1. Diablo101
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    Diablo101 Member

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    Prologues

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Diablo101, Sep 1, 2015.

    Ive heard of the problem that prologues are bad, not necessary, and have been told new writers should avoid them at all costs if it doesn't advance the story etc.

    I have been given advice (Just from a reader) to introduce a prologue to tell the setting etc, but then I wondered how I would implement it without crossing the lines of the so called 'rules.' Ive been unsure how I could do a well written prologue if I decided I needed one, and also If I decided I didnt need one, how would I introduce the elements in the middle of the story...

    My Main character in the story is Damon, but the prologue is written as a 'diary of sorts' from another main character (Katelyn) who survives the war. She tells the story of 'how the war began' kind of. So the prologue starts as she is writing in her holding Cell (Present/at the end of the 1st novel) and then it takes a trip into the past to explain certain settings and how it began briefly. (The setting is earth-like but the war and countries are entirely fictional) My questions are...

    Is this a good basis for a prologue?
    Would it be better if i just introduced the essential elements in the middle of the book instead?
    Do I need the prologue to explain something im going to be writing in book 2 even if it is just briefly?

    Thanks in Advance!
     
  2. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think what you have there is a typically bad prologue. Whether it's prologue or chapter one, you should usually avoid starting with backstory - in your case, that would be the war and the explanation of how it all started. You need to make your readers care first, interest them in the world and the why's and everything, and then drop in anything that's relevant to your characters and their story. You don't start with the explanation because at the beginning, nobody honestly cares.

    Think of it as like the punchline in a joke. Do you deliver the punchline first? Well, if you did, the joke wouldn't be very funny.

    That's not to say you can never open with backstory - but backstory requires a lot of "telling", typically, and telling is a powerful tool but one that's hard to do well and make interesting, especially when the reader hasn't invested in it yet.

    If you go for a more direct approach that shows your backstory events as opposed to tell it like a diary, then when you skip over to Chapter One, you run the risk of losing your readers anyway due to the sudden change in setting, time, and most important, change in POV character whom the reader now has to connect with once again. Eg. if the Prologue showed me Adam's history, then Chapter One I'm dumped into Ellen's point of view - I as the reader have just spent the Prologue building a bond with Adam, that I now have to discard, and I have to build a brand new bond with Ellen. It's twice the work for me, and it's an easy moment to lose a reader because you have to make them care, again.

    It's better to introduce essential elements at a time when they're actually essential - relevant to that moment in the story.

    @jannert is a supporter of the well-used prologue, so maybe she might have more to add :) Prologues aren't bad in and of themselves - but you gotta ask yourself if it's really necessary in order for the reader to understand the story. For example, I don't need to know how WWII started to understand why the MC of the book might want to eradicate concentration camps. I only need to know: this is the current situation and this is the goal, and here's why. The why in my WWII example isn't how the war started, however. Haha hope my analogy makes sense.
     
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  3. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Nope. You said it all!
     
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  4. Adhulari
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    Adhulari Member

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    Could you give an example of a "good" prologue? In what cases would it be useful to have one?
     
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  5. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, joking aside, it is something to consider.

    I ended up writing mine last, after I'd finished the whole first draft without it. I had revealed an important scene from my main character's past very late in the story—made it a 'big reveal'—but my first beta readers got impatient, because they couldn't figure out why my main character was behaving so oddly up to that point. I'd set everybody off on the wrong track. Instead of watching how he coped with what had happened to him, I was making my readers guess what had happened to him.

    By writing a Prologue that revealed his past secret at the start of the book, my readers then entered the story knowing stuff that the other characters didn't know. The other characters were still mystified by my main character's behaviour, but now the readers weren't. His odd behaviour made sense when the readers knew what lay behind it.

    I'd say ask yourself this. What does the reader absolutely NEED to know BEFORE they dive into the main story? If it's a war, do the readers need to know all about how it got started, what the battles were like, etc, BEFORE they meet your characters?

    Without actually reading what you've written I can't say for sure, but your readers might have a better time if you just open with your characters and their present dilemma. If you let us see how the war affects them, we'll get the idea, and from there you can build in more information about the war itself. Does she feel passionately about whatever caused the war, or did she just get caught up in it? Who does she support? Who does she want to win? And what does she want to happen now? From that beginning, we'll gradually learn about the war without getting stuck with a history lesson.

    Having said that, a history lesson can be an interesting start, but you MUST come up with a very intriguing angle. Some aspect of the history that people either don't know (if it's real history) or something they don't expect (if it's fictional history.) Always keep your reader in mind. What are they going to WANT to read? Keep it as intriguing as you can.

    As to the Prologue versus Chapter One controversy, there are plenty of other threads on the forum that deal with that one ...in great (sometimes acrimonious) detail! I'd say if your opening scene happens WAY before the rest of the story, or contains characters we're not going to meet again, or shows an important incident that happened to a character while he was still a child, or happened in another location which the main story will not return to—anything that sets the first chapter's time frame, locale or characters apart from the rest of the story—you can probably call it a prologue.

    It's important that chapters flow from one to another with reasonable transitions. If Chapter One contains an incident that takes place 200 years before Chapter Two ...and if Chapters Two to the end take place over a 6-month period? That's a bit daft. I'd call that opening chapter a Prologue instead. It signals to the reader that this chapter will be different from the others, so the transition won't jar them.
     
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2015
  6. Adhulari
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    Adhulari Member

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    Thanks a lot for your time! I'll be keeping this in mind :)
     
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  7. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I know this isn't what you asked but it struck me when reading your post - why would Katelyn sit in her cell and write a diary entry about how the war began? She knows how the war began so whose benefit is it for?
     
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  8. Inks
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    Prologues are not necessary and while it may seem the "cool" thing to do, it is often used as a distraction or information dump that distracts the reader and puts their interest at risk.
     
  9. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    This raises a question that I've mulled over a few times. I read some advice from writers and/or editors that say not to put anything critical (i.e. anything the reader needs to know) only into a prologue, because enough readers skip them that you'll want to provide that info elsewhere. But of course the question then becomes: if there is nothing critical in the prologue, do you need the prologue? You might still want one for stylistic reasons, I suppose. Not everything in a novel has to be critical to the story.
     
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  10. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, one thing that was just mentioned on another thread struck a chord with me, because it's what my own prologue consists of. It's an incident the reader needs to view from the main character's past. The POV characters don't know about this incident, so it can't be dripped in via the usual channels. Knowing about this incident makes the reader view the main character differently from the way he is seen by the other characters, who are in the dark about it for most of the story. I'm not saying there might not be some other way to accomplish this (not sure how) but it is a legitimate use of a prologue.

    However, the other person on the other thread made another point which I think is very valuable. It might be an idea to write the prologue last, rather than first. In other words, write your story and THEN decide if it needs a prologue or not. I think that's a sensible suggestion.
     
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2015
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  11. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yes. I suppose it's a bit of a two-edged sword from the 'skipping prologues' perspective. I've skipped plenty of prologues, though I'll at least give them a shot if I'm going to read the book. On the one hand, if the reader doesn't read the prologue and misinterprets the book or misses some vital information, the author can rightly say its their own part for not reading the whole damn book. On the other hand, that is small consolation if these readers are writing reviews or blogging about the book and they're giving a negative impression of it, even if only due to their own faults.
     
  12. peachalulu
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    To be honest I'm not a fan of prologues. Sometimes they work, a lot of times they're just seem like the author is worried the reader won't get it - and wants the readers to keeping a certain set of information in mind before reading. Stuff that might be more valuable discovered later on.

    I got nailed on another site for revealing the cause of my dystopian world too early. So I'd maybe consider holding off on why the war started - especially if it's interesting. Also by having her in a holding cell - whatever danger you put your mc in during the book you've admitted she survives. Lessening some of the suspense. I'm not saying it's necessarily a bad thing as most people don't honestly believe the mc is going to be killed and you do provoke a question - how did she get locked up? So it could go either way. What are you really trying to generate with the prologue? Interest, information, curiosity?
     
  13. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    It's is a bit confusing what you are actually doing here. Are you introducing backstory or telling us the character is in a cell and going back then to tell us how she got there?

    And what do you mean by, "Present/at the end of the 1st novel"?

    Stories can work when you write the ending drama (character is in a cell), then go back to the place the story starts, bring it back to the climatic drama and finish. I wouldn't call it a prologue and I'd avoid giving much backstory at all.

    But putting backstory in a prologue is a common thing newer writers think they need, but which the majority of the time they don't.

    Write down what you think you need to tell in the prologue.
    These are all things one can easily insert into the story. The reader need not know all of this up front.

    I have a complex backstory in my novel. I decided to let the backstory leak in a little at a time. It's working fine.
     
  14. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    This sums up the entire thread.

    While it is a hard question to just answer right off the bat. There definitely isn't a easy way to answer that. Also everyone else said it really better than me but I have an example I think might "show" why a lot better. A movie. The Green Laturn Movie. See they open with a prologue and it really hurts the movie. I was distracted the entire movie because I felt the opening not only conflicted with the story but that it made it so slow because you don't get into the action until about 20 min later.

    If you haven't seen the movie. I could look up the running time. I would advice you to watch it and skip the prologue and then after the movie is over watch it and ask yourself. "Did I miss anything?" I think the answer would be no. Me and a friend argue about this ironically enough. He argues it is useful. I argue that we as humans are so good at seeing patterns that we often don't need as many pieces as others think. Which turns it back around to the quoted part from Jannert.
     
  15. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    You might try not to write a prologue till you're all done with the rest of your book. Then, if you feel you need it, by all means write it. It can help get your story started off in the right direction, if nothing else. But maybe don't START your writing process with a prologue? I'm not saying this as an absolute, but just as a suggestion. It worked for me, and apparently worked for another person on this forum as well.
     
  16. Diablo101
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    Ive written the chapters so far without the prologue, setting is present as the enemy invades. I open with Damon In chapter one with a nightmare (He has PTSD and relives the trauma every now andagain) But because this is a fictional war, i was told by my reader 'Who are the Criswanians? Why did they attack? Damon himself doesnt know, no one in damons country knows. (The attack which made criswane retaliate came from inside Damons Country by foreigners/spies from ANOTHER country...) But my reader felt lost about the sudden invasion in chapter 1.
    But then again, now that i think about it, because the story goes through different POV's through the leaders of the involved countries, the leader of what i like to call the mastermind country, asks about information on the war under their 'infiltrator' so, another question, because im doing POV's would it be confusing for the reader to piece up the small pieces of information that they need to know through different perspectives?

    As my reader suggested, it would be for the readers, but, because the politics behind the war etc is just a load of information, could i somehow squeeze a good prologue from that instead of info dumping during the main story?

    Also to I cant remember up above... Damon is the main character and POV, but spoiler... He doesnt Survive.. Because of that i felt that katelyn would be the other major character, but she just gets caught up with Damons company throughout the novel until she becomes educated in the art of guerilla warfare. ...
     
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2015
  17. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I'm not saying your reader is wrong (as it's all a matter of opinion) but it seems odd to me to want all of these questions answered in the first chapter. I don't think there's any need for your readers to know who is invading or why, ESPECIALLY if your characters don't even know! Perhaps you could write something like "Perhaps if I'd/he'd known the reasons behind the war, the motives of his attackers, it would have been easier to deal with." - That way, we know that there is a mystery which the character will probably discover over the course of the book.

    It all depends how it's written but no, that shouldn't be an issue. In fact it's a LOT more interesting to uncover a mystery piece by piece, from multiple perspectives, than having an info-dump from one POV. I just think you need to make it clear at the start of each POV whose 'side' of the war the POV character is on, otherwise we may get confused over who's the good guy and who's the bad guy.

    I don't think you need to do either. Go with what you said in the last paragraph and reveal it slowly. If we don't know right away, we will feel some of Damon's bewilderment and anger about this war he's caught up in that he didn't ask for and doesn't understand. That will really help us bond with him.
     
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  18. Diablo101
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    Diablo101 Member

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    Perfect. I think Ill leave the prologue out then. Because after all who doesnt love a mysterious enemy in a book? :p But as someone said, write what you think your readers will like, but i wasnt sure abou them liking a 'before the war began' prologue xD

    Thanks Everyone.
     
  19. MikeyC
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    Some prologues work really well. I would bet my left arm that the twilight books wouldn't have got as much attention from agents/publishers without her prologue.

    She doesn't give anything away, no backstory. Just a glimpse into the book.

    My first book, 'The Eyes of the Devil', i wrote a prologue for. By the time i finished it, i hated my prologue, so I got rid of it. I am now nearing the end of my second book, first draft. And again, I have written a prologue, but this time I believe it is exciting enough, without giving anything away, that it may (large pinch of salt) grab readers attention.

    I think a lot comes down, to type of book, type of reader. And attention it may or might not get from agents/publishers.

    Just my thoughts. I wish you all the best with yours.

    Regards

    Mike
     
  20. Kata_Misashi
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    Kata_Misashi Active Member

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    I agree with Mikey (though now I'm worried about my own story >w>;). A prologue can make or break a story depending on the story. All I can say is roll with it and if it doesn't work, try removing it. This is what critique is for, ya? :3
     
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  21. Australis
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    Australis Active Member

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    Harry Potter. I'm not a fan of hers (I'd even rate Twilight's writing better, and that's not great - ok, so I'm in a minority there), but the prologue met her usual standard.
     
  22. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    You could show how the war started instead of telling it in a prologue.
     
  23. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    There is nothing wrong with using a prologue, even for a beginner. The whole reasoning behind advising beginners to avoid using prologues is because they don't use them properly: they tend to use it as a means to set the scene rather than skilfully weaving it into their story.

    A good method is to just include a prologue then come back to it later and ask yourself, 'do I really need this? Can I include it within the bulk of the text, instead?'
     
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