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Old 12-03-2012, 08:10 AM   #1
Pikabuddy
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A Question Regarding Prologues

Hi. I posted a thread similar to this back in March, but a lot has changed since then, so I figured it would be better to start a new thread instead of reviving that one. (Mods - if this is in the wrong place, I apologize)

Okay. So I've got this really really good prologue for my YA fantasy novel, about 2.5k words, that I've slaved over to make perfect. After a whole thread of revisions in SYW, I put up a fresh version after three months and all critters agreed that it was well written.

It functions just like Chapter One of any novel. It has the KAPOW! that draws a reader in. It introduces the main character, her goals and motivations, the villain, and the conflict - all simply, concisely, and compellingly. It is not an infodump or history, and characters do things that have consequences, and there is also action, too - it's not just explain, talk, blah blah blah.

Here's the problem. The reason that it's the prologue is that this scene occurs ten years before chapter one, and I'm not sure having ten year time difference between chapter one and two is a good idea. So it's labeled as a prologue. And I understand that not all readers read the prologue.

Yes, this pre-story scene is needed. It fuels the inciting incident that happens when the actual story starts. It helps set up the MC's motivation off the bat, which allows the story to get moving quickly. It would be very hard to weave it into the main story without bogging it down. Additionally, the "Villain" doesn't appear again until about 10 chapters in--with him in the prologue he seems more deadly and real in Chapter 10, compared to having him just be a memory that slowed the story down earlier. Also, this prologue is constantly referred back to in the book. What the MC does in this prologue is the entire reason she is the "hero" of the story.

So, as you can see, I'm in kind of a dilemma . I really want to keep this scene in the story. I think it would be awkward putting it as Chapter One, and I fear the hated label "prologue" is going to turn off readers as well as agents. And that leads me to another thing - I've heard agents completely skip over prologues when they request a partial. And if by some miraculous reason I get a partial requested, I really want them to see this scene, as I think its one of the better ones I've written.

TL;DR - I have a prologue that functions the same as Chapter One, but it occurs ten years before the story begins, which is the only reason why it's a prologue. It's essential and compelling, but I fear the label prologue will cause readers and agents to skip over it.

Thoughts? Comments?

Thank you.
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Old 12-03-2012, 08:19 AM   #2
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Prologues will be skipped. Nothing you can do will change it. So you have to decide how really important the scene is. If the reader would be lost without it, calling it chapter one would be sensible. It's not that unusual to have a time gap near the start.
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Old 12-03-2012, 08:29 AM   #3
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Call it chapter one. In my current WIP, the first three chapters are set a few years before the rest of the book. You could call it one really long prologue, but that wouldn't work.

A person who read my book told me it didn't seem jarring at all.
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Old 12-03-2012, 08:29 AM   #4
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Prologues will be skipped. Nothing you can do will change it. So you have to decide how really important the scene is. If the reader would be lost without it, calling it chapter one would be sensible. It's not that unusual to have a time gap near the start.

The above is pretty good advice. I never skip prologues, but I know people who do. Just make it chapter 1, and if anyone bitches, ask them if they would have preferred it as a prologue. XD
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Old 12-03-2012, 08:33 AM   #5
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A prologue is used to convey an important bit of information to the reader before the story starts. Simply: FYI, please read this, but not needed.

Reading, I don't skip prologues, because that's where the author wants to start the story. But they shouldn't be the hinge on the entire book. They are there, but not particularly needed.

And, I'd love for an agent to skip over my prologues (I have 2 for Advent, 1 for each book). 'cause the meat of my story starts on chapter 1, my prologues are the FYI sections.


Does your prologue start with the MC's? (You hinted at it strongly) If not, call it a prologue. If so, chapter 1.

You do want to watch that if you have enough conflict to carry the story along to get to the villain--just in case, if the reader skips the prologue.
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Old 12-03-2012, 08:34 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by Pikabuddy View Post

Here's the problem. The reason that it's the prologue is that this scene occurs ten years before chapter one, and I'm not sure having ten year time difference between chapter one and two is a good idea. So it's labeled as a prologue. And I understand that not all readers read the prologue.


Thoughts? Comments?

Thank you.
I read your question with interest, because I have a similar issue with mine.

My books starts with a scene involving the protagonist. It's part of the story and shouldn't be skipped. In my case, there is a two year gap. There is also a change in location. But it's the same issue. I've been calling it a prologue too. But given that I'm not a fan of them myself, as a rule, and I know some people skip them, I'm thinking of just making it chapter 1.

I'm thinking of including a date tag at the beginnings of chapters 1 and 2 (but since none of the other chapters have huge time gaps like that, I'd only put date tags in the first two).

I also sneaked something in early on in chapter two that indicates that two years have passed and there's been some water under the bridge, so to speak. I don't see why you couldn't do something similar, even though the gap is ten years.

The only issue I have with my approach is that my story is taking place in a made-up world that has its own calendar (the Zeryan Reckoning). I wonder if it will confuse people to see: "Father's Port, Andur. Autumn, Year 988, Zeryan Reckoning" at the beginning of chapter 1. I'm used to high fantasy type settings, so it doesn't phase me when this technique is used in books.

But I suppose others should chime in on how well this works for them.

In any case, it sounds like your opening chapter is well written and well thought out, so regardless, it should be good for hooking readers in.
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Old 12-03-2012, 08:44 AM   #7
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Thanks for the replies so far, guys.

Yes, I'm going to say the story will be less meaningful and the reader may be lost in the beginning without the prologue. It really shouldn't be skipped.

Quote:
A prologue is used to convey an important bit of information to the reader before the story starts. Simply: FYI, please read this, but not needed.

Reading, I don't skip prologues, because that's where the author wants to start the story. But they shouldn't be the hinge on the entire book. They are there, but not particularly needed.

And, I'd love for an agent to skip over my prologues (I have 2 for Advent, 1 for each book). 'cause the meat of my story starts on chapter 1, my prologues are the FYI sections.


Does your prologue start with the MC's? (You hinted at it strongly) If not, call it a prologue. If so, chapter 1.

You do want to watch that if you have enough conflict to carry the story along to get to the villain--just in case, if the reader skips the prologue.
Yes, the prologue starts with the MC. So it should be labeled chapter one, then? Is there any recommended way to show a time gap that large has passed between two chapters? I'm thinking just to find a way to weave it in right on the spot so the reader is grounded.

And yes, there's plenty of conflict that ultimately rises to the Villain's re-appearance.
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Old 12-03-2012, 08:56 AM   #8
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Yes, the prologue starts with the MC. So it should be labeled chapter one, then? Is there any recommended way to show a time gap that large has passed between two chapters? I'm thinking just to find a way to weave it in right on the spot so the reader is grounded.

And yes, there's plenty of conflict that ultimately rises to the Villain's re-appearance.
"Chapter 2.

Ten Years later."

I've got no problem with being told time had passed, but if you don't want the intrusion, add little things that suggest time had passed.

You can bring up news or history. "Remember when you [insert actions from prologue], ten years ago?"

Or, you just update the reader to the event. "Ten years ago, I [insert actions from prologue], and now-"

Characters aging helps too. But that's hard when they aren't children at first.


And in all cases, it really depends on what readers think. The 10 chapter sprint is too long for the SYW section, but a beta reader could tell you what works and what doesn't.
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Old 12-03-2012, 02:17 PM   #9
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As Polenth says, there are readers out here who will skip the prologue in their search for Chapter One . Of course, if the reason for skipping prologues also applies to your first chapter, ie there are completely different characters or it's hundreds of years later, they may get infuriated in Chapter Two. Some readers are just picky.
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Old 12-03-2012, 04:13 PM   #10
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It never occurred to me that people skip prologues. I always read them; for me, it is the beginning of the book, and the author wouldn't have included it if s/he didn't want me to read it.

In any case, I would not be put off as a reader by a 10-year gap so long as it is explained somehow right up front in Chapter 2, so I have a frame of reference before I get too far into the chapter.

Roxxsmom: I think I would find it odd only to see date tags for the first two chapters, and then no where else. Perhaps you could weave in the date in the prose, i.e., "The 998th Year of the Zeryan Reckoning started as any other . . . ," or something like that?
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Old 12-03-2012, 04:26 PM   #11
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IMO - if it's essential information, it needs to be Chapter 1. I skip or skim prologues all the time, like many readers.

I don't see any problem with skipping ten years between chapter 1 and the rest of the book.
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Old 12-03-2012, 05:29 PM   #12
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It never occurred to me that people skip prologues. I always read them; for me, it is the beginning of the book, and the author wouldn't have included it if s/he didn't want me to read it.

In any case, I would not be put off as a reader by a 10-year gap so long as it is explained somehow right up front in Chapter 2, so I have a frame of reference before I get too far into the chapter.
The best attempt at an explanation for skipping prologues I can give is simply that I'm an immersive reader; I like to get wholly involved in the story to the extent I forget (so far as is possible) it's an artificial construct. Hence, anything that interferes with immersion is--for ME--a problem.
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Old 12-03-2012, 05:53 PM   #13
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People who skip prologues are incomprehensible to me. Mad people.
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Old 12-03-2012, 05:54 PM   #14
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Do people skip epilogues?
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Old 12-03-2012, 06:04 PM   #15
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Don't worry about readers who skip prologues - it won't matter how well you write it or how much it's needed, they won't be reading it anyway. Make it a true prologue, don't rename it Chapter One to fool people (who won't be fooled anyway), and write it as well as you do the rest of the book.
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Old 12-03-2012, 06:27 PM   #16
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It never occurred to me that people skip prologues. I always read them; for me, it is the beginning of the book, and the author wouldn't have included it if s/he didn't want me to read it.
Tolkein wanted people to read the long tedious Elven songs in LOTR, too, but he had sense enough to give those of us that skip them a synopsis of what they mean after the song ended.

I don't read like a writer, nor will most of your audience.
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Old 12-03-2012, 06:32 PM   #17
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People who skip prologues are incomprehensible to me. Mad people.
Excuse me?
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Old 12-03-2012, 06:58 PM   #18
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Thanks for the continued responses, guys.

@Buffy -The prologue starts with the MC and Chapter One begins with the MC, ten years later. So not too much time has passed. Sweet.

@Will - I think I know what I'm going to do. In the prologue, my MC is 9, and in chapter 1 she's 19. Chapter one begins with her king admiring her (and not in a good way), which is the way I chose to get the description of the MC in without stepping too far away from the MC. So I'm guessing I could put in somewhere - "Lord X, how old is this servant again?" "Nineteen, your Majesty."
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Old 12-03-2012, 07:06 PM   #19
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Excuse me?
Mad. You're mad. That's the only explanation that makes any sense to me. (OK, you're not mad. Incomprehensible to me though.)
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Old 12-03-2012, 07:19 PM   #20
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Mad. You're mad. That's the only explanation that makes any sense to me. (OK, you're not mad. Incomprehensible to me though.)
I can live with being incomprehensible, even though I did attempt to explain the reasoning behind it. But even if you think it's funny to call me mad, I do not find it funny. Please don't.
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Old 12-03-2012, 07:20 PM   #21
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I can live with being incomprehensible, even though I did attempt to explain the reasoning behind it. But even if you think it's funny to call me mad, I do not find it funny. Please don't.
Many apologies, Buffysquirrel. I suffer from various mental illnesses but I probably don't take that label as seriously as I should.

I wasn't actually referring to your post when I wrote mine, but having reread it it still makes no sense to me. I don't see why a prologue breaks immersion. If the prologue were relabelled 'Chapter 1', would you skip it?

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Old 12-03-2012, 08:05 PM   #22
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To me, if the writer included it, they must think it's relevant to the story and want me to read it. I don't understand the whole skipping prologues thing. I mean, I guess if your experience is that they've all been irrelevant crap, okay, maybe if it's the same author. Elven songs? Sure, you can skip that if you really want to, but prologues are generally at least prose narrative. It's not a matter of reading like a writer. It's a matter of whether you respect the author enough to trust that they wouldn't have included useless crap. Apparently a lot of folks don't?
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Old 12-03-2012, 08:37 PM   #23
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@ Liosse I don't skip prologues, unless it won't change the way I view the story -- then I will skip it.

So, reading all the comments here (correct me if I'm wrong), I should definitely be labeling this as Chapter one so that is assured agents will read it?
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Old 12-03-2012, 08:41 PM   #24
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I wasn't actually referring to your post when I wrote mine, but having reread it it still makes no sense to me. I don't see why a prologue breaks immersion. If the prologue were relabelled 'Chapter 1', would you skip it?
In itself, the prologue can't break immersion, agreed . But I don't like to take the risk that I'll start identifying with characters or getting interested in events that then disappear with Chapter One. I've been burnt on that too many times. When the rest of the novel has a completely different set of characters, or is set in a significantly different time or place, I feel like I'm starting the novel all over again, and that's what destroys immersion.

It is also annoying when this happens with Ch1, but then of course you don't have any clues to protect you!
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Old 12-03-2012, 08:44 PM   #25
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In itself, the prologue can't break immersion, agreed . But I don't like to take the risk that I'll start identifying with characters or getting interested in events that then disappear with Chapter One. I've been burnt on that too many times. When the rest of the novel has a completely different set of characters, or is set in a significantly different time or place, I feel like I'm starting the novel all over again, and that's what destroys immersion.

It is also annoying when this happens with Ch1, but then of course you don't have any clues to protect you!
Ah, well, this is something I hear a fair amount - you've been burned by pointless prologues before. Me too. The dark and stormy night where the Chosen One is born... I often feel they'd be better cut before they reach readers. I couldn't bring myself to skip on principle, though, for fear I'd miss out something genuinely important.
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