1. Demief
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    Demief Member

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    How long should a prologue be?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Demief, Dec 31, 2008.

    I know prologues are overused but i have one right now which, after reading again, is ridiculously long. Too long. It's currently 3,926 words long. I could turn it into a chapter i suppose, but i am wanting to know how long a prologue should be? Thanks.
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    there is no rule or even a rule of thumb for length of a prologue... i've seen some that are less than a page long and some that should just have been called a chapter...

    the point is to make sure a prologue is actually needed... and most aren't...
     
  3. Daedalus
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    Daedalus Active Member

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    There are no set guidelines, but approximately four-thousand words seems a bit much. That's about fifteen ordinary novel pages, which is a lot. I'd say break it down to about half that. Maybe less. Or, just start it as chapter one. There are no rules that say you can't have chapter one ten years before chapter two.
     
  4. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Quoted for truthiness. :rolleyes:
     
  5. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    ...which brings up another question...when IS a prologue beneficial?

    I have seen a lot of talk in this site about the nasty ole prologue, but I have yet to see any guidelines for when it is appropriate, or even essential, to include a prologue. Your thoughts?
     
  6. Daedalus
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    Daedalus Active Member

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    I've heard all kinds of bad things being said about a prologue, but I don't know why. I've seen them used efficiently before. Clancy, in my opinion, is a master of the prologue. I often wonder about all these "rules" also. People say that prologues are rubbish. They're part of writing. Surely they're not there for nothing?
     
  7. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I guess my issue with the prologue is that it is too often poorly done and misused as a crutch. Too often it is a get-you-up-to-speed tool. Of course, this is not always true, but for the novice author it just seems like a way to explain what was not explained in the actual meat of the story in order to understand the story.

    Edit ~ Here's an example. In the movie The Dark Crystal, there is an opening prologue that explains what has happened in the eons before to the Mystics, to the Skeksis, to the Gelflings, and to the Dark Crystal itself. In a movie this is understandable. You have only so much time to lay the groundwork for the story, but in a written piece of work this would mean that there was all this incredible backstory worthy of its own novel or series of novels that was just smooshed into this prologue.
     
  8. ozymandias
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    ozymandias Member

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    I have the opposite problem-the prologue of the piece I'm currently writing is only 118 words! 3,926 words does seem quite long, but if it does the job and is essential for the story then you should keep it.

    To be honest, I'd rather not have a prologue but I can't work it into the 1st chapter as it's from a different POV to everything else.
     
  9. Scarecrow28
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    Scarecrow28 Contributing Member

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    It really just depends on the story and if the prologue is truly needed. Generally, prologues are fairly short as they are just intended to explain a few vital things to the reader so they know what's going on. It's also important that the prologue be fairly vague, especially if your story is based around some sort of mystery. You should hint towards the story, but don't reveal too much. This way, the reader is interested in the questions offered in the prologue and will read on. If you're trying to maintain this "vagueness" and provide the reader with some questions to answer in the following chapters, than it probably shouldn't be anymore than 5 or ten pages.

    My prologue to my novel is about six or seven pages. Most of the books I've seen have prologues ranging from a page to around eight on average. The longest I've seen was maybe 20 or 30, but that gets pretty uninteresting. So, basically, keep it as short as possible while still providing the necessary information. Hope this helps (and isn't too confusing!)
     
  10. Ice
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    Ice Member

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    When is a prologue useful? Well, I'm outlining a story in a post-apocalyptic secondary world, but for the plot's sake the first scene takes place smack in the middle of the cataclysmic event. I label it "Prologue" because it occurs centuries before the events of the rest of the storyline.

    I don't think prologues need to be a certain length, but I advise against seventy-page ones a la Robert Jordan.
     
  11. TwinPanther13
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    TwinPanther13 Contributing Member

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    Ok I think we have seen this before. To answer the question for it to really be called a prologue make it like some secret agent mission.

    Get in say what you have to say and get out.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Most frequently a prologue is used to establish backstory. When used in that way, you are almost certainly better off chopping off its head, burning the corpse, and scattering the ashes over the countryside.
     
  13. BillyxRansom
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    BillyxRansom Active Member

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    One of few things here that not only didn't make me want to throw my computer out the window, but actually gave me quite a chuckle.

    What are some good examples of stories with prologues that serve a purpose, as opposed to just being "Chapter 1 [with a different name]"?
     
  14. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am an unabashed fan of Andre Norton's science fiction and witch-based fantasy stories. I own every book she ever wrote.

    Andre Norton is one of the most prolific sci-fi and fantasy writers. She was the first woman to win the Gandalf Grand Master Award from the World Science Fiction Society and she won the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award of the SFWA.

    She included a three paragraph prologue in "Key Out of Time" that sets the tone and setting for fast paced action beginning right away in the first chapter. Same thing in her book, Operation Time Search"...also a three paragraph prologue, interestingly comprised entirely of dialog. She uses the three-paragraph prologue in "The Stars are Ours", "Star Man's Son" and a five paragraph prologue in "Star Born". All of her Witch World series and time travel series also include prologues. I do not see her use of prologues as some kind of failure in the writing craft.

    Are they essential? No. Her stories would still be enjoyable without them, but there is NOTHING wrong with the prologues being included. As I said above, the prologues actually help to set the mood and simple foundation for her fast paced action. They also do an excellent job of providing a hint of what can be expected inside the story for anyone who is just browsing in a book store.
     
  15. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    In answer to NaCl's question...When is a prologue necessary (or appropriate)?

    When the information it holds (the context it establishes) is necessary for the reader to understand the action/events at the beginning of the story.

    Most of the time this is not necessary. The information can be worked in throughout the story in a more meaningful/contextual manner that will be relevant to the reader.

    Yes, one will see prologues in books published.

    What is most often seen in writers trying to get their first novel published is an infodump history lesson that the writer thinks is absolutely important--or to be sure that all of the grandeur of their story is told. Really, the reader has no clue as to the whos and whats and wheres mentioned, with nothing to tie them to. They're quickly forgotten.

    What I have found some writers do is to write the prologue, and then incorporate parts into the story as needed, shrinking the size and perceived need for the prologue, to the point where it has no value.


    At least that's how I see it.
     
  16. robertpaine
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    Cut the prologue down, or just make it a chapter.

    Lots of people skip prologues. I don't know if the reason it is so long is because it is vital to the plot, but just be careful.
     
  17. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Kill the prologue!

    stick a stake in it, silver it, whatever...just don't do it!

    if you want to do backstory, you want to sprinkle it amongst the book, not all at once...then it becomes an INFODUMP, which at the onset kills your reader's interest.

    My sequel (not the prequel I've been working on) starts with a chapter that doesn't even involve one Kate Almir at all. Why is that? Because it sets you up for what the Syndicate does and who they are...after that..you're on a tobaggen ride to the finish...

    Just forget the pro&epilogues. You don't need them...
     
  18. Mr Vampyre
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    Mr Vampyre Member

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    Prologues have a place in literature, but I think they're misused as explained by previous posters. To share my own experience I wrote a 3,000 word prologue for my novel based on minor character. After the prologue you'd not hear about him. That's bad! :redface:

    I since scrapped that prologue and replaced it (I'm a prologue fan boy, I'll admit it) with something that's not as bad.

    I hope.
     
  19. JGraham
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    JGraham Senior Member

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    I really like prologues. I enjoy the back story on characters, and i love little tidbits of information that does not necessarily pertain to the beginning but will eventually be brought into the story. I have used prologues before and they have ranged from just a few paragraphs to establish a setting, to an entire scene in which i introduce a character that sets up the story.
     
  20. Demief
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    Demief Member

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    Thank you very much. You made me see it's not neccesary but the story in my prologue is essential. I now think it's too short :rolleyes: so i'm going to weave the entire backstoryy through the novel rather than just have an overlong prologue which isnt as rich in detail as i'd like it to be.
     
  21. tehuti88
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    I think it could actually be rather dangerous for a writer to take this to heart "in general." Prologues are basically a type of chapter. They're not the SAME as a chapter, else they'd be called Chapter 1, but I've never heard of there being rules as to them needing to be shorter or longer than other chapters. I just write the prologue as long as it needs to be.

    Also, if the prologue is used "to explain a few vital things to the reader so they know what's going on," it runs the risk of becoming the introduction or infodump which has led to so many readers, unfortunately, despising prologues and viewing them as unnecessary when in fact they can be useful when used properly. The reader doesn't need an explanation of what's going on. That's what the story is for.

    Treat the prologue like the other chapters. Write the story as it's happening NOW instead of summarizing something or telling the reader what happened long ago like you're delivering a history lesson. (My prologues are "flashback prologues"--they SHOW what happened long ago, rather than TELL what happened.) If you write it properly, readers won't care if it's as long as a regular chapter, because it WILL be a chapter.

    And also, DON'T BE VAGUE. Be mysterious, be intriguing, make the reader wonder, yes--but DON'T BE VAGUE. Vague is just...infuriating. There's a difference between vague and mysterious, and vague just fails.
     
  22. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Quoted for further truthiness. :cool:
     
  23. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    In point of fact, I am not opposed to prologues on general principle. I am opposed to prologues that lay out background information for the story.

    I have two novels in progress, and one of them does have a prologue. It is used to foreshadow, not to reveal background. It takes place thousands of years forward in time from the first chapter, and is intended to raise questions rather than provide any kind of background.
     
  24. Dante Dases
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    Dante Dases Contributing Member Contributor

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    I used to write prologues for most of my works, until I realised that the prerequisites for a good prologue weren't in any of the prologues, and whatever I had written could be used as a first chapter, or should be scrapped completely.

    When I do use a prologue, it tends to foreshadow in some way, whilst also being detached in some way from the main storyline. Infodumping (if that's a word - Firefox doesn't think so) is a weakness too many writers have in a prologue, and it's much better - if also much harder - to lace the background into the story through mentioning it in asides, or in seemingly throwaway remarks characters might make. Prologues are ultimately the easy way out of having to explain a backstory in 90% of cases.
     
  25. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    The prologue in Andre Norton's book "Operation Time Search" is a three paragraph dialog between two main characters. The first person ridicules the fiction of "legends" while the second character makes a compelling argument for the truth that may be at the foundation for the legend. She then ends the dialog by pointing a finger at him (as he is backing away) and "...she hissed, 'Watch-Listen-and Believe!"

    If I picked up this book at Barnes & Noble, I would immediately want to know what the legend was and why she intimidates him. Does it "add" to or set up the story...or does it serve as a really great marketing tool for book store browsers? Perhaps both!
     

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