1. Vacuum Eater
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    Vacuum Eater Senior Member

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    Does anyone else dislike prologues as much as I do?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Vacuum Eater, May 24, 2010.

    Whenever a book has a prologue, I get annoyed and experience the urge to skip right over it. In a prologue, you'll usually learn about an event that takes place long before the actual story does, and you'll meet characters which likely will never be presented again from their own perspectives; thus, upon finishing the prologue and getting into the main story, I feel as though I'm starting the book all over again, armed with a bit of information that usually doesn't make any sense yet. I feel as though I've wasted time learning about characters that may never make another appearance again. To make matters worse, the prologue sometimes won't seem to have a purpose recognizably relevant to the story even after reading quite a bit into the book.

    Prologues sort of remind me of info-dumps, in that they present too much too soon. They introduce characters that I usually can't feel anything about one way or the other (because the prologue is too short for me to really get to know them) and often a lot of information on a world/system/event/etc., which doesn't make a lot of sense in the absence of the main storyline.

    I like books to start right from the beginning with the introduction of the main characters and the main storyline. Most of the time, prologues seem like an unnecessary detour, the contents of which could be handled more gracefully via flashbacks, a character's reminisces, or some sort of second hand account during the course of the story.
     
  2. DodgePen
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    DodgePen New Member

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    An effective prologue can be great to give the reader some background or history of a situation that is relevant to the story. However, too many time like you said it becomes an info dump and the reader has a hard time connecting to the situation or characters in the short amount of time. I have even heard people tell me they often skip prologues and go straight to chapter 1. I agree though many times prologues don't offer much to capture the reader's attention.
     
  3. Aeschylus
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    Aeschylus Contributing Member

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    I find that too. Prologues are only good when they're not info-dumps and/or meaningless intros, but then they're not true prologues. The solution: you can either skip or read them, but in your own writing don't think that it's necessary to write a prologue; it's not.

    Often it's better to let the reader piece the background together as time goes on; that's what I prefer, anyway. Too much intro is bad.
     
  4. MJ Preston
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    MJ Preston Banned

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  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    NEVER insert a prologue for this purpose. Let the reader wonder, and discover the backgroumd later, in bits and pieces. A brief info-dump is still an info-dump.

    I won't go so far as to say all prologues are bad. I have seen some very effective ones. But never use a prologue to provide background!
     
  6. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I tend to just scim through them; I don't like them, most of the time.
     
  7. Norm
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    Norm Contributing Member

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    Man I hate it when someone re-prints an old book and feels like they have to write some boring prologue at the start of it.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    That's not a prologue, that's a foreword.
     
  9. Lankin
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    Lankin Member

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    I slightly disagree on that. E.g., I simply love Terry Pratchett's discworld prologues where he always tells the history of the world the story is set in -- every time slightly different. But I see this also as an exception, not as the rule.

    Stieg Larson's novels got great prologues too, in general I prefer how he does it; they are only vaguely connected to the story -- or so it seems at first -- only later on you discover what they mean for the story.

    For me a prologue has -- if at all -- the function of an overture in Music. You get a break from everyday life, before the Opera really begins; an overture is there to attune you to the general mood of the story, so you will enjoy the Opera the more -- better than a kick-start with "Casta diva". I like overtures :)
     
  10. hyperspace!
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    hyperspace! Member

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    I don't particularly dislike them, I just don't read them. I just wanna get started with the actual story, y'know? Sometimes I'll go back over it after I've finished the book, though. But they're usually not that interesting.

    A friend lent me this book, What Happened to Lani Garver, a couple years ago, and said not to read the prologue or else it'd ruin the book. So I skipped it, and went back to read it when I was done. Glad I did - there was a major spoiler in the prologue. Which is kinda dumb. So there's another reason not to read prologues.
     
  11. Lankin
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    Lankin Member

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    Oh I hate spoilers.
     
  12. Robyn
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    Robyn Member

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    I feel the exact same way. I don't pay much attention to prolouges; the only time I read them is when there's a really, really grabbing first sentence. Any other times, I just skip to the first chapter.
     
  13. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I don't like prologues either, but ironically, I had an idea for a great prologue I could put in my story until I realized something: Most prologues usually make no sense at all and have no bearing to the story as a whole.

    The author can keep the set up in his/her head while the readers immediatly jump into the action.
     
  14. Bongo Mongo
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    Bongo Mongo Member

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    Sometimes they are effective. Mostly they aren't. I usually avoid them for the sake of better pacing.
     
  15. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    As with all things in writing, in the hands of a great writer, a prologue can be a great tool. The prologue to Donna Tartt's The Secret History, which reveals that the protagonist will be involved in another character's death later in the novel, completely alters how you read the book, how you understand the characters and adds a sense of urgency to the story which isn't in itself hugely exciting. It changes the questions you ask about plot and character--rather than being arbitrary, everything becomes connected to this death, and it can have quite a profound effect on with whom and to what extent you empathise.

    What it doesn't do is provide any kind of backstory, reveal any unnecessary detail, set the scene for the opening or try to act as a hook (well, to a certain extent it is a hook, but considering that it reveals straightaway the victim, the killers and how it happened, it's certainly not a hook in the traditional sense). What it does do is contribute something important to the novel that would not make sense as part of the narrative itself, which is the only thing a writer can hope to do with a prologue.
     
  16. Sulac Sol
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    Sulac Sol Member

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    I tend to write a prologue four or five times before settling on one... then discarding them anyways. I usually just use them to figure out what I want to write about, hone a couple of details still unclear on my conscious mind.

    I don't mind reading them, in some cases, like the Discworld books which someone mentioned earlier, they're very enjoyable. But I feel like stories that don't use prologues and go right to a gripping opening line (i.e "the man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed him) are better at catching my interest.
     
  17. Roby
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    Roby New Member

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    Their is a very specific reason why I have a prologue without giving the story away. Initially when I wrote the story I did not have the prologue, it only came after I realised the importance of what the reader will realise towards the end of the novel, that I realised some additional information which appears unrelated, will give a unique perspective on the whole story.

    Not surprisingly my prologue is set in the future to the event of the main story and I was against it initially, as I feared it would give away plot twists but I don't believe it to be so now.

    Another point I would like to make is that if the characters and plot in your story are very engaging, the reader may not be too concerned with what may have happened in a different time period but at least it has planted the seeds for when it does blossom.
     
  18. Mantha Hendrix
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    Mantha Hendrix Contributing Member

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    In the Wheel of Time series, there's a 100 page prologue... or so I have been told.
     
  19. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    And one of my two novels in progress has a prologue. Mine is a look forward to the death of a key character, clearly set in our future. It provides a contrast to the first chapter, set in the same character's youth in the forests of pre-civilized Europe. It is there to emphasize the character's extraordinary longevity, and also to promise the reader the story will not remain in the distant past.

    It's a prologue that gives very little away. It gives the reader questions, not answers. And it sets the tone for the rest of the book, because very little of it actually takes place in the past. But skipping over the early millenia is not an option, either - it's an integral part of the story.

    Obviously, I am not categorically opposed to prologues. But I am categorically opposed to prologues to provide background or back story. Forget back story, and proceed into the story without delay.
     
  20. Mantha Hendrix
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    Mantha Hendrix Contributing Member

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    ^ I agree. One of the novels I am writing at the moment starts with a plane getting shot down. The prologue consists of this event, but it's very short. The first chapter shows on of the characters waking up in the jungle.

    Another planned novel features a prologue of sorts at the start of each act. I feel they are necessary.
     

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