1. southernsontn
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    southernsontn New Member

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    Question about prologues from a novice author.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by southernsontn, Sep 7, 2012.

    As the thread title suggests, I am fairly new to writing. The main project that I am working on is a science fiction novel set in a fairly expansive universe that I have created a piece at a time. While I plan on keeping certain aspects of this universe obscured from the reader, I feel that in order for the reader to fully appreciate the book, that they should have a little bit of the backstory in their mind as they proceed through the book. I have written a prologue from the perspective of the main protagonist to not only introduce the character and fill in a little bit of his history, but to introduce a few aspects of the history of the Universe in general. Nothing really happens in the prologue, it essentially serves as an introduction for the reader to this universe, and as a way to allow the reader to get a basic understanding of the internal struggle that the character will face throughout the book. Would this be a good use of a prologue, or should I try to integrate the prologue into the rest of book?

    Thanks in advance for any help, since I am currently on about my twentieth incarnation of the prologue/first chapter.
     
  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that prologues are almost always a bad idea, backstory is almost always a bad idea, and therefore prologues of backstory... Not a good idea.

    My recommandation? Pretend you already wrote the perfect prologue. Write the rest of the book assuming that that perfect prologue exists. When it's done, I'll bet that you won't really need the prologue, and that the occasional scrap of background that's really needed can be slipped into the book somewhere.
     
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  3. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    As Cog would say - write story, not back story. So the short answer is, yes, incooperate your history into the rest of the novel and scrap your prologue.

    I think if you do as you've planned, you'll lose a lot of readers. Readers don't care about your universe or its fictional history - as much as it pains you because it's your baby, it is not their baby and they just won't care. To write a prologue solely for the purposes of revealing history and back story is like committing writer's suicide, because 80% would probably close the book and stick it back on the shelves.

    Readers care about characters, and only through the characters will they care about your universe, because they care about what happens to your character.

    Now I'm not experienced with prologues, but I read one by Neil Gaiman just a week ago and judging from that single example (so not a wealth of evidence on my part), it seems like Prologues are meant to foreshadow what comes in the story and maybe introduce your MC a little. Gaiman's prologue was short and intriguing and it's focused on his MC Richard feeling sick from too much alcohol and having his fortune told by a strange old woman, who tells him his fate is complicated and involves "doors". It is also filled with humour. It felt like an introduction to the story, establishing the supernatural aspect of the book and the character's beginning, but it's also an anecdote because Chapter 1 starts off quite dark. The prologue set the tone for the rest of his novel.

    But note, NONE of that was back story. In fact, there was not a shred of back story in Gaiman's prologue - only what is happening immediately and what will happen. So from that, I think it's what gives the reader a taste of what is to come - and after all, isn't that what introductions are meant to do?

    And back story and history is not a taste of "what is to come" - it is a taste of "what has been and gone" and no reader cares about that.
     
  4. ...
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    ... Member

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    A prologue is an introduction. If in that introduction you need a little back story then so be it. Write how you want to.

    However, if you find that your prologue is getting a little too detailed then it may be better to attempt to tell the back story within the main story. so my advice is to write the story first and the prologue later.
     
  5. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would hesitate to use a prologue for a character's backstory. Most of the time, the pertinent facts of a character's history can be incorporated into the main story. Prologues should be used to show events that happened long before the main story, to give the reader some insight into the events and characters of the main story, and are oftentimes events that the characters aren't even aware of.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    add me to the naysayers... it's not a good idea...
     
  7. southernsontn
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    southernsontn New Member

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    Thanks for all of the recommendations. I'll put the prologue on the back burner and see how the story turns out without it.
     
  8. Wolfwig
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    Wolfwig Member

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    I believe prologues work fine, as long as they are not required reading for understanding the story. Oftentimes, I'll skip straight to chapter one, if the prologue bores me. However, if I've missed some important detail because I didn't read the prologue, then I think the prologue is really misplaced storytelling.
     
  9. tiffanylyn
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    tiffanylyn Member

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    I had to write a prologue for my book because there was important information I could not get across otherwise. It was not a lot of information, but something quite easy to express. I made it short, extremely gripping, and from another character's point of view. Basically, it was like a nice red bow on a present.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    This is almost always a terrible reason for a prologue. Most of that information is invariably unnecessary, and the small percentage the reader really does need, he or she can discover later, in tiny morsels. It's not a bad thing to leave the reader with a few questions unanswered until later.
     
  11. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    This...

    ...is belied by this...

     
  12. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    I'd try to stay away from them if possible, they're considered a gimmick by agents. Try to get your information squeezed into the book without using the prologue
     
  13. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    Some prologues can be use as hooks and teasers instead of being the introduction of the story. They foreshadow what will happen in the story to make the readers bite their nails off.

    I agree that prologues can ruin the beginning of a story, unless it is very short. Too much back story information will bore the readers out. Just have the characters learn about the information, and your readers will learn it too.
     
  14. FirstTimeNovelist91
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    FirstTimeNovelist91 Senior Member

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    I have a prologue for one of my projects, but it can NOT be skipped, or the rest of the story would be confusing. Should I label it Chapter 1 instead?
     
  15. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    First, yes, label it as Chapter 1. Agents blog's, which I've read, say they consider prologue a Chapter 1 not marked, and wonder where it couldn't have been called that. So, I'd change it to Chapter 1 and go from there.
     
  16. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    If it's actually a prologue, it cannot be called Chapter 1. Why? Because it can't function as the first chapter. Just renaming something doesn't change what it is. A properly done prologue is a prologue and is followed by Chapter 1. If it can function as the first chapter, you didn't have a prologue to begin with. And frankly, I don't think you'll fool anyone by doing that. They'll only think you don't know how to write a good first chapter.
     
  17. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    Would it be possible for the MC to be travelling somewhere with an inexperienced, if not downright ignorant, apprentice/relative/whoever? So that everything has to be explained?

    I'm thinking of Ford Prefect travelling with Arthur Dent, and having to explain everything to him.
     
  18. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You have just given the primary rationale for a sidekick, as a foil for exposition. The Doctor needs companions largely for that reason, although the writers have done a good job of giving those companions enough depth that sometimes they are the more important to the story arc than the Doctor himself.
     
  19. J. Blake
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    When you're sitting on a plane, you don't care about watching the gas being filled or the tires being checked by the maintainence crew. All you care about is getting up in the air and flying to where you want to go.

    The same is true for the reader. He/she wants a story, after all. Any details you feel the reader needs to know can more than likely be sprinkled into your first chapter of actual story.

    Start the story when the plane's taken off, not when it's still sitting on the runway.
     
  20. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Unless, of course, you see that one person on the tarmac who stands out; you're not sure why, but he catches your attention. And later, during the flight, you find out exactly why...
     
  21. marktx
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    marktx Contributing Member

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    I like a prologue if it accomplishes the following:

    1. Provides me with a quick, sharply written scene that foreshadows the mood and theme of the main story.
    2. Acts as an appetizer, whetting my appetite and raising questions.
    3. Gives me a little mini-story that packs a punch and is entertaining in its own right.
    I do not like a prologue that gives me the history of the universe or serves as an explanatory guide to the story I am about to read.
     
  22. tiffanylyn
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    tiffanylyn Member

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    Here's the final deal on prologues: As new writers we (maybe I'm just talking to myself here as an unpublished writer) should avoid them. True. Agents don't like them. However, after being published and getting a fan base, prologues are more than welcome. Readers are less likely to skip over a trusted author's words. There are a ton of great writers that use prologues (even used them when they were newbies). The prologue I wrote is for my third book. I'm hoping by then it will be accepted from me. Otherwise, I'm not so attached I can't happily find myself trashing it. I love the delete button. I just feel the story is incomplete without this information. Maybe my prologue could be the last chapter. Then it will be read and not ridiculed and judged for being a gimmicky prologue.
    Are prologues gimmicks? Most are. I love gimmicks when they work, though. Just because it comes from a trashy and unforgivable beginning doesn't mean it can't be creative genius.
    And thank goodness Star Wars started with the film version of a prologue about a galaxy far, far away. I loved the thrill that ignited in my chest when I first read it long, long ago. The music helped.
     
  23. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wish people would quit saying agents don't like them. Some agents say they don't. Others say they don't mind them. Others say nothing at all. New writers shouldn't avoid them just because they're new writers. They shouldn't avoid them just because some readers will skip them. They shouldn't avoid them just because some agents don't like them. They should avoid them if they're unnecessary or badly written or infodumps - just like they should avoid anything in their stories that is unnecessary, badly written, or an infodump.
     
  24. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Agreed. Prologues aren't intrinsically bad. But a prologue has to be damned good to be worth delaying entry into the story, and I don't often see a prologue that lives up to that requirement.

    One of the two novels I'm working on originally began with a prologue. It foreshadowed that my immortal character could, and would, actually die, and also established that there was a nearly-immortal character. It also was the container for a particularly purple reflection about the time scale of the universe.

    Getting rid of the purple prose was easy, once I matured enough to see how bad it was. But then I realized the foreshadowing was not only unnecessary, it stole the punch from his actual death scene.

    So the prologue, which seemed like the exception at the time, is history. As usual, it was better to dive into the story. His immortality would be established in the first chapter anyway (not to mention whatever ends up on the back of the dust jacket).
     
  25. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah. I've used them in some writing, and other stories it didn't even occur to me to. Yet others started out with one and then I decided it wasn't needed. It all depends on what serves the story best. Blanket statements about using them do not serve the writer, any more than blanket statements about any part of writing do.
     

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