry Potter, characters are engaging in action which is essential not only for the book, but for the series as a whole.

    So, if you're concerned about readers expecting more out of this poor trouble-stirring schmuck in your first chapter, I would try to make it clear at some point that we won't be seeing him again. Maybe kill him off, on or off stage, or just have the MC's ask who started all of this, and someone who knows says, "Yeah, him. He hightailed it to Tahiti at the first opportunity." Something like that. I have a character kind of like that popping up in our Seahaven series periodically. He's a homeless street musician who shows up, points people in the right direction, and then disappears for the rest of the book. Later in the series, he becomes a major player, but at the beginning he's basically a plot device waiting in the wings to come on stage.
     
    Devor likes this.
  9. Addison

    Addison Auror

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    Hmmm....no. I wouldn't skip it as long as it hooks me in. And just because there's a time jump doesn't mean it has to be a prologue. There was a ten year difference between the first and second chapters of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. All you have to do is either think of a chapter name or trust the reader. They won't care about the time jump between chapter one and two so long as you got them hooked.
     
  10. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Thanks, I'm thinking about it.

    But to me it's easy to say skip the prologue if you only call it a prologue when it's done badly. You could skip the first chapter of HP1 and not have a problem. Everything else is told from a tight POV, and readers could learn everything when Harry does. That's true for the first chapter of HP1, HP4, and the first two chapters of HP6. What would you call that if not a prologue? Even if it's not labelled a prologue, it is one from a literary sense, isn't it?
     
  11. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    You make an excellent point. Perhaps Rowling could have tightened up a bit, and the books would probably not have suffered too much, but I think in her case there is a lot to be said for setting the scene and tone. In these early chapters she generates a lot of questions - who are these strange people? what's a "muggle?" what's going to happen now? Things that a traditional prologue actually fails to do. The point of those is to answer questions the reader isn't even asking yet, and that is the problem - if the reader isn't asking questions, they don't care what the answers are. They just want the story to start. And if your story starts 10 years before the action, then that's where your story starts, and that's Chapter 1.
     
  12. glutton

    glutton Inkling

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    I changed the prologue's heading to 'Chapter 1' so that a scene with action and nice (IMO) characterization won't be assumed to be a boring infodump just because it's labeled 'Prologue'. Still think it's silly that assumption is so readily made though, just because some authors do infodump style prologues.

    Hope nobody who already got the book skips the prologue and misses the MC's characterization in it...
     
    Last edited: May 15, 2013
  13. Sinitar

    Sinitar Minstrel

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    The reason most people have a dislike for prologues is not really the info dump. Sure that plays a role in it, but for the most part, a prologue will overwhelm the reader through sheer amount of information. Most of the prologues I encountered fall into this category. They have magic casters whose magic I can't understand, a piece of plot that has a bunch of characters that I don't know(and will find out by the middle of the book for sure), or a scene where something important happens that leaves me baffled. What do all these have in common? My lack of information. And as you know, readers tend to get frustrated with works they can't understand.

    If your prologue has relevant information in it that starts slowly and builds up to something of interest for the reader (It has to happen in the prologue; Plot hooks are useless if you discover what they are about after 6-7 chapters), then you can get away with it, in my opinion.
    I understand your concerns, but that intense action scene and that beautiful characterization will not mean much to the reader. It's the first chapter; we have no idea who fights, why they fight, who they are. Without knowing what the story is about, I'm afraid I can't enjoy that action scene as well as I should.

    I may be wrong though. If your prologue has a good pace, then you may very well demolish the myths concerning them.
     
    Last edited: May 15, 2013
  14. tlbodine

    tlbodine Troubadour

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    I wrote a blog post on this topic once: T.L. Bodine: The Great Prologue Debate

    If the book needs it, include the prologue. That's my opinion. Be very honest with yourself and decide if the book DOES need that information in that place, or if you can skip the scene entirely, refer to it later via flashback, display it in a different way, whatever. Quite often, I think people have the tendency to include prologues because they start the main story in the wrong place -- either too early or too late.

    But if you rule all of that out, I say, go forth and write a prologue.
     
  15. glutton

    glutton Inkling

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    Well, I'm never having another 'prologue' again, from now on whatever is in the beginning will be labeled 'Chapter 1' no matter what since I don't want it to be affected by any of the common preconceptions brought about by the use of the term 'prologue'. ;)

    BTW, the former 'prologue' actually does follow the MC, but in an earlier part of her life than most of the story... is a prologue actually defined as not following the MC?

    Maybe it shouldn't have been called 'Prologue' in the first place since it was originally 'Chapter 1' and I changed it to 'Prologue' based on what the beta reader said...
     
    Last edited: May 15, 2013
  16. glutton

    glutton Inkling

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    The thing is though, it becomes completely irrelevant whether or not a prologue is 'good' or if it avoids the common problems *if it will be skipped purely because it carries the term 'prologue'*. Hence my new policy never to use the term again even if it would be more technically appropriate than calling it Chapter 1.
     
  17. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I can't think of any example where you 'need' a prologue. That's an absolute term. I've read good prologues and bad ones (more of the latter), but none that were absolutely necessary in the writing of the book. Can anyone think of an example where you have​ to have a prologue?
     
  18. glutton

    glutton Inkling

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    Well, in an absolute sense you could probably cut out the first chapter of a book and fill the reader in on what happens in it in flashback...
     
  19. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Sure. Which gets back to the point of doing what is most effective, which is the way I think a writer should go. So I suppose we agree that there is no such thing as a necessary​ prologue, in any strict sense, from the point of view of the writer while writing the book.
     
  20. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    This may or may not hold water, but in fiddling with the first scene of Winter's Queen, I received this response after writing a mock-up prologue to introduce the villain:

     
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