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Prologue, yay or nay?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Gribba, Jun 6, 2017.

  1. Gribba

    Gribba Troubadour

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    I found out that 24 hours is just not enough for each day, I need a few more hours... so I have not had the time to, well, do much writing or other fun things... :p So I do apologizes if this question has been done before.


    Prologue, yay or nay? and why?

    Do you as a reader or as a writer think it is unnecessary to have prologue? and why?
    Do you as a reader or as a writer like to have prologue? and why?

    What expectations do you have and what do you want, from the prologue, when you read or when you write?
    and do you think it is possible to break the rules with the prologue and still make it work?

    :)
     
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  2. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Normally, I'm a "no prologue" guy, at least for my writing. I've taken a hard stance on this before...but if I buy a book that happens to have a prologue, that won't keep me from reading the book. :D

    I do still have a problem with long prologues. A page or two, maybe three or four, to set up some interesting situation would be my ideal for prologues.

    Depending on the book, prologues can easily disappear for me as I read on. I forget them. This would be the most useless kind, in my opinion. But a prologue that can color the rest of the book or at least the first few chapters of the book? That's fine. Often, this would be the sort that gives a little insight into a character's history before the opening of the main book. E.g., I was reading the Amazon excerpt to Bardugo's Shadow and Bone the other day (I've not read the series yet), and it starts with a "Before" (i.e., prologue) giving us a short back history for the MC and a little world building. That's fine. For a horror novel, I'd be fine with a short prologue that shows the beasty or baddie doing something horrifying; that'd set up what's to come, particularly the oblivious MCs, to get me through the first few chapters.
     
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2017
  3. Incanus

    Incanus Auror

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    As a reader I'm indifferent to prologues. Great books have them, or don't have them. Terrible books have them, or don't have them. I've yet to see a prologue that has even the least impact on how much I liked a book. I'm not really sure why some folks get hung up on them.

    As a writer, I'm trying not to use them due to the bad reputation they currently have. I'm only on my first novel and it doesn't use one, or need one, but I won't hesitate to use a prologue the moment I deem one needed.
     
  4. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    Prologue, yay or nay? and why?
    I believe in giving the story what it needs, so if I thought a prolog was called for, than I would put one in. Otherwise, I would not look to include one.



    What expectations do you have and what do you want, from the prologue, when you read or when you write?

    I tend to think of prologs as a place to give information about the story (infodump maybe) that will have play during the story, of which the character may or may not know.

    If I was to write one, I would certainly avoid making an infodump (or try to), and try to show a scene with compelling events and characters, as I would approach the rest of a story I would try to write.


    and do you think it is possible to break the rules with the prologue and still make it work?


    Absolutely. If you can pull this off, I would encourage you to go for it.



    My feeling on prologs in general though...

    Well, as a reader, I tend to skip them. Sometimes I go back and read them when I realize I am just missing stuff from the story. And sometimes I read them later as a way learning more neat things about the tale.

    As a writer, I usually try to find a way to get the extra information in as part of the prose. Its not always a easy feat.
     
  5. RedAngel

    RedAngel Minstrel

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    I can't say I am against them, but I am also typically do not enjoy them.

    The first thing that comes to mind about a prologue is that they almost always come in the form of an info dump or one long chapter of tell vs show in which something has already happened that is crucial to what will happen next in the plot.

    I think that if you can skip the prologue and read the rest of the story and still get the info contained in it then you could forego adding it. Or if it is utterly needed or story breaking without it then you could just as easily call that chapter one and go from there. Or you could work it into the story in chapter one as well as throughout the story and still be fine.

    I honestly do not remember any stories that had a memorable prologue.
     
  6. Eric Hawke

    Eric Hawke Dreamer

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    There are good prologues and there are unnecessary prologues.

    If, say, the first few chapters doesn't represent the novel/series as a whole all that well, then a prologue that does just this, can be useful, so that you can set the tone, and give us a taste of what's to come. Usually in fantasy, this means some pretty epic stuff.

    But regardless of how you do it, it's usually best to cut the prologue pretty short, and not include too much world building and history etc.
     
  7. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I'm not sure there are any necessary prologues (i.e. prologues that are necessary as prologues). They're a stylistic choice. I tend not to like them, primarily because of how they're handled, which is related to the nature of the prologue as a device. I am not shy about skipping them entirely. I've read advice from time to time that says not to put anything critical in a prologue, because many readers skip them, though I suppose it is fair to ask whether the prologue should even be there if there is nothing in it critical to the story.
     
  8. Mytherea

    Mytherea Minstrel

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    Okay, so, first off, as a reader, I tend to skip the prologue when I'm browsing books, only because prologues often are written with a different tone or voice, and might not be reflective of what I'm signing up for in the rest of the book. So I glance at the first line or two, then flip to chapter 1 (there's a few books, say, that have a prologue in first person but the book is in third, or vice versa, and many are from the PoV of a character who might not be a narrator later, and so on).

    As a reader, when I sit down to read a book with a prologue, I read the prologue and don't care much either way unless as a writer, I see the bones of the craft underneath. Then I crit while I read til I get sucked into the story again (though, to be fair, I do that with anything, beginning, middle, end, though I'm a little more critical of prologues and first chapters).

    As for whether or not the story needs a prologue, I only ask why is the prologue there. And does it work. The only thing I expect is that the prologue is there for a good reason (but then, I have the same thought about first chapters). Is the story starting in the right place? Is it giving a feel for the story that'll follow? Could any of the information be integrated seamlessly in a scene that happens later, and lose nothing? (If the latter, maybe no prologue)

    What I want in a prologue is simple (and pretty much what I want in chapter 1 too): a character with a goal and something happening that's interesting. I really like it when an interesting character with a goal does something interesting in an interesting place (also, this is super subjective and what I find interesting isn't necessarily what all people find interesting, so really, what do you find interesting? Write that). I also want it to have direct impact on the rest of the book. None of that creation story stuff, unless you're Tolkien or Eddings (or you do it damn well; if it's done damn well, I won't care, 'cause I'll be munching through pages regardless).

    I don't care about length; one of my favorite authors has a trilogy where each book starts off with what could be considered an extended prologue that takes place about 1000 years before the main story, and each "prologue" is easily a fifth of the whole book. But then, those prologues directly tie into the external plot and the character's internal arc, and the rest of the book, though it might make sense, wouldn't have the impact or depth without that opening chapter. Same for the prologue being half a page long; one of my other favorite authors does that in her first novel, and it's entirely necessary 'cause it sets up everything for the first two books (and the fifth, and maybe the seventh).

    As a writer, personally, I don't use prologues. Much. Sometimes, I'll have a prologue when I'm drafting, which is essentially just me throat-clearing and getting my thoughts in order before starting off. Those get cut before the end. Then again, this is subject to change, seeing that I'm seriously considering putting in a "three years earlier" semi-prologue as my first chapter in my new novel, but I'm still on the fence about it. Include it, and the backstory is shown in a scene and you know what happened, so certain events immediately after have more emotional significance for the reader. Keep it out, and there's a mystery thread running through the book, pulling the reader along. Basically, both methods have pros. Picking one or the other would have cons. Thus, beta readers.

    Long post, short: does it work for the story? If you cut it, would things fall apart? Or lack a dimension that would elevate it from "meh" to "damn"? If it does, and would, then keep it. If it's getting in the way of the story, then like anything else that gets in the way of a story, it's getting jettisoned out of an airlock.

    And, in regards to "rules" about prologues (or any kind of "rules" in any art form), to quote Barbossa, they're "more 'guidelines' than actual rules." Except grammar. Break that stuff at your own peril, for clarity is then at risk, and without clarity, there's confusion, and with confusion comes miscommunication, the death-sentence of writing.

    Shutting up now. This is a long reply.
     
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  9. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

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    The thing about a prologue is that it creates a delay in getting to the actual story. It delays the hook, and that's not to the advantage of either reader or writer. If it doesn't delay the hook, then is it actually a prologue, or is it rather chapter one?

    As a reader, I don't expect much from the prologue beyond what I will be able to glean from the story, so I skim the prologue and get on with reading chapter one. Occasionally some passage in the story proper will refer to something in the prologue, and if that happens and I need to, I'll go back then and read the prologue more carefully.

    I feel as though a prologue is the author's way of saying one of two things, both being somewhat evil. One thing the prologue might be saying is, okay, reader, I know you aren't very smart, so let me tell you some things up front so you don't have to figure them out yourself while reading the rest of the story. The other thing the prologue might be saying is that the author feels incapable of making the story understandable without the prologue. In short, the presence of a prologue is an indication to me that either the author views me, the reader, as dumb, or the author feels inept.

    As a writer, I've sometimes fallen into the trap of thinking that up-front material was necessary for a reader to understand my story. But lately I try to create subtext that will help guide the reader, and not try to force the reader to experience the story exactly as I envision it.
     
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  10. Incanus

    Incanus Auror

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    I guess I'm the odd man out here--I'm unable to follow the logic of skipping prologues or deeming them somehow wrong before reading them (how one determines that it isn't relevant without having read it is quite beyond me).

    In every argument I've seen against them here and elsewhere, it is BAD WRITING or POOR DECISION MAKING that is being argued against, not prologues directly. Is there an argument that explains why prologues are inherently bad that doesn't point to poor technique as the cause? That's something I'd be interested in hearing.
     
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  11. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    It's often poor technique, and the understanding that prologues are so often poorly done, that makes people avoid them. It isn't only that, however. By their very nature, and indeed as reflected in the word 'prologue,' we're dealing with something that even the author thinks comes before the story. I'd rather just get into the story, personally. It's a subjective preference in that regard.
     
  12. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    I am not sure anyone has said they are bad. But many people are saying they skip them and do not read them. So, if the audience does not want to read them, I think it may be more incumbent on the author to come up with the reason why. Cause I can write the best prolog ever, and still many to most readers will skip it.

    I might also argue, that perhaps the reason so many people skip them, is due somewhat to an earned reputation.
     
  13. Incanus

    Incanus Auror

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    So surely there must be examples of great books with poor/useless prologues? I've never seen it myself.

    Indeed, I can think of one example where the prologue was the best part of the book: The Way of Kings.

    I acknowledge that people skip prologues, but the reasons given still don't make any sense to me.
     
  14. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Yeah, I've never skipped reading a prologue. I've occasionally groaned but pushed through it. (With video games, I tend to be a completionist. I guess the same goes for books.) Some have worked better than others.
     
  15. Devouring Wolf

    Devouring Wolf Troubadour

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    I think the question is less about whether or not prologues should be used but more about when to use them.

    I honestly don't know the answer because most prologues I've read have been bad. One of the few places I've seen them work has been in books where that are told in a single POV but the prologue delves briefly into someone else's POV to give the reader important information. This can work very well in mystery novels where the prologue shows the reader something very strange or seemingly impossible and the MC spends the rest of book trying to solve the puzzle.

    Flash forwards prologues can also work, and in my opinion they're usually better than flash backs in this regard because most flash back prologues are just excuses to info-dump things that could've been dealt with more eloquently within the main body of the text.

    Prologues that have never worked for me personally include: the story of the MC's birth and myths, legends and other world building stuff.

    So in my opinion, the best way to use prologues is to create a sense of mystery and have the reader asking how does this relate to the rest of the story? If a prologue doesn't make me want to know what's going on, then its failed for me. If the payoff is a letdown, then its failed for me. But that's just my opinion.
     
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  16. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

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    Prologues are bad because the label of being a prologue identifies the piece as not where the real story starts, and thus not of as much importance as chapter one. I as an anxious reader am more than willing to pay less attention to the less important material and get on with the real story. The label "prologue" has a psychological effect on the reader, and that's a problem with it, aside from technique.
     
  17. Incanus

    Incanus Auror

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    Prologues are neither good nor bad in the same way that the concept of paragraphs are neither good nor bad. I'm not sure what the definition of 'the real story' might be, but I've read plenty of prologues that would seem to be where the real story starts. No prologue has ever had a psychological effect on me beyond the material itself, negative or otherwise.

    This certainly is a hang up for a lot of folks, that's for sure. For myself, I don't get it, but that's OK.
     
  18. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    First off I think a search of this site will lead the OP to many vigorous and thorough discussions on the subject of prologues.

    The conventional wisdom on prologues in the publishing industry, is that, with the exception of limited specific purposes, prologues are not well appreciated.

    They delay getting into the story, they delay connecting the the protagonist, they are often info dumps, they are often poorly executed etc.

    I too often skip prologues. IF I want to read a history or socialogy text I will read one. Build your world building into the narrative.

    Having said all that, there are times were a well executed prologue can be a suitable addition.

    The classic example is when the true initiating event of the story is significantly temporally or geographically distant from the protagonists entry into the plot, and just summarizing it would be a disservice. This is rarer than you think.

    Oddly enough, a top writing teacher and author, Steve Berry generally preaches against prologues for a number of reasons, but every one of his Cotton Malone books has one because of the fact they are all based on a historical mystery or incident coming back to haunt the present. He executes them very well if you are looking for examples.

    Although I couldn't prove it, I suspect that due to the nature of the genre and the nature of the genre reader, fantasy readers are slightly more tolerant of prologues than readers of other genres, but I don't think that should be taken as license to do prologues except when they are absolutely necessary.

    Like most things in writing, I think if you have a very strong feeling that something is essential to the story you are telling, put it in. IF you are waffling on something or unsure, that is where writing "rules" or conventional wisdom can help you.

    And be darned sure you could't solve your prologue problem by putting "Chapter One" on the first page of it.
     
  19. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

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    The concept of a prologue is far different than the concept of a paragraph. For one thing, writers don't put the word "paragraph" in front of their paragraphs. It's the label "prologue" that makes the prologue a bad thing. The actual text of the prologue might be great or not, just as the text of a paragraph might be great or not, with that I agree. And some people might be immune to the psychological effects of the "prologue" label. But in general, according to the comments I've read in numerous venues, prologues labeled as such are less well received than if they had simply been called, "Chapter One." That, to me, makes the use of the word "prologue" at the beginning of the opening material of a book an inherently bad idea.

    As for the "real story" starting in the prologue, why was the prologue in that case not called, "Chapter One"? Calling it a prologue if the story really started there makes no sense to me.
     
  20. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Game of Thrones has a prologue, the book wouldn't be the same without it. But it's not a traditional infodump prologue. The prologue is used to "show" what would otherwise need to be "told". I am all for this sort of prologue. The infodump prologue, I have to admit, I am not fond of. These tend to be poorly executed and generally flat unnecessary.

    All that said, my editor talked me into a one page-ish intro, and I fought it hard, and only justified it for myself after writing it in an interesting way. It could be called a prologue, except it's actually a flash forward (go figure!) to a mysterious voice speaking to a character the reader won't meet for several chapters, several days after the book begins. And it presents itself without quotes, so it gives a feel of being spoken to directly for the reader. Now, I love it. Friggin' love it. The way the ending weaves into the narrative. And of course, it sets up a lot of stuff. But, I also spent a lot of time on the opening line, made it one where if I was a reader who picked up this book and saw this little intro I wouldn't be tempted to skip it because it doesn't say "chapter 1".

    So, my final judgment is: If it works, it works. Damn, I say that so often, LOL.
     
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