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  1. Nicolle Evans
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    Nicolle Evans Member

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    To prologue or not to prologue?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Nicolle Evans, Sep 3, 2016.

    Also, if you're on the side of having a prologue, what do you choose:
    A significant event in the past? A significant event for the future?
    Do you have more than one idea for a prologue? Two prologues?!
     
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  2. I.A. By the Barn
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    I.A. By the Barn A very lost time traveller Contributor

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    No prologue for me. It's too difficult for me to work out something that's relevant but not too complex. Or just boring and skipable. If anyone can create a prologue that is interesting but not confusing, too long or irrelevant, go for it. But me, no I'll won't be doing any.
     
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  3. Spencer1990
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    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

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    There is no way to answer any of these questions other than to say: Do whatever you think will fit your narrative. If something significant happened in your MC's past that is far enough removed that it doesn't make sense to include it in the story, then do a prologue set in the past. If there's an event that happens well into the future, then do a prologue set in the future (epilogue?).

    I've seen them done well and I've seen them done poorly. There is no right or wrong answer. It comes down to intuition and style. That said, it can't hurt to write the prologue, write your novel, and critically evaluate whether or not it's working. I'd caution against a prologue to indulge your writerly whim. But, again, that's just my subjective opinion. If you want to write one, I say go for it. Your writing won't suffer from extra practice and it's not hard to take it out if you decide against it.
     
  4. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    For me there are no benefits and significant drawbacks so nope, no prologues for me.
     
  5. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Back when I worked with a screenwriting partner, we found it almost impossible to start a story without a prologue. After we went our separate ways and I studied storytelling on my own, it became easier and eventually I began to think we'd been too wet behind the ears with the whole prologue thing... either because a prologue is best worked in as backstory and we weren't very good at that or because we were simply starting in the wrong place.
     
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  6. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you're on the fence, I'd go with no prologue - there are a lot of people who really don't like them, so if you aren't sure you need one, why include something polarizing?
     
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  7. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    As @BayView already mentioned, prologues can be polarizing. If it's just an idea you're tossing around, I would also go with no. I've never written a story that gave birth to a prologue - it's simply never turned out that way for me - so, many of the reasons people give for needing a prologue are academic arguments from my POV, in that I've simply never personally experienced that particular need. Who knows, maybe some day in the future I will and then I will argue for, but up to now, it's just never come up in my writing, and it's not something I would just tack on ornamentally.
     
  8. big soft moose
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    big soft moose Active Member

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    I've sort of prolouged on my current wip , in the chpt 1 takes place a month before chpt 2 - but i'm in two minds about whether to make it actually a prologue , at this stage i've filed it for future consideration
     
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  9. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    I'd say this is the story start actually. Makes a very convincing and hookey introduction!
     
  10. cydney
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    cydney Banned

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    This is how I feel about prologues. Didn't really want to say it.

    I tend to TRY to read them but don't get anywhere. They are almost always boring for me.
     
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  11. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's no need for a prologue if there's no need for a prologue. Since you don't know what the prologue, then it seems that there's no need.

    Now, I disapprove of prologues in general, but I don't think that even the pro-prologue folks want them inserted when there's no need.
     
  12. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    That's the best way to deal with the situation, in my opinion. I am very pro-prologue and get annoyed at people who won't give them a chance, but like any other part of the story, prologues need to enhance the story structure or they shouldn't be used.

    When you get all finished with your whole story, ask yourself this. Is my 'first chapter' going to result in some disorientation for the reader, when they move to the second? Does the rest of the story take place in a different time, a different place, or with different characters? Or a POV character who doesn't appear again (except maybe in an epilogue?) If the answer to any of these questions is 'yes,' then a prologue is probably a good choice. If, however, the transition between the first chapter and the second is no different from the transition between any other two chapters, then starting with Chapter One is probably a better bet.

    The one thing you should NOT do is write an ornamental prologue containing inessential information. That just feeds the preconception many prologue-haters have about prologues. A prologue is an essential part of the story and should never be skipped. It's a tool to divide story parts into what makes sense for the reader. A prologue merely says 'this chapter is different.'

    Any writer who doesn't want to write a chapter that is 'different' is free to do so. But individual writers choose HOW to tell their stories, and it is nice when readers gives each writer a chance—a chance that's not based entirely on misconceptions, or on how other writers may have told theirs.

    I've read lots of books containing chapters that were total pants. But did I decide I'll never read another book that has chapters in it?

    No, I didn't.
     
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2016
  13. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    Can you say a little more? I'm just wondering what the drawbacks would be. I quite liked the prologue in The Alchemist. I know that book has been out a long time, but I've gone back to it just to read the prologue again a few times. I've never thought to include a prologue in any of my novel attempts, but I don't think I am opposed to the idea. Unless I'm missing something? And it seems like it might be if you and some others are against the prologue. I would honestly like to hear why prologues are a bad thing. Can including a prologue hurt your chances of getting published? Does it make something a harder sell? I wouldn't think so, but I know you've published a few books.
     
  14. tonguetied
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    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

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    Deadrats I think one of the reasons that some consider prologues bad is that a lot of people skip them when reading a book. Generally the pro-prologue people like jannert will say that it is okay as long as it provides relevant information and then the anti-prologue group will say but many people skip them so they will miss a key part of the story. I personally love to read prologues since they give me a reason for the relevance of the story in many cases but I also don't mind reading a story without a prologue and has the background information in the book early enough for me to grasp the story clearly.
     
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  15. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    Thanks for your response. I guess I don't have a strong opinion on prologues. If it's there, I will read it. If it's not there, I don't even think I would notice. Is a prologue something an author usually writes after they have finished their novel? From the prologues I've read, it seems like they were written after the story was complete. But I'm just guessing with that. I've even wondered if including a prologue was something that publishers would suggest. For those of you who have published novels, did your agent or publisher weigh in on whether or not to include a prologue?
     
  16. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    The reason they are often skipped by anti-prologuers (and why stout anti-prologuers will sometimes just give the whole book a skip when a prologue is in evidence) is what you mention above. This has been talked to death here in the forum, and there will be no general consensus in this thread, just as there has never been in any other thread in the history of threads and of prologues, but yes... Those who don't care for prologues feel burned by the sense that too often they are either an afterthought, or some part of the story that should have been worked into the story, but wasn't. Is this always the case? Of course not. But... to answer your question...
     
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  17. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Nicolle Evans, for a good statement on the benefits of prologues, check the first paragraph under @jannert's post.

    My WIP originally had no prologue. Then it became clear that my female protagonist's behavior at a crucial point was inexplicable without a lot of backstory. I tried giving it in one massive flashback, but the retrospective material began to overwhelm the book. So I cut it out, and incorporated most of the material here and there in the first part of the book, weaving it into conversations and brief memories. That left some foundational events from my FMC's childhood that she would not be talking or thinking much about in the book's present time, but were crucial to understanding her character. After a lot of consideration, I worked those into a prologue.

    I've wondered since if I could go the rest of the way and present that material elsewhere, but there's really no place until the second half of the novel, by which time it will be too late.

    And hey, in these days when "Show, don't (just) tell" is king, showing certain events in a prologue is better than having the character tell about them in the body of the work. At least, I think so.
     
  18. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    @jannert's tag definition is very good: "A prologue is an episode that 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 is when the main action begins."

    I used a prologue in mine, for two reasons:
    1) I wanted to introduce some gut wrenching action at the outset: Hundreds of Roman soldiers being beheaded after a disastrous battle, centurion Marcus Lucius stoically awaiting his turn.
    2.) A dramatic shift. Strange looking, strangely dressed people intervened with king to take remaining survivors east as mercenaries.

    Ch 1 is 150 years later, and the soldiers' descendants have returned to Rome as Chinese appearing, but still Latin-speaking, translators for Chinese diplomatic mission, among them Marcus Lucius Quintus and his sister Marcia Lucia, descendants of Marcus Lucius. Marcia Lucia becomes the heroine, and Marcus Lucius Q. a major supporting character. It is an interesting presentation in the Roman Senate but otherwise potentially boring intro to the story. However, following the prologue it clarifies what happened to the soldiers and sparks the readers interest... or at least that is my intent.

    BTW the prologue is historically accurate, except perhaps for the mass execution which is plausible. The survivors of Carrhae, by local legend and some historical sources, did wind up in Liqian in Gansu province @35BC.
     
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  19. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    Drawbacks:

    1. Many agents hate them and will disregard your book if they see one.
    2. Many editors hate them and will disregard your book if they see one.
    3. Many readers hate them and will disregard your book if they see one.
    4. Even if it's good, you get readers invested in something, whether it's a time or place or character, then sweep the carpet out from under them and make them do it all over again in Chapter 1.

    Benefits:

    1. ????

    As a reader? Doesn't bother me, though I agree 90% of prologues are unnecessary and the book would be better without them. But it doesn't make me want to ditch a book. As a writer? Absolute no brainer. No prologues for me.
     
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  20. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I would say a prologue should contain information the writer wants the reader to know before they get into the 'present' story. It can be either a past event or a foreshadowing from the future.

    Think of the TV series Columbo, which ALWAYS began by showing the audience the murder, how it was done and whodunnit. This successful series ran for many years. The fun wasn't in figuring out whodunnit, it was in watching Detective Columbo finally unravel a 'perfect' murder in his own inimitable way. That was a prologue. The series would have been more like an Agatha Christie murder mystery, if we had merely begun with Columbo getting on the case. Obviously if you want the reader to solve a mystery, and that's the purpose of your story, then you won't use a prologue for this kind of thing. But if it's NOT a mystery for the reader to solve, then it's a good idea not to make it one.

    This kind of presentation can mean the reader will know more than the characters do, and usually means watching the characters deal with the unknown (for them.) It can be a crime that needs solving, like Columbo. It can be a historical event that lets the reader in on a secret they need to know—something that maybe the characters know but aren't admitting to. It can be an odd perspective that sheds a particular light on past events and focuses the reader's attention on the right things. Or, as in the case of @Lew's excellent historical novel (which I have read) it can set up a situation that doesn't begin to change until 100 years later.

    It can also be something from the future, that indicates something about where the story is heading. This foreshadows consequences. The interest for the reader will be in discovering how these consequences come to be.

    Of course you don't have to write this way, if it's not what you want to do. But saying it shouldn't be done goes against a long history of it BEING done very successfully, in many kinds of media. Any notion that you won't get published simply because you wrote a prologue is total nonsense, as has been pointed out many times on this forum, with folks listing modern novels in lots of different genres that start with a prologue. Just make sure it's a good one and doesn't contain an infodump. Make it an exciting part of the story. I don't think too many people skipped the opening of every Columbo episode on purpose. And it ran steadily from 1971-1978, and then had several mini series and one-off episodes (keeping the same Howcatchem format) until 2003. It was very popular with a lot of people.
     
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2016
  21. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Oh crap!

    *raises hand (sheepishly) and closes eyes*

    I love prologues.
    I have prologues.
    In my current WIP, I have two prologues!
    And I love epilogues too.

    I am against the rules. All of them.

    This means that I will probably never be traditionally published.

    So what? It's my story and I'm telling it (and publishing it) the way I want it to be told.
     
  22. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    The prologue in my first fiction was set 14 years prior to the start of the story. It features the female MC as a child with two secondary characters (siblings). You don't need to read it to understand the story, but it adds a kind of "a-ha!" moment at some point.

    The second book has two prologues because I wanted one from the MC's point of view, and one from the bad guy's point of view - two very different scenarios that happen at the same time which is the basis for the main event.

    The only problem I have with the prologues in the second book, is that really, you need to read them to understand why the antagonist does what she does.

    I had toyed with calling it something else but doing them as chapters will not work. As part of the heading is "Prologue part one, New York, May, Two years ago" and the other is "Prologue part two, New Jersey, May, Two years ago" I guess I could drop the prologue bit.
     
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  23. tonguetied
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    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think in one of the prologue threads it was mentioned that a prologue should be different from the main story in some significant way. To me that simply meant it has a different look and feel than the rest; usually a major time shift does that but often it is done with different characters and almost a telling version, despite the show don't tell rule. This seems to work for a prologue for me anyway - get me up to speed so I can dive into the rest of the book head first for full immersion. In my case the prologue maybe the key to getting me interested in the book in the first place, it can be a thumbnail of the big picture, often through a special filter.
     
  24. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Since you've got two prologues that happen at the same time in two different places, maybe you could just open with something called a "Book One" or something like that. And title Book One with the year date, or whatever the date that's common between them is. Then you could call one chapter "New York," and the other chapter "New Jersey." Then start off the main part of the book as Book Two, and work along like that.

    Many ways to solve a problem.
     
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  25. HistoricalScience
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    HistoricalScience Active Member

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    I will typically start a prologue but will skip it if it's not doing it for me. My "prologue" if you want to call it that for my book is a quote that lasts a couple of sentences.
     
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