1. Ice Queen
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    Ice Queen Senior Member

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    How long must a Prologue be?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Ice Queen, Apr 23, 2011.

    I usually find that if I like the prologue of a story, I'll want to read it- that's why I'm working on an interesting prologue for mine. Only thing is, I've written it and it's only about 210 words. I have seen a few one page prologues before, and in a way it might make the reader more interested to read the story because little is given away and the author dangles some interesting bait in front of the reader.

    What I want to know is, is 210 words really enough to grab you? I suppose in a bookshop it would look less intimidating if you only need to read a little to get a flavour for the book... but what think you?

    Mine starts out centred around the MC, you don't know her name or what she looks like, it's a weird sort of static bubble where she's holding a dead body and there's no indication of whose it is- a battle continues around her but there's little indication who's fighting who. One important thing we learn about is that the person who died meant something to her, and that she is supposed to be a warrior, although she feels that she can't cope with it.

    (It's actually a scene that will be returned to much later in the story)

    =(^__^)=; How long do you usually make your prologue, if indeed you decide to include one at all?
     
  2. Pea
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    Pea super pea!

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    I usually go for a scene that happens near the middle of the story where things are actually interesting. The interesting scene grabs the reader then goes "3 months earlier..." or whatever. It may be a cheap technique but it's a lot more interesting than starting from a mundane beginning that makes your reader fall asleep. Just my opinion.
     
  3. Ice Queen
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    Ice Queen Senior Member

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    Yes, I thought about that too- If I started off with just Chapter One, which is the sequential beginning, it would seem deceptively calm compared to the overall tone of the story :/ It might give people the wrong idea about how it is. I thought that to have such a jarring prologue would leave the reader guessing the whole way through up until I reach that point in the narrative.
     
  4. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Prologues are like chapters - as long as they need to be - I have seen them as short as 210 words or a couple of paragraphs admittedly usually in historical or romance works rather than fantasy.
     
  5. Jayyy1014
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    Jayyy1014 Jerrica Contributor

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    Prologues Are Long enough to get your point across such as some background info the reader needs to know about the story, but they shouldn't be longer than that. I only use Prologues if they're needed.. Which is seldom. Most of the authors today overuse Prologues when they really aren't needed... Only use them if they are essential though.. That's my opinion though.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The ideal length for a prologue is 0. :)

    Most of the time, a prologue is better left off and its relevant components infused into the story.

    By definition, a prologue is outside of the main story, so it representa a lack of focus. That's rarely a wise way to begin a story.
     
  7. Youniquee
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    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

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    I agree with Cogito...I don't think prologues are needed. Most of the time, the reader will either skip it or read it quickly, missing out the real meaning of the prologue.
     
  8. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is similar to why I have included a prologue with my third book - I had a comedic beginning and an incredibly tragic ending. I now have a prologue and epilogue one to tone down the beginning and the other to offer a little hope at the end, they form almost a short story split in two that frame the book. The book can stand without them but someone reading the main story skipping the prologue and epilogue is cheating themselves of part of the story.

    I don't envisage ever writing another one but it works with this one. Like with chapters do what works for the situation. Mine is over a 1000 words and is a fatal birdfight.
     
  9. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've come across similar in books, and I don't think it's good technique.

    So there's the writer, enticing us with a some 'juicy' prologue, but then it gets 'boring' for quite a while before picking up again? Many a reader would likely put the book down in the meantime... I know I've done it.

    It's not a case of either prologue or mundane beginning.

    I would say start off with an interesting 'chapter 1' instead.
     
  10. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    I know there are several people here who believe that prologues are a waste of time and that they (if I understand their views correctly) ruin a book. I disagree. I have never read a prologue and thought Forget it! It's pointless now, this author is obviously an idiot! Are there better ways that they could have gotten the info in? Could they have done flashbacks, started earlier, just made it the first chapter and started chapter 2 with "Three months later"? Sure they could, and authors do it all the time, but it's not much different. The word Prologue is not comprised of four letters, though many people seem to think it is.

    Make it as long as you want it to be, same as a chapter, because that's essentially what it is.
     
  11. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Agree entirely but then my introduction to prologues was in historical fiction, or contempoary work. They set a scene much the same way a character list, scene list or even contents can. They have more in common with an opening act of a play than a first chapter.

    Some fantasy prologues are there for information they don't need to include. Historical prologues tend to be there for essential information/enrich the scene/explain a bit of why the character ticks that way.

    Having said that sometimes I quite like that unnecessary information - the history geek in me likes it. For most geekery I have things ready for a website.

    My story like the OP seems to be talking about - needed a prologue to 'set the scene' it is a reminder that the story that ended with a terrible tragedy was sparked by a personal tragedy for my MC that had universal ramifications also removes the slight deus/diablos ex machina from the end when the reader can see the event that started it- hmm thanks for your thread IceQueen its been useful brainstorming for me lol
     
  12. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    I just think people should do what works for them. I don't have any prologues, but if someday I truly feel I need one, I'm not going to avoid it just because *gasp* everyone will hate me! (pretty sure three quarters of the population -I'm being incredibly kind to myself- already does, so why the hell should that stop me?)

    Just write what makes you happy, what makes you feel good, depressed, like you're drowning in dirt. Just write it. You'll never make everyone happy so aim to please yourself and be open to suggestions along the way.
     
  13. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree - I hesitated about the prologue but it is perfect and pulls the book to a different level. This book is my special project it has to be perfect and the very best I can write - i am not going to take the prologue out because of any great rule if it works. IceQueen do the best thing for your story and do it the way you feel it works best.
     
  14. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    I typically get really bored with prologues; I'll start out reading it but once I loose interest I skip to the "good stuff" (chapter 1). I've heard of some people say that if they see a prologue, they'll put the book down automatically, but it's not a red flag that the author is bad, so I don't mind it.

    A professor I had in college went on and on about how important prologues are, and how we should always read them to understand the book. And, to his credit, he was right on one account. We were reading A Selfish Gene by Dawkins. I finished the book without reading the prologue and thought he was an arrogant prick (though I still liked his book). My professor made me read the prologue, and my opinion of Dawkins changed drastically. He prefaced the whole book with a very humbling statement, basically saying, "This is what I believe, and I believe very strongly, but if you don't agree I hope you at least find it entertaining."

    Some books need prologues just to give a backstory as to why the book was written in the first place. The perfect example is Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer. He punched out words from every page of The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz and made a new story, with words that overlap from 50 pages back and forth. If I picked that book up without a prologue to explain what was going on, I would have no idea.

    As far as fiction goes, I think prologues are only useful in series where a lot happened and the reader needs to be caught up. It's far better than when the author reminds us all what happened in the book during the first few paragraphs. It's like "UGH I remember, get on with it." So, I'd like a prologue to explain what happened, so I can skip it. But I do think that prologues in these cases are still necessary; Harry Potter is an amazing series, but you haven't read the series in years, you can't just pick up book 6 or whatever and expect to remember everything. Not that that's a bad thing, it just means the books don't stand alone well and you really need to read the series beginning to end.
     
  15. dnsralg
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    dnsralg Senior Member

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    I have little more than 100 words in my "prologue." It's really up to you - however long you deem necessary. When you have your betas look it through, ask them what they thought after they read it.
     
  16. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with Cogito and others.

    You should avoid having a prologue in the first place. If you insist on including one, it should be as short as possible.

    A prologue basically tells the reader that you know damn well the story starts in one place (Chapter 1), but you're insisting on boring him to death with something before the start of the story.

    Generally speaking, at any rate. There are exceptions.
     
  17. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    A prologue is essentially Chapter 1 with a different name. Make it as long as it needs to be. I don't get into this big anti-prologue hate. Are there better ways? Maybe. Maybe not. Just write what the story asks for.
     
  18. Jonp
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    Jonp Senior Member

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    I'm not a fan of the "in medias res" type prologues. They're used a LOT on TV these days, and I find that some of the impact of the story is lost when you know the middle/ending. It feels to me like sacrificing some of the build up for the sake of an initial surprise. For me, if something cool happens and then flashes back to "X hours/days later then I lose interest in the build up and just want to know what happens next.

    My prologue is 428 words and is set a significant amount of time before the events of the book. I'm still unsure if I will keep it, but without it the title of the book (which I'm also still unsure about) is not really relevant for quite a long time.
     
  19. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    As far as I know, there are no hard set 'rules' for prologues. Some readers enjoy them, others despise them, others are neutral on the topic. So inclusion, length, and everything else depends on the story the author is trying to tell the reader. But a poorly written prologue, or one that turns off an agent/editor, will doom a story from being represented/accepted. In many cases (unless you're self-publishing) agents and editors are your first audience. If they don't care for prologues, you're already starting off on the wrong note.

    The best thing to do is to go to the library or the bookstore, look on the shelf, and see what's out there. Look in the genre of the work for which a prologue is being considered. Even consider the specific publishers you'd hope to see your work published with. That should give you an idea with respect to how common a prologue is, how long they typically are and how they are utilized/structured.

    Like most other things in a novel, if it isn't necessary or what the prologue contains can be implemented more effectively in another manner (such as within the context of the story), then don't have it. If it is the best tool for telling the story, then include it.

    Don't fret over whether one should be included or not as you write the manuscript. Include it/write it, and then, with an eye toward incorporating what it conveys while writing the story, see what's left (necessary and yet unsaid) of the prologue at the end of the novel's first draft.

    That's my two cents, for what it's worth.
     
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  20. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    If it is effectively Chapter 1, then there's no reason not to just call it that.
     
  21. Annûniel
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    Annûniel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Because it's not. It's the Prologue.
     
  22. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    If you look at my post you'll see I was responding to someone who said that a prologue was simply Chapter 1 with a different name...
     
  23. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm sure some could think of a reason that works for their story. I don't make too much fuss over labels. IMO, we spend too much time fretting about and criticizing labels.
     
  24. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    dont worry about how long it should be, make sure it contains the essential and let it be 210 words if that is all that it takes. Better concise than too many pages, which risks boring the reader before the story actually starts. I don't think there are any "musts" and "donts" about this, and like you I really like prologues too, if you feel it is needed don't let anyone telling you you should skip it. You're the boss when it comes to your story. ;)
     
  25. KillianRussell
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    KillianRussell Contributing Member

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    If you are writing a p-log just cause the dead-man lit you read in 11th grade had prolouges good luck!

    Out of the last ten books I read (all published post 9/11) nine are without prologues. That seems to be the trend in modern fiction. However I am sure in a sweeping epic covering generations and/or great periods of time there maybe the need for one. To outline a century of backstory quickly and economically, saving the author from having to resort to flashbacks or other pace killing ruses.

    For instance a novel about the Kennedy family may include a journey across the atlantic prolouge by ancestors long gone by the time the short starts in earnest.

    Although the market trend bears witness to the concept the prologue is dead,
    to claim a story never needs a prologue is a short sighted. Never is a very big word.
     

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