1. staceylouise
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    staceylouise Active Member

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    Few questions, could kick myself but also need some advice please

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by staceylouise, Feb 17, 2014.

    Hey guys. Well could kick myself tonight. Basically I have a story. I know my characters, where I'm heading with it, how they are going to vaguely go - letting them lead most of the way to get from a -b and for me to make the ultimate choice at the end. But I HAVE to have a prologue. The reason being is I need to fill a gap from several yrs ago until kind of like the present so to speak, so I need to go over the main event that lead this story to be what it is and lead my character to be all that it is today. So I needed this in there. We'll I sat down and read it tonight and totally needed editing so I spent all eve writing 8 pages of prologue until 2.30am! I think I've got it pretty ok now, just have to type it up. Thought be easier to type as I go rather than in one whole go.
    BUT also, as this character grown up by a few years, I want to break it down into intervals of a few years in between. How would I do this? I can't start a new chapter for every change in years skips that I do, so would a line of *********** be suitable to separate these 'episodes' up until the present day?
    Best way of doing this please???? Thanks in advance
     
  2. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I don't believe there is anything such thing as "have to" when it comes to prologues. It is a choice about how to tell the story. Keep in mind that some readers skip prologues. In my view, the story should still be understandable by them. I tend not to like them and prefer the book start as near the beginning of the actual events of the story as possible.

    Still, as author you have to follow your own vision of the story. I wouldn't use a string of asterisks, but instead a # centered on its own line between sections.
     
  3. staceylouise
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    staceylouise Active Member

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    Thanks steerpike. I've already answered my own question about the in between stops - going to jump into the now and let the character take it from there as feel would be more effective. As for the prologue, I really feel it needs to be there - I go back to when my character was a baby and go over the one day he/she is discovered for what she is, and it's revealed at the end of the prologue but leaves a mystery surrounding one of the characters, and leaves the reader (hopefully!) As I see it, wanting to read more on the basis of what happens next. However, I've just had a thought. I've labelled this as the prologue simply as it's a back story - the day my character came into play but at a young age, - so the past, but could I and (opinions here please) would I be better off starting it with this as a mini chapter as '13 years ago', proceeding with my piece of how my character came about, and then after either 'today' or '13 years later' which latter probably sounds better. Just because as you point out, many readers skip the prologue and start at the story, and if that were to be the case with mine then the whole crucial part I feel is lost in a way. They miss how it all began. What do you guys think????
     
  4. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    Why not? Tom Clancy's most recent (posthumous) novel alternated chapters between the exploits of current-day Jack Ryan Jr. and similar adventures of his father (also Jack Ryan) twenty years previously by placing an italic reminder of the date at the head of each of the Ryan Sr. chapters and when the book was typeset, the publisher added a border to the left and right of the text on the Ryan Sr. chapters as well. Seemed to work.

    I wonder if you could just call your prologue "Chapter One' and differentiate it in some way (italics?) so the reader wouldn't skip it. I've seen that done.
     
  5. staceylouise
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    staceylouise Active Member

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    Thanks stevesh!!! Superstar!! That's what I'm going to do. Write up as chapter 1 in italics, so that it 'is' chapter 1 and isn't disregarded. Thank you so much for your help :):):)
     
  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Anybody who has been on this forum a while knows which side I'm on as regards prologues. I have no bother either reading or writing them, as long as they provide an exciting or intriguing start to the story, and are separated chronologically from the rest of the story. They can be an excellent tool to orient the reader. Your opening scenario, as you've presented the idea to us, seems an ideal candidate to become a prologue.

    Personally I would NOT label a prologue 'Chapter One.' Yes, that ploy will fool the Skippy-Dippies into reading it, but if there is a huge time gap between the end of it and the start of Chapter Two—or if it contains characters that the reader won't meet again, or won't meet again for a long while—that gap will jar. Calling it a 'prologue' alerts open-minded readers to the fact that there will be a gap of some kind, although it's still an essential part of the story.

    However, mindful of the Skippy-Dippies ...I have seen some recently-written prologues presented with no chapter title at all. The reader simply starts where the text starts. Clever. They aren't going to know whether to skip it or not. If it begins with a couple of sentences that are intriguing, I think the reader will keep trundling along. Certainly seems to have worked for some authors, anyway.

    I'd say this might NOT work if your prologue chapter is a long one, though. Most of these undesignated prologues have been only a page or two long. But hey. Anything is possible.

    I suppose you could insert a few subliminal clues into the text of your main chapters? ...clues that flash and flash again: 'go back ...and read ...the flipping prologue ...for pete's sake ...or you won't have ...the faintest idea ...what's happening here...' :confused:
     
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2014
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A scene break, in manuscript, is a line containing a single centered #. The publisher can format it in print any way they choose, from simply a wider blank space to dingbats or graphic doodles.
     
  8. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    If it can legitimately be called Chapter 1, it's not a true prologue. Ignore the people who will skip the prologues, and don't lie to the rest by labeling a prologue as a chapter.

    That said, make sure you're putting in a prologue for the right reasons. If all it is is backstory, it probably isn't a good idea. But then backstory (which can easily turn into infodump) isn't really a good idea for the first chapter either. Better to weave that in.
     
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  9. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Changing the name of it to something else won't help if it still has all of the problems that so many prologues have. People who skip prologues don't skip them just because they don't like the name 'Prologue.' They skip them because prologues suffer from common problems and these readers have read enough bad ones that they don't bother anymore.

    It may or may not be the case that the prologue is important here. They are never necessary in my view, but they can be well done. If the primary reason for it is to load the reader up with backstory, I'd probably drop it all together. But as I said, a writer has to follow their own vision for the story. I'll read prologues, but I don't give them very long to be interesting before I skip them and move on to chapter 1 (or, more likely, put the book back on the bookstore shelf and buy something else that does interest me).
     
  10. Motley
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    Motley Active Member

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    I'm in the camp that says to sprinkle the character's past into the storyline, if there is actually a camp that says that. (Smores?)

    I would also change chapters between time periods. A scene break is a shorter pause, in my opinion, and better suited for just setting changes or POV shifts.
     
  11. staceylouise
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    staceylouise Active Member

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    Thank you so much for all your views guys. Wow this prologue topic is really controversial!!! It's out on the border line isn't it!!!!! Well I know what I'm going to do :) what I feel is best here. I don't feel it should be labelled as a prologue for readers to skip, as it is important to the story, but I'm not going to label it as chapter 1 either, as it isn't really my chapter 1. I'm going somewhere in the middle :)
     
  12. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Ha! Yeah, prologues are as dicey as the self publishing topic - I made the mistake of asking about prologues first thing on another site. I was surrounded by a lynch mob with virtual tar and feathers shouting Troll!Troll!Troll!
     
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  13. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Now me? I've read loads of shallow, boring stretches of dialogue in my day, so I've decided that from now on I'm never going to read any dialogue in any book ever again. I'll just skip over it whenever it appears on a page.

    If an author can't make the story come alive without resorting to dialogue, I might not even bother reading the book at all. I'll probably just leave it on the shelf.
     
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  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Oy vey.

    As for prologues, they aren't absolutely a bad idea, but more often than not, novels that have prologues would read as well or better without them. In short, they are overused.

    The problem is that a prologue delays entry into the story itself, so your prologue has to deliver something that makes that delay worthwhile. Television gives the impression that a teaser is a necessary lead-in to a story. But television is a different medium, and the remote control channel switcher is the enemy that must be overcome.

    It's a logic that doesn't apply to novels. For novels, the best way to grab the reader is to get right into the story.
     
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  15. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Oy vey, indeed.

    Perhaps we could focus on WHY a prologue is sometimes the right tool to choose, and then on how to write good ones. Instead of always taking the default position that they are 'best avoided' in case you bore the reader with an info-dump, or delay entry into the story.

    Or deciding that dialogue is 'best avoided' in case you bore the reader with meaningless chit-chat.

    It's the silly, prejudiced, knee-jerk, one-size-fits-all reaction that drives me cuckoo. It's such an insult to an author who has worked hard to craft an excellent and necessary prologue, only to have it summarily 'skipped,' simply because it exists. What's next on the 'hit' list? Dialogue? Could be...

    By the way, I'd be interested in seeing a list of recently PUBLISHED books containing these so-called 'bad' prologues. As opposed to draft examples by new writers simply learning the craft.
     
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  16. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I've read some good prologues. I don't believe there is such a thing as one that is strictly necessary, however. The question comes down to whether it is the best approach in any given situation, not whether it is the only approach.
     
  17. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    "For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn." - attributed to Hemingway.

    So there's a lot to writing that's not "necessary". Doesn't mean one shouldn't use those things and make them good.
     
  18. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ehehe, I can so imagine that. Prologues, self publishing and Outlines vs pantsing... With the rookie being Instruction or general reading. ;)
     
  19. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I know that you have a plan, but I still find myself concerned that you seem to feel the need to explain and portray your character's history. I realize that that sounds silly, and you probably feel that of course you have to explain and portray your character's history!

    But, do you? A lot of fiction, a whole lot of fiction, doesn't provide history and backstory, especially at the beginning, even though that means that the reader doesn't fully understand all the reasons and background for the current action. That puzzlement on the reader's part is a good thing, not a bad one. It can give your story more tension and texture.

    A big bag of examples:
    • Agatha Christie's _Sleeping Murder_, for example, could have started with the protagonist in childhood, and the pivotal traumatic event, and it could have just left the identity of the murderer in question... but it was far, far more interesting for it to leave *everything* in question, and let the protagonist slowly puzzle her way through learning the facts.
    • Dorothy Sayers' _Strong Poison_ could start with the relationship between Harriet Vane and her lover, and how his death came about, and Harriet's arrest. Instead, it starts in the middle of the trial, when Lord Peter falls in love with Harriet.
    • The first _Harry Potter_ book does have a prologue about Harry's arrival in the suburbs. And IMO, it really doesn't need it and it would be stronger without it. I think that the presence of that prologue is an indication of the inexperience of the writer.
    • _The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe_ came before _The Magician's Nephew_ in the original order of the Narnia books, even though the second one explains the background for the first.
    I'm going to move on to video, simply because the odds of us all having seen the same stuff seem higher:
    • _Juno_ starts with a girl taking a walk and slurping orange juice, not with girl meeting boy. We don't have the faintest idea of the reason for the walk, and that piques our curiosity and makes the beginning of the movie much more interesting than it would have been if it had started with a prologue about the relationship.
    • _Breakfast at Tiffany's_ doesn't start with a prologue about Holly's childhood and her decision to come to the city. It doesn't start with a prologue about the writer's early struggles and his decision to enter a relationship with a wealthy woman. It starts right in the middle.
    • _True Grit_ doesn't have a prologue about the kid and her father, or a prologue about the gunman and his glorious past.
    • _Heroes_, _X Files_, and _Lost_ don't explain their background at the beginning. They do throw in flashbacks--_Lost_, especially--but they feel no need whatsoever to explain things sequentially or to save the audience from moments of puzzlement.
    • Clara was a puzzlement for episode after episode of _Doctor Who_ before we found out what was up with her. The same for Amy and the crack in her bedroom wall. The same for Donna Noble. The same for River Song.
    • We did get a neat tidy background for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but Dawn was a complete puzzlement for many episodes.
    To summarize: Tidy sequential order with cause and effect is just one way to tell a story, and I think that it's very often not the best way. Choosing to tell a story sequentially and with all the major background included is not the only option, it's one option among many; it's a major design decision.

    So you can of course choose to have a prologue or a several-years-ago Chapter One, but I would bet that you absolutely don't have to, and that doing so will have a cost that should be balanced by some sort of benefit. It robs you of mystery and discovery. It forces a protagonist change--a character that shifts from childhood to adulthood is, to a great degree a different character--and thus disconnects the readers from the protagonist that they may have grown attached to.

    It's your design for your book; I just want to emphasize that it is a design decision, and there are probably many other possible ways to go.
     

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