1. VioletScented
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    VioletScented Member

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    To prologue or not to prologue?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by VioletScented, Nov 29, 2014.

    I'm editing my book and it has a prologue. This is not told from the perspective of one of the MCs but a minor character and it gives flavor, a tiny bit of background and whets the readers appetite (hopefully) with some action before the book begins. The book then begins with introducing the main characters and the start of the issues they will face (not all of them but at least a taste.)

    My problem now is that I can't decide whether or not to change the prologue into a first chapter by lengthening it or just leave it as it is. I have read several writing guides that advice extreme caution if you decide to have a prologue and now I'm just not sure. What are your thoughts?
     
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  2. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    If there's a way to get rid of the prologue, and if your goal is traditional publication, I'd get rid of the prologue. It's not so much that there's anything wrong with prologues, but there ARE some people in the industry who are quite against them, and why discourage these people's interest if you don't have to?

    That said, I'm not sure the best way to get rid of the prologue is to turn it into a first chapter. Would it be possible to weave the background and flavour into the rest of the story, as you go and as it's needed?
     
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  3. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hmm. If it's labelled as a first chapter, then the reader might get cozy with the minor character, and be disappointed when it turns out she isn't a heroine.

    Prologues are often condemned because they can be a trudge through dense exposition, but that's just banning apples because some are bad.

    I suggest you call it what it is, make it as interesting as possible, and get LOTS of feedback on it until it's perefect (the same with any first chapter too, I suppose). George Martin's prologue to the initial GOT book worked very well because we saw conflict and dread from the get go. It can be done.
     
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  4. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Agree with Okon. Don't change anything in a story simply because you're afraid "some" agents won't like it or "some" readers won't read it. You aren't going to please everyone. If you've written a true prologue, lengthening won't make it the first chapter - it will just make it a longer prologue.

    I found this article which, IMHO, gives a pretty good look at writing *good* prologues.
    http://www.writing-world.com/fiction/prologue.shtml
     
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  5. GingerCoffee
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    Keep in mind the prologue/first chapter is the first thing the reader reads. And for some readers, it's all they are going to read if they don't want to turn the page.

    What matters is not what you call it (it's safer to call it chapter one but in some cases a prologue is best called a prologue), but rather, is it going to be interesting to the reader?

    You say, "it gives flavor, a tiny bit of background and whets the readers appetite (hopefully) with some action before the book begins." If that is the case, leave it. There is no set rule chapters have to be a certain length so don't worry about that, worry that it is complete.

    Also, I don't believe readers think the first character they meet must be the protagonist. So that's not really an issue in my opinion either.
     
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  6. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Random thoughts:

    - What would happen if you didn't have the prologue? Would you start with a rather plodding, dry, introductory first chapter that waits too long for something to happen? If so, then the solution is not to add a prologue, but to fix the chapter. The first chapter can't afford to be dull, whether you have a prologue-with-action or not.

    - It sounds like the prologue introduces the reader to a character, gets them interested in and invested in him/her, and then tears that character away and orders the reader to go do all that work with a main character. It's hard enough to get the reader excited and absorbed and bonded to a character once; why would you take the risk of requiring yourself to do it twice?
     
  7. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    While I see nothing wrong with a prologue, shouldn't the first chapter be giving flavor anyway?
     
  8. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've used prologues if I need/want something to happen before the main events. Instead of starting the chapter with "SEVEN YEARS LATER" or something.

    At one point I had a prologue where the main character was in a plane crash. That was the start. The first chapter was a while later when he woke up from his coma. I've since removed the prologue as it's not needed.

    But I see no point in using prologues as info dumps. That's the wrong way to use it.
     
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  9. Mike Kobernus
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    Mike Kobernus Contributing Member

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    I have used a prologue in my novel. It is actually one of the final scenes, where the main protagonist squares off against his nemesis. It is a slightly gory scene, and sets the tone for the novel to come.

    The rest is told as a flashback...
     
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  10. VioletScented
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    Thank you so much for all your thoughts and comments! That was so very helpful. I think I will keep the prologue as it is. I don't think my first chapter (with my MC) is dull or lacking in flavour, it's just that it starts off with a love story and the prologue gives me a chance to promise the reader non-love-related plot developments later in the story. I'm just trying to keep it a little more balanced as the love story was dominating the first part of the book (and there isn't a smooth way to change that because of the timeline.)
     
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  11. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I have a bias against prologues, so take that into consideration. Not that there aren't good ones, but in my view the majority aren't very good. I think there are a couple of potential problems with this one:

    1. The reader likes the minor character in the prologue, and is disappointed to jump to someone else in chapter 1.
    2. The reader likes the action in the prologue, and is disappointed to find the romance starting in chapter 1.
    3. The reader wanted the romance that starts in chapter 1 and is disappointed in the action that starts the prologue.

    In all three cases, it boils down to an initial representation as one thing (character, type of story, style, or whatever), and then reverses course with chapter 1.

    Many readers apparently skip prologues (I've done it on occasion, though often I simply don't buy books with prologues and thereby avoid the issue, unless the prologue is very good). For readers skipping the prologue, the issues above may be largely attenuated, but you do run into another problem that is common across prologues: given that readers often skip prologues, if you have anything in the prologue that is crucial to the story it should be repeated elsewhere so that the story isn't harmed for those who didn't read the prologue.
     
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2014
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  12. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would say repeat it if it makes sense to do so in the story, but not merely to deal with people who choose to skip prologues. Maybe they'll learn to read the book the author actually wrote.
     
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  13. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    That's an immature attitude that can only harm the author when those readers post bad reviews or say negative things to other potential readers, things that could have been avoided by simply dealing with the reality that readers sometimes skip prologues.
     
  14. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Readers will post bad reviews or say negative things regardless. That's part of being a writer. As many discussions as there are about "artistic integrity" on this board, it seems close to pandering to tell an author they "should" add something just because one group of readers are too stubborn to read the whole book. "I refuse to read this part so authors should put the information in somewhere else just for me" is the immature attitude.
     
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  15. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Of course they will. And if you know of something that might cause such a review ahead of time and can easily remedy it, it makes sense to do so. You're letting your apparent emotional reaction to the idea that someone might not read a prologue cloud whatever sense you have.
     
  16. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    And you're using your aversion to prologues to tell someone to 'rig' their story. I suppose if some readers would give bad reviews of stories with puppies you'd tell the author to use a kitten instead.

    Writers should not pander for possible good reviews from a segment of readers. They should write their story in their way and if some don't like it, well, that's life. Nobody will ever write a story in a way that everyone loves.
     
  17. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    It's hardly rigging. If you can't work crucial information into the action of the story itself, you need to take more time to develop your craft. I'm sorry you're so offended by what is a very simple concept of good storytelling. You can take consolation in the fact that everyone is free to write as badly as they want, and no one is going to kick down your door and revise your manuscript.
     
  18. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm sorry that being disagreed with causes you to resort to phrases such as "immature attitude". I take consolation in the fact that no one will kick down my door and revise my ms in the manner you would "advise", which would, IMO, be writing badly. Obviously I'm not looking in your direction for my audience, as I prefer those who read the whole book.

    Now, if you wish to continue the personal aspect of this "discussion", I suggest PMs, rather than taking up space here arguing what "good writing" supposedly is.
     
  19. jannert
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    Hi - Just reading over this thread and saw quite a few good contributions. Including this one. Although I don't agree with your point of view, I think you've stated it very well.

    What I'm sensing here is the notion that a reader comes into a story with certain expectations. Some readers expect to be entertained, or enthralled or challenged or whatever. All these expectations are valid. However, sometimes these expectations become focused on certain aspects of the storytelling itself.

    I hate sex scenes and won't read any book containing them. I think romance is silly and the first whiff of it sends me off to read something else. I don't like vernacular dialogue, so I'll scarper at the first sign of it. Any time I read a recipe in a novel I get sick to my stomach. I hate chapter headings, so as soon as I see one I stop reading. I detest violence, so the minute a character does something violent, I'm outta here. I hate italics, so as soon as the writer employs them, I lose respect and stop reading. I don't like characters who are freckled and fat, so as soon as one turns up, I'm outta here. I don't like prologues, so I will never read a story that starts with one.

    A good writer shouldn't need to resort to sex, romance, vernacular dialogue, chapter headings, food, violence, italics, freckled and fat characters or prologues to tell their story. They should learn to become better writers.

    Catch my drift? If you start to put these kinds of must/must-not requirements into all your reading, you risk missing the story the author is actually telling. That is your prerogative, of course—but it's also your loss. Authors are NOT compelled to write specifially to please you, or walk on eggshells hoping that none of the storytelling methods they choose will annoy you personally. They write their own story to please whomever it pleases.

    If you don't like prologues, that's fine. Lots of readers (including me) do. I don't like badly-written prologues, but I would never reject a book simply because it contains a prologue. Nor would I EVER assume that an author is a bad writer because he or she chooses to start a story with one. I settle in and let an author take me on a journey. I may get off at an early stop if I'm not enjoying myself, but that's my own choice. I don't expect everybody else to get off the train when I do. After the journey is over I decide whether or not taking the journey was worth it, and whether or not I might take another journey with the same author. We all like different journeys, don't we?
     
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  20. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'm not having a go at you, Chicken Freak, because you presented this as 'random thoughts.' Any random thoughts are valid, as far as I'm concerned. But here is a quote which I've recently incorporated into my signature that explains what a prologue is for. Of course there are other ways to incorporate these things into a story, but avoiding writing a prologue simply because some people are prejudiced against them is just plain silly. Prejudices are prejudices. No point in pandering to them.
    "A prologue is an episode the pertains to the story but does not include the hero (or includes the hero at a time well before the story proper begins, when he's a child.) A prologue can establish why things are as they are in the world of your story, and why a character is the way he his when the main action begins. And a prologue can even hint at or reveal the danger that will soon sweep over the hero's life." - Jeff Gerke, author of Write Your Novel In A Month
     
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  21. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Thanks for that link. It's a good one.
     
  22. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I merely made a post highlighting potential issues with prologues. There was no snarkiness in it, however you chose to reply in a snarky manner. I'll concede it might not be immaturity. It may be insecurity or having been raised with a deficit of wit, or any number of other possibilities I do not have the credentials to speculate upon.

    I perceive that you like to get the last word in, so in the spirit of the approaching holidays I will not reply to any response you might have to offer in this thread. Our town had its annual Christmas parade last night, and although I am not religious I feel the spirit of magnanimity has settled firmly onto my shoulders. You can take as long as you like to construct a wry response, or to agitate the gray matter domiciled in your skull for a riposte that will go unchallenged.*

    Cheers.

    *If you feel unequal to the task, I can send you something via PM and you can pass it off as your own work in this thread. In the further spirit of the holidays, I'm offering a discounted rate of $65 per hour. I accept Paypal.
     
  23. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I never suggested otherwise. Did my post give you that impression, or are you just making an independent observation?

    My firm belief is that authors should write the story they want to write, irrespective of advice to the contrary from me, you, Stephen King, or any other individual. I don't think there is anything wrong, however, with offering perspectives to the question addressed. I don't like prologues in general, because many of them are poorly done. The observation that some readers skip prologues came from an article I read by traditional publishing editor (and if she can be believed, more people than I thought skip them). I think the advice not to put anything crucial only in the prologue is worth considering. I don't think a good writer would have much difficultly slipping the information into the story proper so that if a reader hasn't read the prologue they still have the information. The ultimate decision belongs to the writer, of course.
     
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  24. jannert
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    I was just responding to what looked like prejudice against prologues to me.

    If I'm wrong, and you are not prejudiced against prologues, and will always give them a fair go as a part of the storytelling method the writer has chosen to use, I apologise.

    You did say this, however:
    For me, that implies you think a prologue indicates an inferior writer, one who 'can't' work crucial information into the main body of the story, and who consequently needs to develop their craft. There are many MANY good/great published authors out there who have written prologues, and have chosen to give crucial information they feel the reader needs to know AT THE START in the form of a prologue. Drip-feeding crucial information isn't always the best way to tell a story. And a good prologue is never an info-dump.

    You may not like prologues or choose to use them yourself for whatever reason, but a prologue certainly does not indicate a writer's lack of craft. This is just one aspect of craft that a good writer will learn to use properly, and will employ when the situation calls for it. The trick is to learn to do it well. It's like using commas. Just because some writers misuse commas doesn't mean we shouldn't use them at all, does it? I think it means we need to learn to use them properly.

    Anyway, I wasn't attempting to offend you in any way. But I do intend to oppose you on this issue.
     
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  25. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I am biased against them. All other things being equal, if I'm looking at two books, one which has a prologue and one that does not, I'm more likely to buy the latter. That's simply because I've seen enough bad prologues. I've also seen good ones, and I won't rule a book out because it has one.

    It does seem to me that with a prologue, even the author is acknowledging that the story starts elsewhere (Chapter 1), but has decided to put in some other stuff before getting to the story. It's most pronounced when the prologue is just a bunch of backstory or world-building, which I've seen a lot in indie or self-published works in particular. I think you end up with a stronger work if you get that information across in the body of the story in a more organic manner than simply dumping it all into a prologue.
     

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