1. lilmisspants
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    lilmisspants New Member

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    To prologue or not to prologue

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by lilmisspants, Nov 24, 2012.

    Hi all,
    so I have had this story in my head for a long time, and I finally decided to attempt to put it in to words. I will admit I am fairly new to writing, but it's something I have always wanted to do. I really need some advice regarding the Prologue issue. I know a lot of people say they are completely pointless and not to have them, but I'm not really sure if in my situation that is the case.
    The way I have it set up now is that the prologue is the background on a character who dies almost immediately in the beginning of the story. It is written from his point of view, with his thoughts leading up to his death. I have cut down this part of the story to about 2500 words, but cannot cut it down anymore because all of this information is vital to the storyline.
    I thought about just doing this as a first chapter, but I thought it would be confusing to the reader to start out as a character who dies, then change over to the other characters in the second chapter.
    Could anyone please give me their thoughts on this?
    Thanks in advance :)
     
  2. BritInFrance
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    BritInFrance Active Member

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    Prologues can work really well, in this situation, but aren't always necessary. Why don't you write the whole story (finish it!) and then when you come to edit it (or do the second draft, whatever) see what works the best (I find I can spend forever trying to get the beginning of a story right and then never finishing it!).
     
  3. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with the advice to write the story, then decide. I very strongly suspect that with more practice writing, you'll discover that you really don't need the prologue. It's hard to accept that the reader doesn't need everything explained, and it's even harder to become skilled in revealing information gradually and unobtrusively as the story goes on. But I'd bet that you can acquire the skill and work out how to avoid the prologue.
     
  4. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    The idea for your prologue doesn't sound that bad - but it really depends on how long the time period between the character's death and the start of the main story. It should be a significant time span.

    I would keep it for now, as you're still writing the story, but see if this information can fit naturally in the main story. Don't try to force it, but it may be that you find the exact place for it as you writer further.

    I wouldn't treat any prologue as something to be avoided if possible, but rather make sure that it really is a prologue and really does benefit the story.
     
  5. HarryArthurAlston
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    HarryArthurAlston New Member

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    Writing should come naturally if the idea is fresh in your brain: if it feels right to have a prologue, you should put one in. The best judge of your writing is yourself :)
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    avoid labeling any beginning to a book a 'prologue'... there's rarely any good reason for not just calling it the first chapter... and definitely avoid using one as an info dump...
     
  7. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Have to strongly disagree with this. If it's a legitimate prologue, it cannot be called the first chapter. If it can be legitimately called the first chapter, it is not a true prologue. They are not the same thing.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    But if it cannot be legitimately called the first chapter, does it really belong there in the first place? Probably not. That isn't absolute, but my experience is that most stories with prologues would be as good or better without.
     
  9. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Prologues belong at the beginning of the book, before the first chapter - yes. That's what prologues are. As to whether most stories are as good or better without them - my experience has been just the opposite. I think it really depends on one's opinion of prologues in general - if one doesn't like them, they won't be seen as needed. I prefer to read what the author writes without preconceived notions about any of the book's parts.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    My point is that if isn't part of the actual story, it doesn't belong. Prologues are generally made as prologues precisely because they don't fit IN the story.
     
  11. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    No, they provide insight, pertinent (to the reader) history, something the reader should know but the characters in the main story don't, etc etc. To say it doesn't belong is to say that prologues shouldn't exist. Yet they do, and are used effectively. I just don't believe any part of a story should be arbitrarily dismissed simply because one has read a few examples they didn't like. That's equivalent to saying "I've read many fifth chapters that were just horrible, therefore one should avoid writing fifth chapters whenever possible. Just go from Chapter 4 directly to Chapter 6." See how much sense that makes? A prologue is a viable part of a book when it's written well - just like any other part of the book.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    That kind of prologue, the history lesson, is the worst, and most common, type of prologue. Let the reader know no more than the principle characters, and you will nearly always be better off.
    They exist. How effective they are is the point under discussion.
    Straw man fallacy. They are not at all equivalent. A fifth chapter falls clearly within the story being told. A prologue is kept separate because it falls outside the actual story. If you believe, as many do, that you should enter the story right away, the prologue has to be pretty special to justify a delayed entry into the story proper.
    The prologue has definite drawbacks that do not apply to other parts of the book. It must be written well to be viable, especially as a first impression for the reader. But whether written well or not, it may still be ill-advised.
     
  13. captken
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    captken Member

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    Wow! Mammamia may be reading my mind. I had an introduction for a tale written with no real idea of how to use it. Day before yesterday I did some rewording and called it Chapter 1. I just read Mammamia's comment about an information dump and I'm beginning to have second thoughts or is it third thoughts?

    I'll have to rethink my tale.

    I appreciate the great comments on this site.

    Capt. Ken
     
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    sw... i did say 'rarely'... you seem to have missed that...
     
  15. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    No, I saw that - but rarely a good reason *not* to call it chapter one is what I responded to. It either is or is not a prologue. A prologue and chapter one are not interchangeable unless the prologue is not a prologue.

    And Cogito, using Chapter 5 is not a strawman. It's an illustration of how illogical it is to claim that any part of a book is bad or should be avoided simply because you (an individual) have read some bad ones. It also points out how some writers have a personal dislike for prologues and thus offer tainted advice on their usage, versus looking at the prologue in question to determine if it is well-written and adds to the story. It's one of those areas where writing advice devolves into personal preference, which may or may not be logical or sound writing advice.

    If prologues were bad, in and of themselves, then no writer would ever be published who included one. Obviously, this has not happened.
     
  16. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with this. I actually have a bad habit of ignoring prologues altogether and skipping ahead to the first chapter if the author is just using it as an info dump. :redface:
     
  17. evelon
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    evelon Active Member

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    This raises the broader question of should a writer stick to a tried, tested and widely accepted format, or should he be willing to step outside the box. The question must also apply to the reader.
     
  18. Pheonix
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    Pheonix A Singer of Space Operas and The Fourth Mod of RP Staff Contributor

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    Why is there so much anger against prologues here? If it works it works, if it doesn't it doesn't. The OP's idea sounds good, and I agree that with chapter one, if you kill off a character, then go into chapter two and introduce your actual MC, it's jarring to the reader. With a well developed prologue in that instance, I think it works a lot better. It's like the introductory scene in a movie that runs before the opening credits. (And, yes, I have braced myself for the backlash of using that example.) I think it is a valid storytelling method.

    As for infodumps in prologues, most of the time I skip it then refer back to it later on if there's something that I think might have been explained in there. But usually those kinds of prologues aren't great. Something needs to happen at the beginning of the story to draw the reader in, and if it's just for setting development, that wold work much better in chapter one. But I do think that if the majority of your story is going to be from the point of view of one character, but for some reason you find that you need to write a scene that established some happening that is not from the point of view of your MC, then a prologue is a good way to go.
     
  19. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, giving some history in the prologue does not mean an infodump, any more than including history in the main story does.

    I really do not understand the mindset of saying "Don't use prologues! Period!". It makes no more sense than any other Absolute Rule in writing.
     
  20. Dagolas
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    Dagolas Banned

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    Only write a prologue if it brings something to the story, or elucidates a matter found later on in the story.
     
  21. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I certainly never said that. What I said was that the vast majority of stories with prologues would be better without them. I stand by that opinion. Occasionally I encounter a prologue that piques interest concisely. It's a rare occasion.

    Good prologues exist, but poor ones dominate the market. So my recommendation is to scrutinize the impulse to write a prologue carefully, and resist the urge unless you have a damned good reason. Then re-examine that reason critically as your novel takes shape.
     
  22. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Which is what one should do with any part of the story - prologue, chapter, epilogue... The constant wording of opinion as if it were a given, such as "Good prologues exist, but poor ones dominate the market.", is what I object to. With an opinion such as that, it's no wonder you don't find many prologues you like - they have an uphill battle as soon as you open the book.
     
  23. lilmisspants
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    lilmisspants New Member

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    Thanks for your feedback Pheonix, I really do appreciate it. I am glad you could understand where I was coming from with my reasons for keeping the Prologue. I think at this point I have decided to go ahead and keep it. It works for me, and I am feeling much more confident about it now. Cheers :)
     
  24. lilmisspants
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    lilmisspants New Member

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    Thanks for everyone's feedback. I am happy to hear different view points on the subject, and I think the advice I received will really help me. Cheers :)
     
  25. AGWallace
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    AGWallace New Member

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    Good discussion. I wrote a prologue for my current historical fiction novel, but it may end up being cut. It's short, at only 1,800 words, and I'm going to take a hard look at it after the novel is done.

    The action of the prologue takes place 1,000 years before the story begins, and introduces a key element of the plot. I do not believe that the introduction of this element is important, but the element itself is.

    I've also toyed with putting it at the end. What are your thoughts about an epilogue that occurs chronologically before the main action of the story?
     

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