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View Full Version : Prologues , yes or no


Diviner
03-18-2010, 01:51 AM
In some mysteries and thrillers, prologues show villains planning or doing fiendish deeds, or they might show a villain being abused as a child, or they might show some horrible event where the MC suffers a hideous loss which scars them. Some of these incidents could be woven in as back story. Others might just open the novel without the prologue. In historicals, the information in the prologue can set a scene, provide information relevant to the action of the story. Some people here say they never read prologues. I suppose they are interested in action as it develops, less so in its causes. Maybe they are rightly suspicious of writers who stick essential information into a separate spot.

It seems to me that prologues appear more often in contemporary genre novels. I always read prologues. They are usually well-written and part of the story, but I am beginning to wonder if they are lazy writing, if the writer just doesn’t want to weave the material into a back story.

What do you think of the artistry or lack thereof when writers resort to a prologue?

suki
03-18-2010, 01:54 AM
In some mysteries and thrillers, prologues show villains planning or doing fiendish deeds, or they might show a villain being abused as a child, or they might show some horrible event where the MC suffers a hideous loss which scars them. Some of these incidents could be woven in as back story. Others might just open the novel without the prologue. In historicals, the information in the prologue can set a scene, provide information relevant to the action of the story. Some people here say they never read prologues. I suppose they are interested in action as it develops, less so in its causes. Maybe they are rightly suspicious of writers who stick essential information into a separate spot.

It seems to me that prologues appear more often in contemporary genre novels. I always read prologues. They are usually well-written and part of the story, but I am beginning to wonder if they are lazy writing, if the writer just doesn’t want to weave the material into a back story.

What do you think of the artistry or lack thereof when writers resort to a prologue?

This is a topic that comes up a lot. A lot. Use the search function on the blue bar up top. Search for prologue. You'll probably find 4-5 threads from the last few months alone.

~suki

CheekyWench
03-18-2010, 01:54 AM
Most of the books I've seen with a prologue are pieces of the whole puzzle. It may be a relative's background or myth relating to the story. Usually, they are stories that don't really fit into a particular scene or something the characters could chat about.

shadowwalker
03-18-2010, 02:07 AM
I think it all depends on the story. If there's something vital to the story but disconnected (time-wise, location, etc) from the rest of the story, or it sets up the overall question that the rest of the story will answer, then a prologue can be very effective and necessary. On the other hand, I've read a lot of prologues that were nothing but historical references or details about the location of the story, like the writer felt the need to "educate" the reader before they'd be able to read the story. So what little bits of those were necessary could've gone into the main story.

lucidzfl
03-18-2010, 02:08 AM
oh. my. god.

sheadakota
03-18-2010, 02:09 AM
Why does it have to be a prologue- why can't it be chapter one?

EclipsesMuse
03-18-2010, 02:25 AM
If it's a part that doesn't fit in the story why does the reader need to know about it?

Viktor Night
03-18-2010, 03:03 AM
I don't use them myself but I can see a purpose to them. One in particular I'm thinking of showed a scene from the middle of WWII, then chapter one began in modern times (which I believe was the 90's when the book was written). The events of the prologue felt like a separate, unrelated story at first but as I got further into the book I began to see how the secondary characters motivations were influenced by the events from fifty years prior, and what effect that had on the main characters.

Like anything else, done poorly it's a waste of time but when done well I think it can be a remarkably effective storytelling tool.

sunandshadow
03-18-2010, 03:16 AM
Well, I have only contempt for people who skip prologues or other forms of introduction (unless it's the kind which just duplicates a scene from later in the book, those are pointless). The writer put it there for a reason, it's part of the book, skipping parts of any work of fiction is like saying you already don't particularly like or respect the book, you just want to get it over with.

I voted yes, other because I think the choice whether to have a prologue and whether to label it as such instead of chapter 1 should depend solely on what's appropriate and natural to the story's structure.

Jamesaritchie
03-18-2010, 03:58 AM
If it's a part that doesn't fit in the story why does the reader need to know about it?

A good prologue, a real prologue is part of the story, but it's pre-story.

Linda Adams
03-18-2010, 04:10 AM
No problems if it's well done. I've liked the prologues in Clive Cussler's books, as well as the Gears' Native American ones. Those fit well in the story as prologues and would be inappropriate being called Chapter 1--they're both in a very different time from the rest of the story. But I've also seen ones that I could have done without.

Gillhoughly
03-18-2010, 04:28 AM
Yes -- if the info is absolutely VITAL to the story and you can't find any other way to include that information and you know exactly what you're doing.

Most new writers don't--along with quite a number of experienced writers.

No -- if it's in just-because.


I skip them for being a waste of my reading time and start on chapter one, maybe going back for a look if I get to a slow bit in the story. If it's really important, then make IT chapter one.

I was forced to write one once as part of a work-for-hire job and hated it. The book was just fine without a prologue, but the editor was a pretentious sort and thought it "set the scene." As if I didn't do that in the 1st chapter. Humph. http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/images/icons/icon8.gif

third person
03-18-2010, 05:07 AM
Just get into the damned story. I don't want to hear OHHH BUT IT'S IMPORTANT. Guess what? EVERY damned paragraph should be important. And I'm done.

SPMiller
03-18-2010, 05:12 AM
For the dozenth time this month, no, I don't like prologs. They don't need to be there. If they did, they'd be labeled "Chapter One". I skip them.

AlishaS
03-18-2010, 05:13 AM
I have a prologue *ducks head from possible flying tomatoes* in my current novel, the reason why I chose to use the prologue approach is because yet it is vital to the story and as Diviner mentioned it is where the villian so to speak is doing something important, years before the actual story takes place. It gives the reader a small understanding of what is going on. I suppose to could have been a chapter one, but I thought since it was way in the past a prologue would be better.

Now I'd like to make reference to a book I just read... and for the people who think prologues are bad... this is worse.
How about reading a prologue then move to Chapter 1, Chapter 2, then go to a Interlude One, then a Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5 Oh and just wait... Lets have an Interlude to Chapter 2!! Then 6, 7, 8 and holy shit let's jump back and have an Interlude 3!!! Now some one please tell me what the F**k that is, why the hell not have all these chapters in succesion, why jump back so to speak and have interludes? It was the most annoying this in the world.
So one little Prologue is nothing when compared to reading a prologue with stupid interludes last throughout the book.

EclipsesMuse
03-18-2010, 05:24 AM
A good prologue, a real prologue is part of the story, but it's pre-story.

Ok, I guess I can see that. My problem is that most prologues I see in published books could be part of the bckstory filtered through the book or they are there to catch the reader up on previous books in the story.

Kosh
03-18-2010, 05:27 AM
Nay. i like to start the story in the midst of the story.

shadowwalker
03-18-2010, 05:32 AM
I'm just wondering - if they called it Chapter 1 instead of Prologue, would people still hate them and skip over them?

Just a little chain pulling ;)

PGK
03-18-2010, 05:39 AM
I'm just wondering - if they called it Chapter 1 instead of Prologue, would people still hate them and skip over them?

Just a little chain pulling ;)

Interesting. I just started reading Stephen King's "Insomnia" and it started with a prologue I didn't even know was one. After the dedication page it goes to a page that has the number 1 and the story begins. I thought I was reading chapter one, but when it was done the next thing was "Part 1" "Chapter 1."

Though I would never skip a prologue just because it said "Prologue." I'd read it with trust in the author, agent (if there was one), and editor, and then decide for myself if it was needed or not.

donroc
03-18-2010, 05:50 AM
I do not use them, but I am not hostile to others using them if they work.

SPMiller
03-18-2010, 07:34 AM
I'm just wondering - if they called it Chapter 1 instead of Prologue, would people still hate them and skip over them?

Just a little chain pulling ;)Labeling something Prolog is like putting up a big neon sign proclaiming that it's outside the normal flow of the narrative--because it is--and therefore it's almost impossible to get away with labeling it Chapter One instead. Personally, I'm glad people label them Prolog. Makes it that much easier to skip them.

DisobedientWriter
03-18-2010, 07:57 AM
I do not use them, but I am not hostile to others using them if they work.

Same here. I find that I skip over them to get to chapter one, but I almost always go back & read them at the end. I do think a lot of prologues out there could just be called chapter one instead, but some actually are proper prologues & should remain that way.

willietheshakes
03-18-2010, 09:02 AM
oh. my. god.

You couldn't just let it pass, could you? ;)

Snowstorm
03-18-2010, 10:01 AM
There's nothing wrong with prologues. They're as much a part of the overall story as chapter one.

In my current WIP, the prologue sets a tone that cannot be just "included" into the chapters. The power in the prologue comes into play later on in the novel. An "as you know, Bob," or little filtering bits just won't work, or would at least water down the impact.

Nakhlasmoke
03-18-2010, 10:32 AM
i have to say that most of the prologues I've read in unpublished work (as a beta reader) were a waste of time and words.

And very few published prologues have done much better.

i'm in the 'lazy writing camp for the most part' on this one.

beardtato
03-18-2010, 12:49 PM
What do people think about a Batman Cold Open (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BatmanColdOpen) as a prologue? I want to start the novel with an action scene and establish key information about the protagonist and the (fantasy) world as smoothly as possible (and as soon as possible). A plot-related action opening would not work, and I don't want to shoehorn one in just to avoid having a prologue.

knight_tour
03-18-2010, 12:49 PM
The prologues I have read in published books have generally been great and made perfect sense to be prologues rather than part of the main story. I have a prologue in my story because the main story takes place over one summer, yet the driving emotional event for the entire story is due to something that happened three years earlier. This story can't be properly woven into the main story as a flashback, and anyhow I hate flashbacks much more than prologues.

lucidzfl
03-18-2010, 06:28 PM
You couldn't just let it pass, could you? ;)

Notice, I didn't offer an opinion :D

Stellan
03-18-2010, 08:01 PM
In a certain kind of story (mostly the lighter sort of adventure/thriller), I kind of have a soft spot for the prologue being the villain's introduction, and chapter one the hero's. The hero might be more important to the story, but the villain's action start the story in motion behind the scenes.

Lady Ice
03-18-2010, 10:30 PM
A prologue is an event set prior to the novel which is important to understanding of the novel; it doesn't feature the protagonist and the protagonist would have been unable to experience it.

For example, let's say a mother and father are arguing over whether to adopt L because she has 'problems'. L can't possibly tell us this but it changes the way we read the novel and its omission would change the novel.

Devil Ledbetter
03-18-2010, 10:52 PM
oh. my. god.What the ferret said.

Lady Ice
03-18-2010, 11:17 PM
Why does it have to be a prologue- why can't it be chapter one?

Because most prologues are events that have happened a significant time before the actual story starts and they are events that can't have been witnessed by the protagonist.

Diviner
03-18-2010, 11:52 PM
A prologue is an event set prior to the novel which is important to understanding of the novel; it doesn't feature the protagonist and the protagonist would have been unable to experience it.



A useful and succinct description of some prologues and a useful guide as to whether the material ought better to be woven in as back story. A prologue is not a preface. Do the people who don't read them have them confused?

I am wondering if a prologue might be handled as a short, short story. They are often hooks and teasers. This is why I labeled them "innovative."

knight_tour
03-19-2010, 11:16 PM
Because most prologues are events that have happened a significant time before the actual story starts and they are events that can't have been witnessed by the protagonist.

I disagree that the protag cannot have witnessed it. In mine the prologue is told from the POV of the main character's oldest son and the main character is there to see his son die. The real story opens three years later with his marriage collapsing over the difficulties he and his wife are having both with coping with the oldest son's death and differences over how to handle the raising of the two remaining sons who are both now entering young adulthood. There is no good way to do a flashback in my opinion, and I would hate that far more than the prologue. And BTW the prologue is not written as a tell, it is a story itself.