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Why use prelude instead of prologue?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Avara, Jul 16, 2013.

  1. Avara

    Avara Dreamer

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    I've seen this in a few books in the past and it has always bugged me. Why do some authors call their prologues preludes? It doesn't make any sense to me. Do they just not realize the difference? are they thinking it sounds more poetic? Or is there possibly a good reason that some authors choose the term prelude over prologue?

    I certainly haven't been able to think of one. Any thoughts?
     
  2. Scribble

    Scribble Archmage

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    Just to rustle up some definitions, saving me from typing it out, I consulted the oracle (Google). These are pretty spot on.

    You could call it anything you want, really... Calling it a prelude doesn't change the fact that it's a prologue, because it is literature, not music. Why? Just to use a different word? A word-conscious writer might play on the musical connotation of the word, by giving chapter names or parts that echo musical movements.
     
  3. Avara

    Avara Dreamer

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    Yeah, that's a thought i had but the instances in which i've seen it used have never used it that way. In fact the only places i can think of where i have seen it have been books with rather amateurish writing, which is what leads me to the conclusion that the only reason any author uses the term "prelude" is because it "sounds prettier". That's fine if you're writing poetry but if you're writing prose then it's a really lame excuse in my mind.
     
  4. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I don't think it makes a difference what you call it. Who cares?

    If you have a prologue to begin with, you should take a hard look at why you've decided to present the reader with a bunch of stuff that takes place before your story starts in Chapter 1. But if you're going to have it, I don't think it makes a difference whether you call it a Prologue or Prelude. Call it an Overture if you want. It's a trivial issue to me, and the terminology itself isn't going to make me read it or skip it.
     
    Jun Peng likes this.
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    There's no need to get too worked up over this. Prelude literally means before the play, before the game. The fact that it eventually got associated with music is something that happened after the word itself. No need to go all 18th century over it. For that matter, I seem to recall some SF books that opened with an "overture".

    Personally, I prefer "Chapter One"
     
  6. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    Agreed. I read prologues but so many people don't I'm afraid to put anything important in one. So why not just drop them altogether.

    EDIT: although, I must say, I wish I could do one and know that most would read it. I like the format of a prologue/epilogue but I'm still hesitant.
     
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2013
    Steerpike likes this.
  7. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Exactly. I once heard a published author advise against putting anything important in a prologue for that reason. So I say just ditch the thing.
     
  8. Scribble

    Scribble Archmage

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    When I go to the book store, I skip to chapter 1 and read the first three pages. If I get gripped, I may buy it. If I buy it, I will actually read the prologue.
     
  9. Weaver

    Weaver Sage

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    I have no idea why someone would use this term instead of "prologue," unless they're just trying to get around the "Never write a prologue!" rule by calling it something else. (I should ask Greg. His novel has a prelude. I thought it was odd to call it that, but it never occurred to me to ask before now. He is a musician as well as a novelist, though, so that could have something to do with it.)

    As for why not to just call the thing "Chapter 1"... There's a difference between writing a prologue that is A Narrative of the History of Everything in the World Until Now, and writing a scene that is part of the story but happens, say, six months before the rest of it. Rather than disorient the reader by having a big gap between Chapter 1 and Chapters 2 through 30, the first chapter is called the prologue instead. (I once read a novel that began with Chapter 2.)
     
  10. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I think the idea that a six-month gap between Chapters 1 and 2 is going to disorient the reader shows too little faith in the reader. Why would the reader be disoriented so long as the author is clear about the gap?
     
  11. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    Do you remember what it was?
     
  12. Scribble

    Scribble Archmage

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    What would I put in a prologue...?

    A bard telling the song of the Old Ones...
    The uttering of a curse a thousand years ago...
    Prophecy?

    It has to be very disconnected from the narrative to warrant a prologue, or prelude, or whatever the heck you want to call it. Otherwise... as others have said... it's chapter one with a fancy name.
     
  13. Weaver

    Weaver Sage

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    Roadmarks, by Roger Zelazny. Every single chapter is either Chapter 1 or Chapter 2, following one of two major characters. I cannot recall if it's the 1's or the 2's that are also not in chronological order. I do wish I'd known about this particular quirk before I bought a copy when I was 17; I thought at first that I'd gotten a defective book and that Chapter 1 was missing!
     
    Trick likes this.
  14. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    Personally, I used the term "prelude" as part of a pattern. I had middle sections that had the same style and purpose as the beginning, and it felt really archaic to call them "interlogues", so I called them "interludes", and worked backwards to get "prelude" instead of "prologue". (On the other hand, I didn't know what you call the ending of a song, so I just kept the term "epilogue" as is.)
     
  15. Weaver

    Weaver Sage

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    To match a prelude at the beginning, you'd use a postlude at the end (if you have such a thing -- you don't need an epilogue just because you have a prologue, after all).
     
  16. Weaver

    Weaver Sage

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    Real example: The first chapter in a novel is set in the year 1456. It's an important part of the story for several reasons. The next chapter is set in the year 2127, as is the rest of the novel. That's a pretty big jump in time. I think that calling the first chapter "Chapter 1" instead of "Prologue" would have made that jump disorienting/confusing for the reader. By calling it a prologue, the author lets the reader know that this chapter is set apart from the rest of the story in some way.

    I know a lot of people say they skip all prologues because 'all prologues are irrelevant and everyone skips them so why write them,' but isn't that a self-perpetuating thing? If people would just, y'know, start reading those prologues again instead of assuming they're all bad just because David Eddings or whoever used to write the kind that our editors warned us about ('History of the Whole World Until Now' kind of prologue), because you can't know if it's any good until you at least take a glance at it and see whether or not it's 'irrelevant to the story'...
     
  17. phillipsauthor

    phillipsauthor Minstrel

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    My first (unpublished) novel used a prologue of that kind - a "happened a long time ago" brief scene that set things up for the entire novel. I really liked it: it was exciting, full of action, and promised dark things to come. The problem that was pointed out to me, however, was that it made the characters in my prologue were immediately the characters to whom readers became attached. It was confusing to readers, I was told, to have to wait until halfway through the book to hear about the characters in the prologue again, which mean that the beginning of my "actual story" (Chapter 1) was less gripping. Far better, other authors advised me, to have flashbacks at relevant parts throughout the book (or just not have the extra insight). While it wouldn't be as exciting in one way, it would make the novel more cohesive as a whole. So my opinion now is to not use prologues unless you have a really, really good reason to, and can argue against all the good reasons NOT to use one.
     
    Scribble likes this.
  18. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    As I said above, I think you have to give the reader more credit. There's no reason a gap in time between Chapter 1 and 2 should be any more disorienting or confusing to a reader than a gap in time between a prologue and Chapter 1. In either case, it simply takes the author making it clear that the gap has occurred.
     
  19. Weaver

    Weaver Sage

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    I can see how that would be a problem, if the characters in the prologue don't show up again until halfway through the book. (I had this problem in one of mine during the first run, although it was only chapter 7 before the character from the first chapter showed up again. In the revisions, he got a much more active role, much sooner.) That's a problem with that particular story, though, not with some innate trait of prologues.
     
  20. phillipsauthor

    phillipsauthor Minstrel

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    I agree, Steerpike. The problems aren't because it's "Prologue" vs. "Chapter 1" instead of "Chapter 1" vs. "Chapter 2." It isn't the time gap that's confusing per se - it's the switch from one MC to another, or from one expected plot to another. Just like it isn't expected practice for an author to feature one character in Chapter 1, then abandon him until the middle of the book, or to set the first chapter in the Middle Ages and the second in the future, it's jarring for a reader to see this happen from a prologue to the main text of the book. The question remains, "How do these fit together?" That's what can be confusing or difficult for the reader, no matter how well the jump is narrated by the author.
     
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