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Who hates Prologues?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Netardapope, Sep 27, 2016.

  1. Netardapope

    Netardapope Sage

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    This is an issue that infuriates me to no end. Often times, on writing advice articles and the like, people say that we should avoid prologues. Now, I'll be the first to say that if a prologue adds nothing to the story, it should be cut, but the people who make these articles take it to the next level!

    They'll say things along the lines of 'no one reads the prologues' or 'it's just used to pad out the story' but these seem to be opinions that almost no one holds!

    I've never met a person that skips the prologue, even bad prologues, and no one I know seems to have an issue with them. So, as a lover of prologues, I was wondering if there was anyone who actually hates them here. And if not, then feel free to reply and join in my mutual frustration at modern writing advice.

    Sent from my SM-G386T using Tapatalk
     
  2. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    As a reader I am prologue agnostic, as with all things, it depends on execution.
     
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  3. SaltyDog

    SaltyDog Sage

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    If it's a well written prologue, I'm all for it. If it isn't, and it just adds absolutely nothing to the theme of the story except for confusion, I am not for it. So for me it depends on how the prologue is written.
     
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  4. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    Blog post on exactly this:

    Everything You Ever Wanted to Ask About Prologues but were Afraid to Know

    Some prologues suck because some writers don't understand what prologues are for, and they write them anyway.

    In epic fantasy, the world is a character with its own arc. It has its own reason for being in the story, it interacts with the characters, and most of all, it has to be changed at the end through the main characters’ actions. This last bit is one of the immutable and defining characteristics of epic fantasy.

    If you're wondering if your story is high fantasy or epic fantasy, this is the delineation, right here. If your characters are in a magical fantasy realm and they go out and get in rollicking adventures but don't change anything in the larger scheme of things, it's high fantasy; if their exploits literally change the world, it's epic fantasy.

    In epic fantasy, the prologue is a scene that introduces the world as a character. It introduces the world at the outset and tells us enough about it so that we can see how much it has changed at the end. A correctly written prologue, if skipped, should give some aspect of the world the same impact in Chapter One as if you'd suddenly dropped in a character that no one had ever heard of.

    High fantasy and even most SF stories don't require prologues. Some writers put them in anyway, with no understanding of what they're supposed to accomplish; I have to wonder if they just think, "Well, it has to have one, so here goes." So sometimes we get nattering backstories, or ten-page info dumps, and sometimes unrelated scenes altogether.

    Bad prologues lead to prologue hate. Write necessary prologues.
     
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  5. I've skipped plenty of prologues. Usually they don't contain useful information, and I get bored reading them because often they're about characters I don't know and will never enter the story again...

    I mean, I should read them, but often I skip them.

    As for whether I like them or not? Good prologues, sure; bad prologues, no. I don't write prologues myself. 90% of the time you could put the information in the prologue someplace else, like in the first chapter, or just make it a first chapter. But i don't really have a problem with them. Anything can be done well.
     
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  6. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I definitely skip prologues at times. I've also put books back on the shelves and not bought them when it came down to a choice between one that has a prologue and another that doesn't. This is because I often find I don't enjoy prologues. I know some who read them, and others who skip them, and because of the latter people often say you shouldn't put anything important in the prologue. But if you don't have anything important in there you may as well just remove it.
     
  7. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Is there such a thing, strictly speaking?
     
  8. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    In epic fantasy, absolutely. The prologue is critical. 99% of the time. Again: it's the world's introductory scene.

    Of course, there are some fantasy authors who think they're writing epic fantasy, who aren't, and write unnecessary prologues. If you're writing hack and slash sword-and-sandal, or YA or MG high fantasy, or the story where gamers end up in the game world, you can fill me in on the workings of your world and the backstory as we go; that's fine. But if you're telling me that your characters are going to tip the world on its ear and redefine life as everyone knows it, I want to know what the world was like before they start.
     
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  9. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    All of the information about what the world was like before could be provided through a variety of mechanisms within the narrative proper, so I don't view it as strictly necessary. It's a stylistic choice the author can make as to how to provide it, but I can't think of a scenario where the only way to accomplish goal X is to use a prologue.
     
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  10. evolution_rex

    evolution_rex Inkling

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    To me, a prologue is just another part of the story. That means that every word has to have a reason to exist. But that also means that I find the term 'prologue' to be useless. I think people see the word prologue and all they think is that it's part of the story that you can skip. And to me, if you believe the reader can skip that part, then it's not worth writing it in there. If you want the beginning of your story to take place on a battlefield millions of years before the rest of the story, then why can't that just be the first chapter? Because it doesn't revolve around the main character? I don't get it.

    But I've never really had any trouble reading prologues. Even if it's a redundant prologue I still for the most part don't mind reading through it. The writer wrote it and so that means, to me, that it's suppose to be read.


    EDIT: That's all referring to prologues when it's written in a more narrative form. If it's written something like you see at the beginning of Star Wars, then frankly it doesn't belong as a first chapter or prologue. That kind of stuff is pointless in a novel unless you absolutely cannot find a plausible way to write the exposition within the story.
     
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2016
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  11. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    The word "prologue" means something like "before the speech," or at least something along those general lines. So when a writer uses a prologue it seems to me they're admitting that what is there something that comes before the story, and most times I'd just as soon get straight to the story.
     
  12. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    I've never skipped a prologue. I hate the prologue as much as a I hate the period and the letter Q. And I think I agree with Malik here. Prologue should be necessary and add to the understanding of the story.

    I think the contention may be that some will ask, "Can't that info be revealed during the course of the main story?"

    To, the answer to that is sometimes yes. Other times, no. In one of my novels, the prologue takes place twenty years before the main story starts. I tinkered with removing it, but then chapter 1 loses something. And simply renaming the prologue chapter -1 creates an odd time jump.

    The prologue is a tool that lets you reveal something important before the main story starts, and helps avoid awkward time shifts and change of POV characters.

    Look at the famous Star Wars crawl, and even all the beginning bits involving the princess and the escaping droids. That's IMHO all prologue, and imagining what the film would look like without that. It'd still work as a coherent story if we simply start with Luke on Tatooine, but I think it loses something.
     
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2016
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  13. glutton

    glutton Inkling

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    Yeah I don't label the things that could be considered a prologue 'Prologue' in my works because people inaccurately generalize them as boring infodumps when they could just as well be a character-establishing scene of one of your main characters from before the events of the main story. In my current WIP my opening scene/'prologue' sets up the (re)introduction of a major character by showing what she was like years ago, to contrast with how she is now and make the reader question if that's really her or what the heck happened to her... up to a point. XD
     
  14. One of the better prologues out there is the White Walker one from GoT. I think that this sets the tone for the series and gives the reader notice that this ain't just about human politics but ice zombies are coming to wreck some ish up.
     
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  15. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi,

    I personally like prologues as much as I like the rest of the book. I write them too. But usually I write them to frame the future plot and show the world build. So in The Stars Betrayed my prologue was set a hundred years before the actual story and had none of the characters. It was there to frame the human world / empire, how it came to be and show the bad guys for what they were. That in turn saved an enormous amount of infodumping later on.

    So for example in the story proper, you don't need to ask why my hero cowers against a wall when the captain walks past. The prologue has already told you he's an uber with super strength and a complete disregard for human life and a desire for ultimate power like all his kind. That he will slaughter my hero if he so much as looks at him the wrong way. And you know that because in the prologue set a century before you've had a first hand account of the ubers and how they came to power. You've already seen their hand so to speak. If I didn't have that prologue readers would be asking those questions and so I'd either have to infodump later on, or worse chuck in whole loads of one line explanations for my hero's actions and risk stealing the suspence from the action scenes.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  16. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Necessary is a loaded word, and perhaps not the right word. I am the kind of reader who enjoys being thrown into the story to see if I sink or swim, heck, I find I enjoy many movies more if I miss the first five minutes. So, most prologues for me are unnecessary, and therefore strictly speaking, are not "necessary". But it doesn't mean I dislike prologues in general either.

    Effective is the better word, and if effective they can be borderline "necessary." The most effective thing a prologue can do is be the equivalent to an opening shot in a movie, it grounds the reader into whatever reality they are being thrown into. One of the ultimate, and often bashed, prologues is LoTR, but most folks admit the prologue was probably very useful for its time period. This might be the perfect example of a prologue which is entirely unnecessary, but very effective. One of the things LoTR is noted for is that its fan base wanted to live in Middle Earth... the writing just sucked your ass in, it was just a world you wanted to be in, despite the blood and gore and violent evil. A whole lot of that is because of the feel of the prologue combined with the first chapters. Without the prologue, I doubt this exists to the extent it does, particularly back when the book was released.

    Let's take Star Wars for the fun of it, was the scrolling intro necessary? Strictly speaking no. But for a 9-10 year old kid sitting in the theater for the first time (and probably for the majority of adults in 1977) the scrolling "prologue" feeds you with info and tension and the "splash" of dramatic music, it is all part of an extremely effective introduction. Without it, the movie would be missing something... now, this intro loses some effectiveness as the franchise moves on, but seriously, I'd rather read these little blurbs than deal with some info-dump butler and maid conversation moments into the flick. Let's take this further into the "narrative" prologue of Star Wars... which is the entire scene on the ship with the Princess and escaping droids. If written as a book in the style of GoT, this could easily have been written as the prologue and Chapter 1 we open on Luke and family. So, we begin to dig into the meaning of prologue. Was it necessary? No. Effective? Yes.

    Now GoT... this has a narrative prologue that might as well be Chapter 1, and puts a different spin on the prologue than LoTR. It is a "showing prologue" as opposed to the more telling prologue of LoTR. As a narrative intro it gets a bit of a pass, but is it necessary? No, not strictly speaking. Was it effective? Yes. Without it, the reader is left to wonder if the Others are just some spook story as the characters (mostly) believe. The Prologue grounds us into the world: Here there be nasty winters and dead people and some head-lopping Others! Job done. What else does this being a prologue do for the reader, why is not a chapter? It is an implicit message to the reader... WARNING: don't become emotionally invested in these characters. As writers we might argue over the merits of this, but for the mass audience, this is probably an important point. Folks don't tend to like POV characters from chapter 1 getting bumped off in chapter 2, but with a prologue character there isn't a survival clause in the reader-writer contract.

    Next, James Bond. The movies always have what is effectively a narrative prologue, but they also always involve the main character (something most prologues don't do). The prologues here hit us with action and they end up having something to do with the greater movie, but what is the real point of them? To ground us in the world of James Bond... sex, guns, and explosions! They are extremely effective, but not strictly necessary.

    The point of all these prologues, whether book or movie, is to ground the audience in the world at hand while also doling out important information. Is it effective is the question to be answered, not is it necessary.

     
  17. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    Now I don't know which writing advice articles you are talking about, but I know a group of people who tend to say that the vast majority of prologues they see are unneeded and don't help the work.

    Those people are editors at publishers.

    I think the origin of this general "rule" lies with editors who have seen way too many crappy unnecessary prologues.

    Generally I agree that many prologues are not needed. Most of the fantasy I read is published by a traditional publisher which means that they have been vetted and edited and the vast, vast majority of the crappy prologues out there never make it to a traditionally published book. And I still find many of those unnecessary, boring and often I do skip them.

    Editors look very skeptically at prologues, and the many of he best teachers of modern writing teach that they are rarely needed. I agree prologues should be rare. I have a good friend who is an author who teaches a lot of writing courses that teaches that prologues are only needed for very specific purposes and I think he is right, they are way overdone (as an aside I should say that all of his books have a prologue, but for what he writes they really are needed).

    Personally I don't have any frustration with "modern writing advice". Like all advice I use what I think will work with me and ignore the rest. However, if I was trying to sell a book to a publisher or get an agent, and I know that agents and publishers are skeptical of prologues I would think long and hard about if and how I would do one.

    I would also suggest that prologues are more acceptable and more common in fantasy than any other commercial fiction.

    I totally disagree with this approach. This suggests a prologue is a place to info dump your world building. That is exactly what a prologue shouldn't be.

    The best use of a prologue is to show the initiating event when it is temporally or geographically distant from the point where the protagonist get involved with the plot.
     
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  18. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    I think Russ nailed it on the head, not often I agree with everything a longer post states, LOL.

    I will tack on one additional thought on why I (might) like prologues. When I am perusing books to read and there is a quick prologue that "sets the story" it gives me a hammer with which to judge the book, LOL. It's a bit like an extension of the blurb on the back cover, and allows me to better filter whether this book is for me. So,I've never put down a book because of having a prologue, but I have put them down because the prologue clarified that the book wasn't for me, either due to story or the writer.

    Whether this is an argument for or against prologues is up to you, LOL.
     
  19. Creed

    Creed Sage

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    I don't skip prologues. I really don't understand why people do.

    Should I buy/read this book?
    Read the first sentence, then paragraph, whatever. But if the writing's bad in the prologue, you've already got your answer and it's pointless skipping to Chapter 1. If there's a prologue, the writer thought it was necessary. And prologues should still be hooks, right?

    I'm confused, genuinely, by the logic behind skipping prologues. It's been said several times that people skip them if they don't add to the story. But... how can you possibly know if it doesn't add to the story unless you've read the prologue, and then the whole story?

    Major example: Memories of Ice. If you didn't read the prologue, you didn't read the book properly. You ruined the climax for yourself. You wouldn't know that until it was too late. Or you'd never figure out where you went wrong, and just leave confused (as I'm sure many have done for the MBotF).

    On the other hand... Dust of Dreams. It's been a while, and I would have been 14 when I read it, but I'm still not sure what that prologue was. Of course, nine mega-tomes in you can do that, and some of the appeal of the series is that you never pick up on everything the first time.

    As for writing them, I teeter on the edge. Could what I call a prologue be called chapter 1? For my current project, maybe. But I cringe at the thought of doing that, and there's a reason. I just have to figure out if it's a good enough reason. :p
     
  20. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    1) In many cases, it is immediately apparent why the author add the prologue (i.e. as an infodump). That doesn't add to, but detracts from the story, and you don't have to read the whole prologue to see it is going that direction.
    2) I've read books where the prologue sucked, but starting at chapter 1 the book was pretty good (often because the story starts in chapter 1, and the author even knows that which is why she put that material in a place called "chapter 1.").

    If I see a book with a prologue in the bookstore, I'll sometimes just put it back on the shelf. But when it comes to reading the first few pages of the book to see if I'll like it I flip right to chapter 1, because chapter 1 could well be the start of a good book even if the author felt compelled to add a crappy prologue to the beginning of it.
     
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