1. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    A thread about my prologue

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by jwatson, Jul 31, 2009.

    Hey everyone,
    I'm pretty much done my first draft and I'm working on a prologue now.
    I was wondering what you thought of me splitting the prologue into two parts:
    the first half about what the bad guys are planning, the second about what the good guys are planning.
    of course, i'm not going to spill the beans on my plot in this prologue, but i don't want to start a new chapter entitles Prologue #2 :p
    So if i do split it, what can I do to separate to two events. A line in the middle of the page or something?
    Thanks and please let me know if this idea is stupid to begin with :)
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Why do you need a prologue at all? More often than not, prologues are better off tossed in the dustbin.
     
  3. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    so it would be better just to have two separate chapters?
    What I'm worried about it that each part is rather short : ( together would make the chapter longer, but we all no longer is not necessarily better...
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Consider whether the material in the prologue would do better integrateD gradually into the rest of the story. 92.71% (+/- 0.13%) of the time it works better that way.
     
  5. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    You have a point it would, I think usually work better, but my plot is a little bit confusing so these opening chapters, whether it be one or two, make things more clear for the readers by the end of novel. I'm not sure what I'll do but thanks for the quick responses :)
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Generally, it's a good thing to leave readers with questions, Never provide answers to questions the reader hasn't even had a chance to thinkl of yet.

    You know what answers are if no one has any reason to ask the questions yet? Dry, useless facts. The same facts, brought out when the reader has been puzzling over the questions are "Aha!" moments.

    Most people write prologues to scatter some crumbs of "necessary background information" on the waters. It's a mistake.
     
  7. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    Now that's a good point
    You're definitely right I don't want to bore my readers about the plot when they have not even been introduced into the story yet. Thanks again
     
  8. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    In my opinion, a prologue should do raise tension, curiosity, etc. I think it has failed if a prologue doesn't do that. In most novels, prologues are lame, so I never read them. I skip to the first chapter.
     
  9. Elistara
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    Elistara Member

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    Prologues can be good, if done well. If they are simply an info dump though, that is bad. I believe some stories just need prologues though, to help ease the reader into the story - to impart knowledge that is necessary to avoid an info dump later that would otherwise seem out of place, or break the flow of the story. It just needs to be done without info-dumping.
    So, imo, think of a scene to explain it, and keep a good balance of info and talk, and action, so as not to bore the reader before they even begin their read. You should be able to build curiosities that way as well, and create the questions before you answer them subtly.... if you understand what I mean to say.
     
  10. murphcas
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    murphcas Member

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    I wouldn't worry about having short chapters. There are many writers who have one and two page chapters. For example: Rachel Cohn's book Gingerbread is made up of a bunch of short chapters. The longest is probably 8 pages, but I haven't read that book in a while so I may be wrong. Even Herman Melville wrote books with short chapters. I was looking through Typee yesterday and the longest chapter is probably 15 pages. So I really wouldn't worry about length.

    Besides that I agree with other posts. Prologue's aren't really necessary. I usually do read the prologue to a book, but sometimes it's just dumb. If there is a prologue I definitely like it if it's only a paragraph long. Then I know I can't be bored for too long haha.
     
  11. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    thanks for the tips guys, I'm going to leave my prologue for now and finish up my second draft to see if it fits. thanks again
     
  12. MarlzBob
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    MarlzBob Member

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    Stickign with your original question, I would not see anything wrong about splitting your prologue into two, or having it a single prologue with it clearly marked that it is separate settings.

    Personally, I believe prologues are often necessary, especially if the prologue is something that happened in the past that sets the scene for the whole of the rest of your story.
     
  13. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    Am I the only one who has read some awesome books with awesome prologues, and am dumbfounded that, every thread where the word "prologue" comes out turns into a prologue hatefest?

    Nearly every one of Tess Gerritsen's suspense thrillers has a prologue (I posted one of her prologues in a thread a while back) and in every case, the prologue is thrilling, builds suspense, raises questions.

    I honestly don't recall a prologue that I didn't enjoy, or that I considered "unnecessary" , or that I could have skipped to chapter 1.

    I know I've posted on this before, but if you're skipping the prologue, I have to wonder whether you really like reading at all. If you don't want to read, there's always shuffleboard, Sudoku puzzles or re-runs of "The Golden Girls" on TV Land. If you do like to read, there are some wonderful books with wonderful prologues that have actual words and sentences and paragraphs that are just as fun and interesting as the words and sentences and paragraphs in the rest of the book. To me, it's like saying, "I always skip to chapter 12." I just don't get it. If you don't want to read, why read?

    I imagine the grandmother whose grandchildren won't eat their food, saying, "How do you know you don't like it, if you've never tried?" How do you know that a prologue you haven't read wouldn't be the best, most thrilling thing you've ever read, if you bothered to read it?

    And in my experience (Tess Gerritson being a prime example) prologues are more interesting than some of the early chapters! I can only wonder whether the books I'm reading are very different from the books other people are reading. In one of the threads discussing prologues, I asked for an example of a "bad" prologue, just so I could read it and know what everybody's hating over. I ask again, can someone give me an example of a good book with a bad prologue? Please, recommend such a book. I'll add it to my reading list, and I'll pay particular attention to the prologue that should have been dropped, so that the next time I read a thread like this I can say, "Ah, like that book..."

    To the OP, I'd have to say, there's nothing wrong with breaking up your prologue. You could skip down a couple lines, or separate with asterisks ('***') on a separate line, or break it up with Roman Numerals.

    My novel has a 2-part prologue, with Roman Numerals, a date, and a page break between parts:

    Prologue

    I

    September, 1819​

    "You're looking to get yourself killed!"
    Madison Hemings lowered his book, tipped back his straw hat....

    (Followed by the rest of prologue I, which raised several questions and was full of clues about what secrets lie in the rest of the book.)

    (page break)

    II

    December, 1973​


    The knife fell in a wide arc, and red blood shot up like a geyser. From the stained glass windows above...

    (Followed by the rest of prologue part II, tension rising, even more clues and more questions raised.)

    (Page break)

    Chapter 1

    The Present​

    As long as your prologue isn't an info-dump, as long as it raises questions and tensions, I don't see anything wrong with having a prologue, or having a prologue broken into two parts. And, frankly, I've heard of info-dump prologues, but I don't recall actually reading one, and I read a few books a week, I must have read thousands of books in my life.

    May be the "bad info-dump prologue" is common among fantasy books and I don't read fantasies? I don't know, but some people on this forum seem to think that most prologues are info-dumps.

    I'm especially baffled when Cognito suggests (tongue-in-cheek, I'm sure) that 92.71% of the time the book is better off without a prologue. Is it possible that all the books I read that have prologues are in the other 7.29%?

    I read a lot of thriller novels and mysteries, which frequently have some very exciting prologues. (Often, a murder mystery starts with a prologue showing the "first murder" which sometimes takes place decades earlier.)
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The problem is, most prologues that are offered up ARE infodumps. I can't tell you how often I have seen a prologue justified as providing "necessary background" for the reader to understand the setting, or words to that effect.

    I don't hate prologues. I have seen some good ones. I have also seen some that were fine, but could have as easily been called Chapter 1. But I will ALWAYS ask anyone who asks about a prologue, "Why are you considering a prologue?"

    It is a question that really needs to be asked, and seriously considered by the writer.

    It's not hate. It's a sign that reads, "DANGER: Minefield Ahead."
     
  15. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    Are you talking about unpublished writers (as one might read in the Review Room forum) or actual published works?

    If the former, that may well be true. I confess, I've only read a few "unpublished" works, and those weren't prologues.

    If the latter, can you recommend a good book with a bad prologue? I'd like to read one, just so I can "feel your pain," so to speak.

    Charlie
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Mostly it is unpublished work. I have seen it in published works as well, but unsurprisingly, they were very forgettable books.
     
  17. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    I suppose that explains why Writer's Digest (and you!) recommend against prologues, and why I'm so baffled.

    That being the case, thumbs up on your work against the info-dump. :D

    I just hope my future potential agents and publishers don't throw my work away when they read the first word, and that word is "prologue." Hopefully, they'll get my work right after they finish reading a Tess Gerritsen novel. ;)

    Charlie
     
  18. Primitive
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    Primitive Member

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    Most prologues are rubbish, but than again most books are rubbish (in the whole scheme of books available).

    Just read Robbin Hobbs latest book, prologue and all. ANother of the "You could have just put it in the darn book!" one (With the worst editing i have seen in a while to boast).

    I dont know, maybe publishers (esp fantasy) must think its fashionable, i hope i'm wrong.
     
  19. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    There are two kinds of prologue. . the infodump is usually unnecessary, and that's why people don't like them. But most published prologues I read aren't really like that. I never *ever* skip a prologue. . I agree with Charlie on that one. Some are much better than others, but crappy prologues are rarely published. Or perhaps I've just been lucky enough to read mostly good books.

    I talk about George Martin far too much, but he also wrote an excellent prologue for the first book in "Ice and Fire."

    A bunch of "black brothers" are out on a "ranging," led by an arrogant lordling, to track down some "wildlings" who got too close to the "wall." You learn that the wall is like the great wall of china, made of ice, and that the black brothers are mostly criminals. The poacher among them finds the barbarian raiders in their camp, dead. The lordling doesn't believe him, since, from the poacher's report, it sounds an awful lot like they are sleeping. What follows is a scene reminiscent of Stephen King's finer moments, involving some interesting undead beings called "Others."

    The book is called "A Game of Thrones" for a reason. It has, for the most part, absolutely nothing to do with the supernatural, or really any traditional fantasy content, aside from the historic setting.

    So while the Game of Thrones plays out, you're constantly wondering: "What about the wall?"

    The view switches over to the wall from time to time as the story builds up on both sides. Five would-be kings vie for a crown and tear the realm to bloody pieces as a paltry rabble of about 1000 thieves, rapists, murderers, cripples, whores, and disgraced knights try to fend off all the fury of the north while their pleas for help are ignored and made mock of by enlightened men who don't believe in fairy tales.

    Now that's intense. And the prologue sets this up perfectly. The first chapters of the book would actually be pretty boring without it. But you read through those chapters wondering, "How does all of this relate?"

    That, to me, is what a prologue is for. It serves to build interest, raise questions. Most prologues I read do this, and I'm happy to read them. But a good prologue is probably the most difficult part of a book to write, for a wide variety of reasons.

    Most new writers don't write good prologues.

    In fact, the only times I've seen half-decent prologues posted are when they read like a "chapter 1," in which case, there's no reason to call it a prologue. . .

    Worry about the prologue when you've finished the novel. That's when, should you decide that you even want one, you'll be able to write it well, because then you'll know what it needs.
     
  20. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    thanks again everyone :)
     
  21. hawkedup
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    All chapters should be as long as they need to be, no more and no less. If you have a two-page chapter followed by a fifty-page chapter, there is nothing wrong with that so long as those lengths work. As for prologues, I think people put too much store in them. You should not think of them as any more or less important than any other chapter in your novel, but they can be tricky to write because, as is obvious, they are the first thing the reader sees when they open your book. While most readers I know would never judge a book by its prologue, there are many who do. However, you shouldn't cater to these latter folk with your prologue any more than you would with any other page or sentence or word, plot device, character, and so on. Sometimes it is better to get your info dumping out of the way immediately so that the reader can settle in with chapter 1 and sort of have a general working knowledge of what they should know. Sometimes it's better to put pure action, or introduce a side character, or even to have nothing happen at all except allowing the reader to get their first glimpse of your tone and writing style. Basically what I'm saying is, don't be afraid to write your prologue the way you want to, and the way you think it needs to be told. Introducing the good guys and the bad guys like that is a good call, I think. You could just split the two parts with a double space if you wanted.
     
  22. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    thanks very much hawkedup, good points :)
     
  23. Ghosts in Latin
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    Ghosts in Latin Senior Member

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    Kind of off topic, but that percentage measurement was a joke. . . right?
     
  24. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    Absolutely not. Cogito's done the math!
     

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