1. ShalaylaW
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    ShalaylaW Member

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    Poem as a Prologue?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by ShalaylaW, Feb 9, 2016.

    I've never been one for prologues, I was always one to skip ahead and never care about it until I'd finished the book entirely. But I thought it would be an interesting idea to make a prologue a poem. Poems tell stories just as well, but I didn't know if this would be a very popular idea due to the fact that nobody pays attention to poems in books, never mind a poem prologue. I've written it already, it sums up the story, the problem, everything quite nicely. I find it also gives off a very intense vibe, like an old war-time poem. Any feedback on this idea, whether it would be good or if it would flop?
     
  2. ReproveTheCurlew
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    ReproveTheCurlew Member

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    Depends on the poem really. It can work very well, if done well, but it can also make one cringe if done badly. I would avoid a summary, unless you want to put spoilers into your book (although in the olden days one often included an 'argument' which gave a brief summary of the text). Nowadays it's less common of course. Personally I always read every part of a book, including forewords, prologues, poems etc. If you believe it would suit your book well, go ahead - why not? :) A good example of this done well is Cervante's Don Quixote, which has a series of sonnets before the actual story begins - including one allegedly written by Don Quixote's horse. (Needless to say it's supposed to be a joke :D)
     
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  3. ShalaylaW
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    ShalaylaW Member

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    Damn if only my horse could write... XD But thanks, that makes me feel a little bit better about the whole idea :) It doesn't reveal any spoilers, just gives the sense of the story I suppose and what the underlying question is (I would prefer not to post the poem, I don't want any criticism on the words and such. It's already the way I want it, it's just the idea of putting it in there for good) I'll check out your example :)
     
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  4. NigeTheHat
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    NigeTheHat Contributing Member Contributor

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    Don't see anything wrong with the idea. Add it in and see what your beta readers say after the story's done. If they don't like it, take it out. If they do like it, it's all good.
     
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  5. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    If I picked up your book, I wouldn't read it. (Edit to clarify - I meant I wouldn't read the poem, not that I'd dump the whole book!) I have no patience for poetry at any stage in a book (or at all, to be honest) so I always skip them. Like a prologue, I think it shouldn't contain any information that's vital to know for the rest of the book.
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2016
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  6. KevinMcCormack
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    KevinMcCormack Member

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    Might depend a bit on genre and length of the poem.

    If it's small enough to pop into the chapter heading, that might work better for some genres than a full prologue chapter. An example where I've seen small poems in chapter headers would be science fiction. Think Frank Herbert.

    I wrote a story that opened with an existing poem, to set mood for a plague story (Ring Around The Rosie).
     
  7. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    Good guide on a prologue is that it should be short, related to the story but separated from it in time or space.

    Mine begins with a massacre of captive Roman soldiers by Parthians after the battle of Carrhae in Syria. The centurion Marcus Lucius is stoically waiting to order his men to march to their execution, when a Parthian officer, accompanied by a man with strangely slanted eyes, tells him that his men will go as mercenaries in the strange man's service. The next day, they gather their equipment and march out alive and as soldiers once again, and someone picks up their marching song, in Latin and translated. It is short but a typical marching song across the ages; the verses quickly degenerate to the unofficial ones about wine and whores. They are happy to be alive, but going east, to where? to what?

    Significance: some survivors of Carrhae were actually believed to have been taken and ultimately resettled in Liqian in Gansu province in China, and the town celebrates this with a legion march in Lanzhou annually to this day. In my story, they intermarried, became more and more Chinese in appearance, but remained literate and fluent in Latin. When the Chinese mounted the Gan Ying expedition to Rome 150 years later, I have them draw on their descendants as biliterate, bilingual translators, two of whom are Marcus Lucius Quintus and his sister Marcia Lucia (heroine, eventually), descendants of Marcus Lucius.

    Chapter 1 begins with their presentation in Rome before the Senate by the Emperor Trajan. The translators are on the dais with Trajan, but clad in togas, a stola for Marcia. The Chinese mission sits on the floor, cross-legged in Hanaean garb. The translators' citizenship is affirmed as their ancestors were found to be on the ancient legion rolls, the Emperor launches Rome's return mission to China, and the story begins. One of the togate translators is repeating the proceedings in "the strange sing-song language of the Hanaeans" for the mission's benefit.

    So yes, prologues can be read, if they are worth reading, and my 25 beta readers and two editors found the scene catching, even with the five lines of Latin verse and English translation. In fact, a well-published writer who read the 2nd draft of the prologue said "you said they march out singing their road song, so what was it?" so I put it in.
     
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  8. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Funny. I never skip a prologue, but I usually skim through (or don't read) poetry within a story. I'm not a huge fan of poetry at the best of times, and I really got my fill of it in Lord of the Rings. My GOD there was a lot of poetry in there ...mostly grimly horrible. Glimmering, shimmering ...aaargh. I loved the book, read it umpteen times, but skipped most of the poetry.

    I don't mind a short three or four-line poem at the start of a book, or a chapter. In fact, sometimes that can be nice, and give me something to keep in mind as I start reading. But anything much longer than that will struggle to keep my attention.

    It's your story, so do what you want. Somebody will probably not like it, and somebody else will.
     
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  9. DeadMoon
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    DeadMoon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I like prologues and think poem as one sounds like an interesting idea.
     
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  10. SethLoki
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    SethLoki Unemployed Autodidact Contributor

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    I'd 50% read it (the poem that is). The deciding factors would be my intent with the book; a new author to me gets a couple of chapters' chance to get their hook in and earn trust. If I like them I go back and savour what's written to firm up my account of the story so far and to appreciate their effort. It's likely then I'd read the prologue too before motoring on with the book. I think though, I'd be miffed if the prologue, in whatever form it took, contained too much in the way of spoilers.
     
  11. ShalaylaW
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    ShalaylaW Member

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    Well to start, the genre is a thriller/sci-fi/apocalypse.I made the poem into a question, "What good man does not fight his enemy?" and it's only about 3/4 of a page long and it zig-zags down the page. So visually I thought it'd catch the eye a bit at least.
    Everyone has a different take on poetry (I used to dislike it a lot in books), so I understand why it wouldn't appeal to some. But it doesn't reveal anything to spoil the story, it just asks the basic question that the story is based on. :) I definitely want to go with it though, I've gotten some interesting looks when I've asked others, and that's what I want. I want it to be an oddity that makes you go"huh... That's different" and by the end of it you're charging headfirst into the book.
     
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  12. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, by all means give it a try. But then run the result past beta readers after you've finished the story. If the effect of the zig-zaggy poetry does NOT make them charge headfirst into the story, then you'll need to rethink your opening.

    I'm a big believer that you should start a story however you want to, whatever gets YOU going. However, once you've finished writing it, often your original beginning no longer fits, and you may change it a lot. (No point in overpolishing the beginning until the rest is written.) You won't know if a certain kind of opener works, unless you try. So go ahead and try.

    We're just giving general feedback here, on a hypothetical situation. Until your book is written, this is all just a hypothetical idea. Make it into a real book, and THEN ask. That's when it's truly important to pay attention to feedback.
     
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  13. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    As a reader, I would only read the poem if it's on the shorter side. If it's very long, I would most likely skip it and move on to the first chapter.
     
  14. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    Concur with jannert. First draft beginnings are for you the writer, not the reader unless it survives all the revisions. No matter, they get YOU started, and introduce YOU to some of the characters and the settings, and so it is not wasted effort. My first chapter did not survive the first edit, though I reused the sword training bout in a much different context later... so don't throw it away!

    Go for it.
     
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