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Prologues

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Jordan, Apr 16, 2020.

  1. Jordan

    Jordan Dreamer

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    I'm new to the writing community and am just learning that if your book has a prologue, you're asking to have your manuscript tossed in the bin by the majority of agents, and editors. I was surprised by this at first, but then started reviewing some of my favorite books from the past ten years and noticed that they either didn't have a prologue, or there was one, but it was very sneakily snuck into the first chapter of the book in a creative way.
    What do you all think about this move away from the use of prologue? Do you think that a prologue is often a crutch for back story, or artificially inciting action?
    I'm currently work shopping ways to incorporate a more interesting and contemporary use of a prologue in my current book and would love to hear all of your thoughts about what you find important in a prologue, what you've seen contemporary fantasy (both YA and adult fantasy writers) doing to make this work in their story telling for today's readers.
    I try very hard to keep thoughts of publishing and everything that comes with that out of my mind while drafting, but that specter will always hang over me, and inspire thoughts like this.
     
  2. Incanus

    Incanus Auror

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    I’ve never understood the aversion to prologues myself. I’ve read good books that have them, and good books that don’t have them. The prologue, or lack thereof, made no difference that I could see. They fit some stories, but not others. I’ve also tried to find a good book with a bad prologue, and I’ve yet to see a single example of this.

    I started a thread a month or so ago called ‘A Question about Prologues’; I think it fell back to the second or third page of this forum a while ago. It deals with trying to sneak in a prologue into Chapter One, so as to avoid the issue. You might find some of the responses there of interest.

    It seems that, in some cases, it is the word ‘prologue’ itself that is an issue for some readers I guess.

    Is it used as a crutch for backstory, or artificially inciting action? I would say that any opening that has to explain, or info-dump, is problematic at best, whether in a prologue or not. So, again, the problem is not inherent to prologues. As to artificial use, I’m not so sure. Maybe I’m not understanding your use of the term, but I’d say most things that manipulate the plot could be seen as artificial, and that isn’t necessarily bad or wrong.

    Disclaimer: I'm not very up on what is and isn't acceptable in modern publishing, and have read very little YA.

    Anyway, hope that helps----
     
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  3. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Inkling

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    This makes me wonder 2 things. How is this measured? Unless some solid statistical analysis has been done this is a big statement to verify. And, is the prologue the reason the book was rejected or do bad writers more often add prologues to their books. Again, hard to prove or disprove, but it's something that can mess up the "prologues are rejected" statistics.

    I don't mind prologues. But, a prologue needs to have a reason to exist. A prologue is not there to info-dump or world build. It's not there to create artificial conflict. A prologue should be something that draws the reader into the world and shows that the conflict is bigger then just the story itself. They should hook the reader and make him curious about what is coming.

    As a result I think that prologues can work in epic fantasy. Epic fantasy is about world spanning and world changing events. The reader will see the important bits, but there will be more to the story. A prologue can work to paint this picture. It's why Robert Jordan had them in the Wheel of Time books and why Brandon Sanderson has them. It's also why it often doesn't work in a lot of other genres.
     
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  4. Amyrl1n

    Amyrl1n New Member

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    Brandon Sanderson describes good prologues as promises of what’s to come. I happen to really love reading those kinds of prologues (like the one for Eye of The World), so I’m surprised to find that they are not well received by publishers. It’s like a little bit of action that gets you hooked and tides you over while the author builds the story from the ground up. The feeling of whiplash I got when reading the prologue for Eye of the World, going from reading about a man wreaking absolute destruction to a boy and his father walking through the woods, that was a defining moment for epic fantasy imo.
     
  5. Alex Reiden

    Alex Reiden Minstrel

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    I think the contemporary wisdom says, "If debut author uses a prologue, it's probably not a good book."

    You aren't going to find many good books with bad prologues because good writers can often write a prologue as well as they can write chapter X. For some reason, people (publishers/agents/etc.?) are under the impression most good writers don't use prologues anymore, so if an unknown author writes one, good chance it's a bad book.

    I don't know why. As you say, it's appropriate for some books not others. I heard a rumor the trend came about because an overwhelming number of new authors were using prologues as infodumps without any real substance. Maybe that's it.
     
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  6. Jordan

    Jordan Dreamer

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    Thanks for the post Alex, that's more or less what I was trying to say—that only known names get away with using prologues in traditional publishing these days. I think it is probably for the exact reason that you give, a rash of debut authors misusing the device.
     
  7. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi,

    I use prologues quite often. And mostly it's precisely to avoid info dumping about plot / back story and or world build. I don't know what agents might or might not think about them. But I'd imagine that if they would drop a book simply because it had one they aren't the sort of agents you want anyway.

    The basic rule about them is simple. They have to be interesting to the reader, just as the rest of the book has to be. So if they get you out of putting in loads of unnecessary back story or world build in the early chapters and interest the reader, use one. And never write to please an agent. Write to please yourself and to tell your story, your way.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
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  8. Clara Atsinger

    Clara Atsinger Dreamer

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    It's a good thing I came across this thread, because I have a prologue written in my book. I always found that prologues draw me into the book and provide a sense of mystery or tension. Sometimes stories can be slow in the first chapter or so, so I always liked it when a prologue was included, but perhaps publishers feel like it masks a non engaging first few chapters. My prologue is actually a scene from later in my book however, so it shouldn't be a problem to remove.
     
  9. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I tend not to be a fan of prologues. Like any other part of the book, I'll read them if they're interesting. I have skipped them before. With traditionally-published books, the whole work has already gone through an editorial process, so presumably the prologue isn't going to be some boring infodump. If there is any aversion to prologues among editors I suspect it is because authors who are just starting out are more likely to use a prologue as a way to dump information and backstory, and that's rarely fun to read.
     
  10. Incanus

    Incanus Auror

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    It seems to me the issue is one of info-dump/backstory/exposition. I fully agree that opening with such material is generally not good.

    If a book opens with a big info-dump in chapter one, would that then be all right? If it isn't, then prologues aren't the problem, exposition is. So if exposition is the issue, why not focus on that? Why do people conflate prologues with info-dumping?

    I own a bunch of books. Some have prologues. Off hand, I cannot think of one that delves into backstory right off. I guess I'm fortunate to have avoided all these info-dumping prologue books. My search for an example of a good book with a bad prologue continues.
     
  11. Incanus

    Incanus Auror

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    Addendum: I do own a book with an info-dumping prologue - The Lord of the Rings.

    Somehow, when I first picked up the book at around age 12 or so, I wisely skipped the prologue and went straight to chapter one. After falling in love with the book, I've read the prologue and enjoyed it. However, LotR is an exceptional book in many ways, and largely not to be emulated.
     
  12. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Because a lot of beginning/amateur writers use them that way.
     
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  13. Incanus

    Incanus Auror

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    Since there is no connection between the two, I recommend decoupling these things. Go straight to the culprit: bad exposition usage. Learning about that has more universal application anyway. Dragging prologues into the issue seems convoluted at best, or even misleading; it is drawing attention to the wrong issue.

    I've seen writers use paragraphs to convey info-dumps. Maybe we should be looking into the connection between paragraphs and info-dumping. After all, If paragraphs can be used for info-dumping, then some of the blame should be placed on paragraphs? This logic is problematic for me.
     
  14. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    I have a name for prologues. It's called "Chapter One." But to be fair I also write a lot of epilogues.
     
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  15. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I don't agree with this reasoning. A prologue, virtually by definition, lends itself to dumping backstory. It's something that precedes the story (before speaking, I guess, if you want to follow the etymology). Because it is viewed by so many as an introductory text prior to the story proper, it makes sense the new writers tend to throw in a lot of prefatory material.
     
  16. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    Probably breaking some kind of rule by doing this, but I answered this in another thread and I stand by it:

     
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  17. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    In my writing...

    'Labyrinth: Journal' has a prologue. The main portion of the book - everything between prologue and epilogue - is quite literally a journal. The prologue is about the character who discovered the journal, and the epilogue is his reaction and setup for book 2, 'Labyrinth: Seed.'

    Most my 'Empire' books (six altogether) have prologues. The series is set in an empire undergoing massive social, political, and economic change in the wake of a devastating war that lasted for decades. The prologue for the first book, 'Empire: Country' drives this home with a tale of just how bloody the fighting was. The second, 'Empire: Capital' is part political intrigue referencing events from across the Empire, with...Lovecraftian cosmic undertones. The prologue for this tale is another short story going into these themes. Both prologues also introduce characters who join the other folks in subsequent books.
     
  18. Incanus

    Incanus Auror

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    Well, it isn't my best analogy, to be sure. This is just one of those things I don't get. Throw it on the pile with all the others.

    I'm seeing an assertion, but not an argument to back it up. That beginners misuse something is no reason not to use it, or not a good enough reason. The same could be said of any other tool, and I see no reason to make an exception here. But, I can still allow that there is a reason that I may be blind to.
     
  19. Alex Reiden

    Alex Reiden Minstrel

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    I'll go you one further and go straight to the real culprit: bad writer.
     
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  20. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    It can still be used effectively, of course. But if we're talking to an aversion to them, especially among agents and editors, then I think it is something to be aware of at the least. If an agent sees manuscript after manuscript with bad prologues that reinforce all of the reasons that having a prologue makes them groan, then your manuscript isn't done any favors by having on even if it doesn't have all of the pitfalls agents and editors hate. Unless there's a very good reason to have one, I just don't see an advantage to it. I once heard an agent advise not to put anything crucial in one because some readers will skip them, in which case I really have to question whether one is needed.
     
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