1. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    36 Page Prologue

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by seta, Jun 19, 2009.

    My prologue is currently sitting at 36 pages - or 9000 words. I'm about to have my friend review it. She is an avid reader and is mercilessly honest.

    The prologue is actually like a mini-story which sets up the environment for the rest of the novel. It uses unique characters. Obviously, I have some room to cut down if I need to, but are there any rules of thumb for a prologue?

    It's certainly not an info-dump, and it leaves more mystery and questions rather than answers.
     
  2. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Prologue: The shorter the better, if it's necessary.

    Often it is more interesting for a reader to discover the "enviornment" of the novel in the context of the actual novel in conjunction with the characters they'll follow throughout the novel. It is more meaningful and gives a reader something to anchor the information to and make connections from.

    My two cents for what it's worth.

    Terry
     
  3. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    I'm moving this to General Writing.


    And that is way, way too long for a prologue. The general rule of thumb for a prologue, is "Do you really need one?" Most "prologues" are either just the first chapter/section with a fancy name, or something that doesn't need to be there at all.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Rule of thumb: NEVER write a prologue to tell a background story.
     
  5. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    36 pages is way too long, regardless of whether it's good or not. For an average book, even a chapter 36 pages long is a bit odd in my opinion. It seems your "prologue" could might as well just be the first chapter or first two chapters. Especially in more modern writing, oftentimes the "prologue" is just the first chapter or part of the first chapter - the only example that jumps to my head right now isThe Catcher in the Rye, where the first part about Holden talking about how he's going to tell you everything is a kind of prologue.
     
  6. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    Thanks guys for your input. I'm going to leave my prologue in place and see what others think of it and how it fits in with the rest of the novel. It's good to have critical feedback though. Anyways, the prologue, being a separate mini-story is entirely disposable, I guess.

    I can see why it would be a bad idea - everyone in the prologue dies to introduce the catastrophe which the rest of the story is about. Eh, who knows. Maybe it'll work. We'll see.
     
  7. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's no real reason to write any prologue...if it's a story in its own right why don't you just make it into the first chapter?
     
  8. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    Oh! You guys have given me a good idea;

    Instead of the prologue being an independent back-story type thing, it will be an introduction of the main characters, only at the beginning of the catastrophe. Then the main story skips ahead 15 years and picks up in the middle of the war.

    That at least makes more sense than what I've got now.

    If I decide to do that, I'll go back and redo it after I've written the main chunk of the story. [or just take it out altogether if it doesn't feel right]
     
  9. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    Is there another reason for a prologue?
     
  10. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    Touché!

    I just want to point out that there are probably no set conventions for any art. Certainly there are models of operation for anything. Painters use brushes and paint and canvas - but they don't have to. In the same regards, writers can choose the tools and materials they use.

    I do really appreciate the different perspectives on these matters though. It's very helpful to have some lateral thinking to reflect on.
     
  11. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Umm . . . that's called a "chapter".
     
  12. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    Yeah... the prologue is just a chapter that happens before the rest of the story. :D
     
  13. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Do you aspire to publish this work commercially? If so, you'd better meet the "set conventions" of literary agents and publishers. Or be prepared to self-publish and spend a year learning how to market books. (Marketing books is far tougher than writing them.)
     
  14. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    Thanks, but I wasn't being facetious or trying to counter Cog. I generally want to know, if a prologue shouldn't be used for telling a background story... then what should it be used for?

    I thought that telling a background story in order to provide information that sets the stage for a story was the only purpose of a prologue. Well, that, and to entertain, just like the rest of the novel.

    My own prologue tells a background story. Two different stories, actually -- I have a 2-part prologue, part 1 set in 1819, and part 2 set in 1973, and then I flash to today for Chapter 1. This takes about 16 pages, double-spaced. 4,735 words (with thanks to Microsoft Word Word Count)

    I guess my biggest problem with all this is... my prologue, in my humble opinion, is exciting, interesting, fun, thrilling, and ties wonderfully to the body of my novel, and is something, I think, the reader would enjoy reading. (There's even an "aha!" moment near the end of my book that reminds the reader of the first prologue, creating a neat loop that I think is nicely executed.)

    Should I eliminate my prologue anyway? Or am I missing his point?

    Charlie
     
  15. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    You do have a good point. I haven't read many books with a prologue at all. However, I certainly wouldn't say that a prologue falls outside of conventional literature.

    This is where I think individual license comes in. I think Cogito and the others are implying that a story shouldn't need a prologue at all. The content of the story should be fetching enough, and fill in the details as you go along. I can certainly understand this philosophy.

    I may instead simply fill in some blanks with brief flashbacks and dialogue talking about the past. In many books, people refer to things that happened in the past, sometimes in previous books, or in non-existent books.
     
  16. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    A prologue can be used, yes, but the important thing is whether it would interest the reader. Frankly, no matter how exciting or deep or imaginative a prologue is - except in very rare cases, I assume - unless if the reader gets to know the main character and how that main character relates to the main conflict, the prologue shouldn't be in.

    The thing is, when starting a novel, a reader knows nothing about the conflict and, more importantly, the character. Something should be happening to the character to get the reader interested, and backstory telling the danger that already passed, and not the danger that could happen is not as suspenseful of a hook. If you know the danger already happened, why worry? But if the danger could happen, any moment, any way, and you don't know how, wouldn't you be a little bit more on edge?

    My advice - one I need to follow myself - is to make the prologue short and to the point, to get the reader excited and want to read more - not to tell him some danger that already happened.
     
  17. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    I'm attempting to understand it, and it's eluding me.

    I know I've read some terrific books with prologues. One murder mystery comes to mind that begins with a murder many years ago, that sort of ties to the murders today. Another book I read began with a prologue set in Medieval Times, while the body of the book was set in modern times but in an ancient castle that's apparently haunted by the knight we saw in the prologue. I rather enjoyed them!

    Did the stories "need" them? I don't know, but they were pretty enjoyable! Isn't that reason enough for inclusion?

    Charlie
     
  18. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    I think what we're getting to is a particular model for a genre. I can certainly understand a prologue being more useful in a murder mystery. You would expect the story to take longer to unfold, and for there to be many questions. Therefore, a detached prologue, an episode many years in the past, would make more sense to include.

    Even fantasy novels, which usually have large and complex story lines could have more of a prologue. I can't remember if LotR had a prologue in the books, but it certainly did in the movie format. It gave a brief history of the One Ring and Sauron to clearly set up the premise and the enemy. THEN you get introduced to the main characters.

    I suppose I shouldn't mix movies and books, but I consider a story a story, no matter how you tell it.

    EDIT: No, LotR started with Bilbo's party, not a history of the ring.
     
  19. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    This is not my book, but in my mind, I'm making up a quick book right now. Forgive its unpolished state and brevity, it's only for illustration.

    Prologue:

    Ten thousand years ago, a group of cavemen discover an alien device.

    The Shaman said, "We must keep this device safe. If it falls into enemy hands, they will toss it into the volcano. We will be safe, but according to the prophecy, when a thousand generations pass, the sky will turn red, and the Earth will be destroyed.

    At that moment, a battle cry was heard in the distance. Arrows whooshed by, and... thwump! Blood splattered the countryside.

    The warrior lifted his prize, and headed toward the volcano.

    Chapter One: The present.

    The first thing Aaron noticed was that the sky was red.

    I don't know, I think that would be a pretty good prologue to a pretty good novel, (not in its unpolished two-minute version, of course, but you know what I mean) and the threat is current and real despite being ten thousand years old.

    Charlie
     
  20. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    How many of you here know about the education system and laws of the Kingdom of the Hebrides? Did you know it existed? If any book needs a prologue, it's mine. But I don't have one.

    No book needs a prologue.
     
  21. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The most common use of a prologue, and in my opinion the worst, is to deliver information to the reader. A better use, again in my opinion, is to deliver questions.

    Perhaps the story itself needs to start more slowly that you'd like. So how do you grab the reader's interest?

    One way, and probably the best way, is to rewrite the beginning to engage the reader sooner.

    Another way is to behin with a prologue that presents an intersting but enigmatic scene, the kind of scene that leaves the reader wondering not only what happens next, but also what DID just happen.

    That still would leave the problem of a weak beginning to the story proper, and you should address that directly anyway.

    But if your beginning is already strong, what about the prologue that piques the reader's interest in a different way? That may be a prologue worth keeping.

    Providing information reduces tension. Providing questions increases it. Tension is what keeps a reader thinking about what he or she has just read, and keeps the reader eager for the nest paragraph or chapter.

    Feed the reader questions on a heaping platter, but deliver answers with chopsticks.
     
  22. Dante Dases
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    Dante Dases Contributing Member Contributor

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    No book needs a prologue, but they can be beneficial to some. They can be useful as a scene-setter, if the scene is relevant but somehow divorced from the main story, through time, distance or some other way. I was reading some of Iain M. Banks' stuff recently, and found that his prologues are pretty good examples of this. Not to mention, they were short, one of the big things about a good prologue.

    I agree, though. They can often be discarded in favour of a rewritten opening.
     
  23. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    As for the fantasy genre, a prologue may be necessary to give the reader crucial information, but from what I've learned, it's important that this preferabbly also be short and just to the point, because usually the reader won't care about thousands of years of histories and historical heroes and villains that won't ever appear in the actual book - the reader wants the story in and of itself.

    @CharlieVer:

    I think perhaps your example may work, assuming that the prologue is not too long. Again, if that prologue goes way too long, say a few pages or something, and then it suddenly jumps to the real story, then two problems occur: first, the reader gets a bit disoriented because of the sudden jump in setting, and secondly, the reader has just realized that long prologue they just read already happened and wasn't anything serious to worry about. The point is, if there must be a prologue, then it has a very difficult task of setting up some facts, being extremely short, and keeping the reader's attention.
     
  24. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    Thank you, Cognito. You answered my question, to my relief honestly.

    My prologue is just as you describe: It's an interesting and enigmatic scene that raises more questions than the information it provides. It was designed to make the reader wonder what just happened, and how it's going to impact the characters in the book.

    I do provide a little information, but for every grain of information I think I raise a few big questions.

    I get worried whenever I read that people don't like prologues. I knew my prologue was good... I suppose I just didn't know why my prologue was good. I can rest easy now.

    No, I can't. I have to keep writing. ;)

    Edit:

    Since I've rambled on this much, why don't I give a little synopsis?
    A small part of my prologue is somewhere buried in the "Novel" section.

    Title: The Jefferson Bible Code
    Part One: Children of the Enlightenment.

    Prologue (1): 1819. Madison Hemings, a slave at Jefferson's Monticello, gets in a scuffle with a fellow slave. Thomas Jefferson breaks it up and invites Madison inside, where he gives him a mysterious book of cut Bible passages, hinting at various mysteries found within. Why is Jefferson doing this? What are these mysteries? Well, reader, you're just going to have to keep reading to find out!

    (2): 1973. Mattie, a little boy attending a Christmas party at a New Jersey church, goes to the bathroom. He hears voices upstairs before going in. When he comes out, he finds himself in the middle of an inferno, flames everywhere. He hears the children screaming behind a wall of flames. He rushes up the stairs, makes it outside... but goes back in to warn the pastor. Instead, he becomes witness to the pastor's murder (by stabbing)... before blacking out... and waking up in a strange place, to find his hand is nearly burned off, and sees a giant silver eye. Who burned down the church? What happened to the other children? Why was the pastor murdered? What happened to Mattie when he blacked out? Where is he? What happened to his hand? What's the deal with the giant silver eye? And what does all this have to do with the Jefferson code? I ain't telling! You're going to have to read Chapter 1...

    Chapter 1 (the Present)....
     
  25. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It is never necessary to give the reader "crucial information" before the story begins. You can always feed it in as the story grows.

    The reader starts with no questions, so there is no need to start with answers that are not yet needed.
     

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