1. Goldie
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    Goldie Member

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    Prologues: Dos and Don'ts

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Goldie, Dec 6, 2009.

    My newest project is a YA fantasy novel. Thus far, I've started it with a prologue, giving the reader a glimpse far into the story.

    I know that sometimes beginning a novel with a prologue can feel cheap. The prologue, such as it is, is only a paragraph and a line so far. But I feel that I should keep it, even if I need to lengthen it.

    What are some dos and don'ts of prologues? Is there any set length they should be? I checked out some books on my shelf and saw one that was a trade paperback and the prologue was two half-pages (due to the Prologue word being halfway down the first page). I'm not sure how big mine would be in print, but it looks puny.

    Any suggestions?
     
  2. Evil Flamingo
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    Evil Flamingo Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well first off the prologue is well, a prologue to your story and should just be backing after everything in your world is created and your story devised. I really think you shouldn't start with the prologue, but instead use this writing as more of a history for your work. A highly alterable history.
     
  3. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    You'll know whether or not you need a prologue, and what the content should be, if so, when you finish writing the book. Until then, I think you're wasting your time fretting over it.

    Unless the prologue contains one heck of a hook or some essential information that simply can't be imparted through the story, it's probably a bad idea in the first place.

    I'd only write one if I couldn't think of anything else to use my paper shredder for. Fortunately, I always have some bills handy.

    Honestly, the first "don't" of prologues. . .don't write them. The second in order of importance, I think, would be to avoid anything remotely resembling an infodump.
     
  4. Twisted Inversely
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    Twisted Inversely Senior Member

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    Ah the prologue, that most abused of all fantasy tropes.

    My observation is that in 80% of cases a prologue is just chapter 1 given a different name, 15% are totally pointless and add nothing to the plot. The latter are easy to spot as they usually start with sentences like “the wind whistled around the towers of…” and “The man in black stood and surveyed…”
     
  5. InkDream
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    InkDream Senior Member

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    Personally, most prologues tend to lose me. So here's what I can offer you in the way of tips:

    Keep it relatively short
    Make it interesting/important (if something doesn't grab me in the first few paragraphs I don't continue reading unless I'm feeling optimistic)
    Don't add too much background info in the prologue
     
  6. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    Twisted: agree. Every prologue I've enjoyed could have just as easily been called "chapter one." They read no different from the rest of the book. Prologues that stand apart from the immediate story are generally pointless, published or not.

    That said, they can serve a very important purpose. The point is, if you don't yet know exactly what your prologue needs to be, that's an excellent indication you shouldn't be writing one at the moment. And you can only know for certain once you've finished. Too many things are subject to change in a novel.
     
  7. Goldie
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    My prologue is just a paragraph and a sentence of the MC running from a monster in a land covered by a mercurial light. Everything is silver and sinister. Then chapter one starts with her and her sister going out for their birthday (they're twins, based off of the relationship between a set of twins I work with).

    Right now, the prologue will stay in. It might come out later during the editing process, but I don't see any reason to cut it just now. The story isn't done yet, but I wanted to get some insight from others.

    I appreciate everyone's take on this. I'm glad for the advice. =) I know I've run into "Chapter One Prologues" a lot, and prologues that just drone on and on with useless things. Mine is very short and lets the reader in on what's going to happen later, while the rest of the book builds up.

    Another thing is ... in my prologue, I don't want to end the book on the same scene (like I've seen many do when they foreshadow with the prologue) but I'm not sure how to tastefully surpass the prologue without going "And this is where I started, running from this thing in a land that looked like it was cast from silver" or something. I made that up just now, so it's not totally stellar. Forgive me!

    Thank you again for your help. I'm certainly not used to criticism since I don't often get other people to read my stuff other than family (Danger, Will Robinson, danger!). I'd like to learn to take critique in a graceful manner.
     
  8. Evil Flamingo
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    Evil Flamingo Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well that sounds just about perfect to me; concise, interesting, and something to look forward to.
     
  9. Kas
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    Goldie, I've encountered your style of prologue before, and enjoyed some of them. I'm sure there must be a special name for that, but I don't know it. I'm not sure if they are actually prologues. If you're talking about what I'm thinking of, it's a very short excerpt copied and pasted from later on, usually an action scene. That isn't exactly a prologue, to my mind, because it isn't unique. You end up reading the same words later on. Further, I think it's ultimately the publisher's decision as well.

    By the way, it's only in YA that I've seen it done before. So that's good. It suits your market.

    Slightly off topic. . . Writing out short scenes in advance can be very helpful, I find. They are like guide posts in a desert. It's easy to get lost in a novel, but those short, prewritten tidbits can really help to keep you focused. It's what I do instead of outlining. I generally rewrite each passage when I arrive there, though.
     
  10. Goldie
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    Yup, YA more often than not has these glimpses in the prologue-type-thing. And more often than not approaches the scene later in the book by saying, "And here I am, doing this that's in the prologue" or something of that flavor. But I don't want to do that, but I want to keep my little paragraph + 1. Ugh.

    Sometimes I'll write out short scenes when they come to me. My method is making it up as I go, thus I have ... almost no talent in continuity unless I have a notes page or file ready to put them down. From the color of a cat to someone's last name!
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The biggest DON'T of prologues: DON'T write a prologue to "bring the reader up to speed." In other words, don't write one to ease the reader into the background story, or the characters' past, or other such introductory frippery. Always begin with the story you are telling. If your prologue isn't fully integral to the current story, leave it out.

    Even if it is integral, you are usually better off without a prologue. If you can tell the story without starting with the prologue, leave it out, and weave the same material into the story later. Or at the very least, give it serious consideration.
     
  12. The-Joker
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    Goldie.

    Probably the most famous YA author who employs your type of prologue is Stephanie Meyer. But to be honest, and I'm sure I'm in the minority, I've always regarded these sort of beginnings as an easy way out of creating a hook. The author can't make their opening paragraghs captivating enough, so they just find the most exciting scene in the book and tack it on the front. It kind of annoys me. I've always been one for initially gripping the reader in the present, not the past... or future

    That being said, plenty of published authors do this. And the usual rules about prologues don't apply here. I think others have mentioned it. The way forward seems rather simple. You just have to write the book and finish it. If you want to begin the story this way, it would make far better sense choosing your scene from a completed manuscript. I wouldn't bother writing it now because it most likely will change.

    And a paragragh and a sentence sounds like the usual length for these teaser prologues. Can't go wrong with that.
     
  13. deltaquid
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    How about instead of starting off with a large prologue, you start with a tiny 'prologue' at the start of each chapter? For example, in a fantasy setting, you could write a little prologue at the beginning of chapter 1 about the city/village where it starts. Then in chapter 2, the hero visits a castle and you explain a bit about the backstory of this castle.

    I think it would work just as well but be less of a drag for the reader who wants to jump straight into the story, and it can serve as a breather in between major events.
     
  14. Goldie
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    I've always been a fan of books that start of a tad slow. You do get into the meat of the book around 30k words. I'm not sure how that looks in print, and the "book view" of MSOffice doesn't really do it justice since I don't know the default font or anything, let alone the fact they don't have trade paper as a layout. Only the mass market.

    I really appreciate the posts about the pros and the cons of using a prologue, even the tiny kind that I have right now. The opening of the story itself is one of the twins waking up the other and they go shopping. Since it's YA, I'm not sure how gripping that is. It's normalcy, but I want to establish that before going into the paranormal part of the book.

    The book is about twins Anyaleigh and Korinne. Anya discovers she's an Unseelie Changeling; she and Korinne and a weirdo named Marjorie go off to find the real twin; Korinne gets caught when they approach the Unseelie about just letting the real twin go. Then there's the story about the Seelie and the possibility of a war if they help Anya and Marjorie get the twins back. With Anya being Unseelie, the Seelie are reluctant to help in the first place, let alone start a war with their cousins to get her twin back. Seelie aren't selfless, after all.

    I didn't want to jump right into the fact that Anya is an Unseelie Changeling. The first glimpse we get of that is at a high school bonfire party/masquerade and Anya is called into the woods by a Red Cap, saved by a sluagh (a type of faerie that steals souls, etc) and all that stuff.

    So the first part of the story happens in our world. The prologue does look like an easy hook sort of cheater-thing by delving into Anya running away from a mystery beast.

    As of right now, I'll keep it in. But I'm fully prepared to cut it if it doesn't fit later. I just don't have any YA friends to ask them about the prologue v. cutting it out.

    Lots of YA authors do this type of prologue, which is one reason I considered it in the first place. A lot of Chick-Lit authors do the same, if it's along the paranormal/fantasy type. I'm still just so unsure if my beginning is gripping enough without it since not everyone is into shopping. Though I'm fairly sure that quite a few in the YA reading audience would go for it.

    One stop includes a masquerade dress, a faerie statue (o foreshadowing), and a pair of shoes. It's all rather girly with a makeover and that, too. I found it fun to write, and I enjoy it, but I'm just not sure if anyone else would. And asking for critique is a bit daunting since a lot of people have a less-than-stellar view of the YA pocket anyway.
     
  15. Fox Favinger
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    That's exactly how a lot of the Battletech books I'm reading start out, but so much happens before the story that it's important to be brought up to speed to an extent. The universe has a massive time line and it's a bit difficult to get into at first because, while all of the books follow the chronological order and are told accurately, none of them actually start from the beginning of the time line, and I have no idea why (there's actually a demand for it).

    I love the way Stackpole does his prologues. He manages to recap the previous war through well done dialogue and manages to throw in a bit of excitement with a touch of action and foreshadowing. The prologue builds on the universe while chapter one simply starts the story.
     
  16. Speedy
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    Speedy Contributing Member Contributor

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    From a previous thread on prologues, which i always find useful.

     
  17. DragonGrim
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    I would only write a prologue if there is a crucial event that takes place a while before the main plot. Using the prologue to info dump… I’ve never seen it in any of the books I’ve read. It’s still the beginning of the book, and should suck the reader in.
     
  18. Mist Walker
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    The best use I've seen of prologues is to switch point of view or look a fair way back in time. A good example is Priestess of the White by Trudi Canavan where the events leading to the rest of the book are explained. It's written as a first chapter would be but the time difference is pretty much why it's a prologue.
     

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