How long must a Prologue be?

Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Ice Queen, Apr 23, 2011.

  1. Show

    Show Contributor Contributor

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    Odd, I just read a book and it had a prologue. lol I think prologues are like anything else, they can be done right or they can be done wrong.
     
  2. Ellipse

    Ellipse Contributor Contributor

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    Agreed. Prologues should only be there to provide information for the story that can't be worked into the story itself without being awkward.

    Prologues are as long as they should be. I've seen some taht were a paragraph and even one that was 60 pages in length. (To be fair, the 60 page prologue explained a lot of things that occurred in the area where the main portion of the book took place.)

    If you can't fit the information found in the prologue anywhere else in the story, then you need to make certain the information is absolutely vital to the story before writing it.

    On another note, I've seen authors that use an Introduction and a prologue. I strongly suggest never doing this. That's just overkill. It's bad enough to have a prologue, but why throw in an info dump too?

    Don't get me wrong. Prologues can be good. It's just up to the skill of the writer.
     
  3. spklvr

    spklvr Contributor Contributor

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    Don't mean to hog the thread or anything, but didn't think there was a point in making another thread about prologues (my question isn't even that important) when there already was one. Even though my question is slightly different.

    My story is about two princesses saving their country (my cousin's request), but is starts out about 14 years before the actual start, with the celebration of the birth of the youngest princess. This because the actual story starts with an awful lot of action, and I can't find the time there to give the reader an impression of the world and where they are, and I feel like if they don't get that at some point, the story won't make much sense until it calms down again in chapter 2.

    But what I'm really wondering is if this should be a prologue or a chapter. And I've also considered just naming the chapters, and not write chapter 1 and chapter 2 etc. Then there wouldn't be a problem. I could just give it some name rather than write prologue or chapter. But is this confusing? Like when you take a break, and try to find where you were again.
     
  4. Tesoro

    Tesoro Contributor Contributor

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    Agree with both of you.
     
  5. KillianRussell

    KillianRussell New Member

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    In interviews with real writers with real published books on real shelves they confess to writing but not including the prolouges in print often, they call it the non tip of the iceberg

    Ann (not terry whoever he is ) Patchett on her award winning novel "Bel Canto"


    " I needed the prologue for myself in creating, but by the time I got done I realized I did not need it, however there is no way(can I underline no way?) I could I have created the story without the un-included prolouge"
     
  6. Show

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    I'm sure they do. And I am sure we could find several real writers with real published books on real shelves with included prologues that are often decent sized.

    So again, I do say it is all about what is best for the story. Sometimes a prologue is not bad.
     
  7. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    I think there is a good reason to begin with Chapter 1. The story probably starts there (if it doesn't you've got deeper problems), and there are readers who will put a book back on the shelf and move on when they see a prologue, but I don't know of any who put a book back because they see that it lacks a prologue.
     
  8. author97

    author97 New Member

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    Instead of counting the words and worrying if it will turn off our readers, read the entire thing over and see if it gives away too much, or not. The Warriors series written by Erin Hunter has a prologue at the beginning of every book and it is wildly popular.
     
  9. Ice Queen

    Ice Queen New Member

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    Wow! I didn't realise Prologues were such a marmite issue for a lot of people XD; Thanks for all the replies though, I've found it very interesting to read through... The general thought on my prologue length question seems to be: "IF you include one, make it as long or short as you need it" - good advice.

    I can't say that I've really ever thought much about the goodness or badness of actually including a prologue... I must agree with FunkyBass- ANY book by Richard Dawkins will potentially be taken the wrong way unless you read the Prologue.

    I understand that some books do tend to have superfluous or downright unnecessary prologues, but I'd never get turned off a book just for that. I'm reading Memoirs of a Geisha right now, which had an odd prologue, I don't think it was essential, but I've not really thought about it since then. However, I adore the book as a whole.

    On the other hand, the prologue to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was fascinating and had me thinking and puzzling straight away.

    I'm one of those... PRO-logue people... (heh heh heh) because if a prologue's interesting it makes me want to check out the rest. I agree with those who said that a good prologue can really kick off the story...

    (I'm glad you were able to think out some writing bumps, Elgaisma XD)

    Also, spklvr- if it were me, I'd have the birth of the second Princess as a Prologue, because it's so long before the actual story, it's like a time-skip thingy so it might be confusing if it was chapter one- this way it's a little separate from the main story; like in Harry Potter & the Philosopher's Stone: I always thought that Ch.1 The Boy Who Lived should have actually been a Prologue; then it would have matched the Epilogue at the end of the last one which jumps forward in time... Ah, perfectionism...
     
  10. Elgaisma

    Elgaisma Contributor Contributor

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    Yep thanks Ice Queen I had one of those penny dropping moment.

    I have said that Socrates' Children where i write Socrates without Nate is like writing half a character. (Nate is his bestfriend and lover - even when they are apart physically there is a mental connection). They dont function well apart. Nate's story is the prologue/epilogue, Socrates' story starts in chapter one. In someways the Prologue/Epilogue are the real start and end to the story. Just there is a twenty year gap between the prologue and chapter one and a year gap between the last chapter and the epilogue. Literally nothing happens to Socrates or Nate between the final chapter and the epilogue.
     
  11. mammamaia

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    1. there is seldom a real need for a prologue at all

    2. there is no 'right' or 'wrong' size for a prologue... it can be less than one page, or run as long as a chapter...

    3. it shouldn't matter what anyone else does in re prologues... all that counts is what your plot/storyline calls for...
     
  12. Show

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    If you avoid doing everything that might cause a reader to put a book back on the shelf, you're probably going to be in the nuthouse before you have even a drafted manuscript. Sometimes a reader may put a book back on the shelf if there are too many chapters or if the chapters seem long.

    Now I never heard this much fuss about a prologue since I came here (If somebody honestly puts down a book just because they saw a Prologue, I'd say they got problems of their own too) and I've seen several prologues on the NYT Bestsellers list, and often from writers who don't have THAT many books under their belts so I doubt there's this huge fanbase already for them. I honestly don't see most readers putting back a book just because it HAS a prologue, especially if they aren't reading it.

    I'm sure there is good reason to start with "Chapter 1", just as there could be good reason to include a Prologue. There's always "good reason." (Again, I don't see a real difference. It's all in the label and people who get so obsessed over what you label something likely aren't really interested in your actual story) If people don't wanna include a Prologue, don't include a prologue. If you do want to, then include one. Whatever you do, make it the best that you can. As for a story start at "Chapter 1," if my reader comes away feeling that, I've indeed failed.
     
  13. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    I don't recall anyone suggesting that course of action, do you?

    Ah, yes...it's that the reader has problems. And what problems might those be, exactly? Despite all of these generalities you seem fond of, you've failed to provide a single, concrete reason for a prologue, while a number have been provided against, and now you're reduced to saying the reader who doesn't think like you has problems. I look forward to your diagnoses. :)
     
  14. Trish

    Trish Damned if I do and damned if I don't Contributor

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    I have to say that although I don't have any particular feeling towards prologues, one of the main reasons often given on this forum that we, as writers, should not use them, is that a significant number of readers will put your book down if you have one. If I wrote according to what wouldn't upset anyone I would have an incredibly boring book, that no one would want to read anyway. I think that's probably the main point he's trying to make. Are there ways around it? Of course there are. There are ways around everything. It's a personal preference, IMO.
     
  15. Ice Queen

    Ice Queen New Member

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    Well, I think there are valid reasons to have a Prologue for a book, but those reasons might not work for another book- it really all has to be considered on an individual basis.

    For example, a Prologue could be useful in a Historic Novel for a slight bit of explanation that the Author doesn't want to bog the following chapters down with; also in a Fantasy or Sci-Fi it could explain a little about the world the story is set in. Personally, I think Prologues are actually pretty good, 'cause if I'm in a hurry in a bookshop to find something I like and I can't be bothered reading a long Ch.1, a Prologue which is maybe a paragraph, two pages, five pages etc. would be great to give a flavour of the book and spark interest in a short space of time. :3 I've always quite enjoyed both reading and writing them if I'm honest.
     
  16. Show

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    I see little other reason to bring up the point.


    I hardly said that a reader who disagrees with me has problems. I said that a reader who would put down a book just because it has a prologue, without reading it at all, has problems. Some people could put a book down cause the first chapter isn't 2 pages long. Everything you do is gonna make SOMEBODY put the book down. Heck somebody might put the book down cause the author's picture is dominating the back cover and they think that means the author is a self-absorbed snob. It's less about disagreement and more finding something to be petty.

    BTW, I am neither "Pro" or "anti" prologue. (The large majority of my stuff doesn't have one) There is no reason needed for a prologue other than that the author feels it necessary to the story for whatever reason. What more reason do you really need? If you want it, you write it. If you think it works, you keep it. If not, you cut it. If the author feels the information delivered in the prologue is best delivered in that format, then I say fine. Could it be done another way? Probably. Is that way better? The answer will always be subjective. A number have been provided against? I disagree. All I see are personal reasons why people don't like prologues. I've yet to see a truly concrete reason given at all. Considering that books get published and sell very well with prologues, I hardly think there's some big general consensus among readers that prologues are bad(in other words, many readers need a better reason to put a book down other than that the author calls his first chapter a prologue). It's a matter of taste.

    And as for how long a prologue should be, make it how long it needs to be. Little in a story has any real set length. You do what the story needs.
     
  17. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    And I was hoping you might elaborate on what those problems are. This seems quite vague.
     
  18. KillianRussell

    KillianRussell New Member

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    A prologue is an introduction that is apart from the rest of the book either in time or in viewpoint. Evidenced by the current marketplace, the growing trend is to completely avoid the use of a prologue in so far as a device to insert a different viewpoint.....It not a question of what the readers want as much as it is what the publisher's research proves relating to sales/profit/loss
     
  19. Show

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    The growing trends come and go. You'll go nuts conforming to 'growing' trends, and I also think it's foolish to let your story be influenced by what is a "trend" of any kind. The last book I read was recently published, sold well, and had a prologue.(The author had only published 2 books before so he isn't some guy who can get away with publishing grease on paper either.) So I also don't see prologues as really doing anything in terms of popularity one way or another.
     
  20. Trish

    Trish Damned if I do and damned if I don't Contributor

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    I've just spent 15 minutes searching for one hit online where a prologue was blamed for hurting a books sales or a publisher said it shouldn't be done. Maybe I'm looking in the wrong places. Please, show me. I'll continue to search in the meantime.
     
  21. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha New Member

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    I've never read a prologue I've liked, or at least thought added anything to the novel. But if you want to have one, then it is functionally identical to any chapter, and can be as long or as short as it needs to be to tell what it needs to tell.
     
  22. Tesoro

    Tesoro Contributor Contributor

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    If it was so out of question why are so many books published even though they include a prologue? Apparently the publishers doesn't see it as a problem so let each and every writer decide for themselves instead of forcing your own beliefs onto someone. Just like Trish I want some evidence that sustain this before I even reconsider my prologue. If they are just personal preferences without nothing backing them up why should I consider it? I mean, I don't like fantasy and i would never read one of these books but I also would never try to persuade someone from reading or writing them just because I personally dont like them. to each one their own.
     
  23. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If your goal is to produce adequate books, fine. Many books do get published and yet are not always good wexamples on how to write.

    No one here has said prologues never work. Only that most of them are unnecessary, and that those books would be better without them.

    It is called an opinion. And whether it is explicitly stated or not, everything posted in a forum is an opinion. Some have stronger weight behind them than do others, but that does not make them more -- or less -- valid.

    No one's beliefs are being forced upon anyone. Disagree, by all means. But do so respectfully.
     
  24. Trish

    Trish Damned if I do and damned if I don't Contributor

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    I was responding to this Cogito. That's why I said I was searching for examples. Apologies if it came across disrespectfully to anyone. It was not intentional.
     
  25. Tesoro

    Tesoro Contributor Contributor

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    I hope I haven't been disrespectful to anyone, that wasn't my intention at all. I just felt that everytime some one mention prologues some people get all fired up and I always get a feeling that your work automatically get labeled 'poor' if you even consider using a prologue (even though no one has even read it). And when some of you say you should name it chapter one instead (without changing anything about it) and then saying prologues are usually poorly written, to me it seems a little weird. if its poorly written its not because I call it a prologue and what difference would it make if I take the same text and call it chapter one? nothing will change about it whatever I choose to call it.
     

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