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taeray
02-05-2015, 03:37 AM
I'm not sure if this is the right place to post this but I need some advice. Sorry if I should put this somewhere else.

I have two questions about the MS I'm currently working on a query letter for.


1. How long can a prologue be? I've seen no more than 1,000 words, I've seen 'make it as long as you want/need it to be'. I've also seen no way, no how ever write one.

My prologue is too long. 15k words. It was intended to showcase a pair of 'soldiers' (soul sisters) and their bond. It's meant to help the reader make the connection that the MC and her sister are soul sisters as well, without me slapping them in the face with it. It can't be shown through flashbacks or character dialogue because by the end of the prologue all the 'soldiers' have been killed. The MC and her sister are alone by the beginning of their story.


2. Getting signed for a sequel is never a guarantee so is a cliffhanger ending a deal breaker?

The conflict of the MS is completed, but the big bad guy is not defeated until the third book and the MS ends with a rebel force preparing to attack the big bad guy. This conflict does not directly affect the MC until months later in the second book because she is not involved with the rebel force. The mention of it would almost fit in more of an epilogue, perhaps.


Both of these concerns have brought me to this thought process:

A beta reader suggested to take my prologue, flush out the story, and make it it's own novel. There's enough characters and story in the prologue to do it. It's already kind of it's own short story. I am not opposed to the idea but then I have a new set of challenges because there's no way to end that book with a happy note. (Spoiler, everybody dies at the end). I've been toying with the idea all day. I had already begun a short story for one of the prologue characters months ago, but I'd never intended to make it novel length.

If I can find a happy spin for the end it could possibly be an easier MS to sell as my first novel. I haven't decided what to do though so I figured getting some advice on the issues my MS is facing would help me make my decision.

Osulagh
02-05-2015, 04:38 AM
1. How long should a piece of string be?

Prologues tend to run short because they are traditionally regarded as a small portion of information that the reader is given before the story starts. Not a separate story by themselves, or a large portion of the entire book. Information to help the reader adjust to the main story.

Although, I see a couple problems in your explanation: If the MC and her sister are left afterward, why do you have to take 15K words to establish that they are "soul sisters"? Couldn't you conclude that with their actions in the main story? Seems like an awfully large amount of words to do what a simple explanation and demonstration can. And whenever I hear a writer say, " can't be" I roll my eyes;[I] it can be, you don't want it to be. I'm willing to bet my left leg it can be in flashbacks.

If you're completely unwilling to think about adjusting this prologue, might want to just start the story off with it; it's fine to call it the first part of the story.

2. You'd have to speak with your publisher on this one. Though it makes no sense to have a stand-alone book out there that has a cliffhanger and no possible mention of a sequel. If the publisher wishes for a sequel, they might ask you to change the end to accommodate. As of right now, debut authors are weary territory for publishers and they are likely to take on a single, stand-alone novel, to see if that floats--and agents look for that, so a cliffhanger ending could cut you short in the querying process.

Unimportant
02-05-2015, 04:38 AM
Getting signed for a sequel is never a guarantee so is a cliffhanger ending a deal breaker?

The conflict of the MS is completed, but the big bad guy is not defeated until the third book and the MS ends with a rebel force preparing to attack the big bad guy. This conflict does not directly affect the MC until months later in the second book because she is not involved with the rebel force. The mention of it would almost fit in more of an epilogue, perhaps.
If the conflict is resolved, and everything is in a state of 'happy for now' at the end, it should be fine. You can query it as a standalone novel with series potential. If there truly is a cliffhanger, then it will probably need to be queried as the first of a trilogy or whatever.



1. How long can a prologue be? I've seen no more than 1,000 words, I've seen 'make it as long as you want/need it to be'. I've also seen no way, no how ever write one.

My prologue is too long. 15k words. It was intended to showcase a pair of 'soldiers' (soul sisters) and their bond. It's meant to help the reader make the connection that the MC and her sister are soul sisters as well, without me slapping them in the face with it. It can't be shown through flashbacks or character dialogue because by the end of the prologue all the 'soldiers' have been killed. The MC and her sister are alone by the beginning of their story.

Prologues are preferred to be short because some readers don't read them. Prologues exist to convey information
1) without which the book would not make sense to the reader
and
2) which describes characters or actions that take place completely external to the book and thus cannot form 'chapter 1'
and
3) cannot be fit into flashbacks.

A 15,000 word prologue would be, er, unusual. If a plot device in your story is that two soldiers form a soul-bond, and if how the bond is formed and how it works is so complicated that it takes 15,000 words to describe, and if the reader will not understand the story without understanding all of the aspects and nuances of that bond, then it's probably far too complex a situation to make for enjoyable reading.

Sage
02-05-2015, 04:47 AM
1) I was going to say to make the prologue as long as it needs to be (if needed at all)...but 15K is really long. I assume your book is not longer than 150K, so that's at least 10% of your book. A reader testing out your book on Kindle would never get out of the prologue. If an agent asked for a 50-page sample/partial in Courier New, they'd be about 10 pages shy of the first chapter.

2) I'm confused about your "cliffhanger." If it is a true cliffhanger and nothing is resolved, I wouldn't recommend it. If the book's main conflict is over, but there's hints of a larger story that could be continued, that should be fine.

eparadysz
02-05-2015, 05:35 AM
Aside from the fact that 15K is really long for a prologue, I'd be deeply annoyed as a reader to invest that much time caring about characters, only to have them killed off and replaced with strangers. Were your beta readers okay with that? I really think, based on your description, it would be enough to stop me reading the rest.

Putputt
02-05-2015, 05:48 AM
I'm not sure if this is the right place to post this but I need some advice. Sorry if I should put this somewhere else.

I have two questions about the MS I'm currently working on a query letter for.


1. How long can a prologue be? I've seen no more than 1,000 words, I've seen 'make it as long as you want/need it to be'. I've also seen no way, no how ever write one.

My prologue is too long. 15k words. It was intended to showcase a pair of 'soldiers' (soul sisters) and their bond. It's meant to help the reader make the connection that the MC and her sister are soul sisters as well, without me slapping them in the face with it. It can't be shown through flashbacks or character dialogue because by the end of the prologue all the 'soldiers' have been killed. The MC and her sister are alone by the beginning of their story.

15K seems really long. From what you've told us about the purpose of the prologue, I think the idea is great, but the word count is way too long. Maybe get your betas to help shorten it?



2. Getting signed for a sequel is never a guarantee so is a cliffhanger ending a deal breaker?

The conflict of the MS is completed, but the big bad guy is not defeated until the third book and the MS ends with a rebel force preparing to attack the big bad guy. This conflict does not directly affect the MC until months later in the second book because she is not involved with the rebel force. The mention of it would almost fit in more of an epilogue, perhaps.

My books have always ended with a sequel in mind. I wouldn't worry about it, if an agent is interested but concerned about the ending, s/he'd tell you to change it.



Both of these concerns have brought me to this thought process:

A beta reader suggested to take my prologue, flush out the story, and make it it's own novel. There's enough characters and story in the prologue to do it. It's already kind of it's own short story. I am not opposed to the idea but then I have a new set of challenges because there's no way to end that book with a happy note. (Spoiler, everybody dies at the end). I've been toying with the idea all day. I had already begun a short story for one of the prologue characters months ago, but I'd never intended to make it novel length.

If I can find a happy spin for the end it could possibly be an easier MS to sell as my first novel. I haven't decided what to do though so I figured getting some advice on the issues my MS is facing would help me make my decision.

Does that mean the prologue isn't essential to your current book? If it does mean that, I'd just take it out altogether.

Laer Carroll
02-05-2015, 08:16 AM
I'd suggest following the suggestions about prologues as stated here. But always keep in mind that there are exceptions to almost every rule in the real world. I've seen long prologues which were brilliantly written and fascinating.

The one big rule to which I can't imagine an exception is: Don't be boring. If you create that rare long fascinating prologue, keep it in. But don't decide Yea or Nay on it until you've finished the book and set it aside long enough to come to it fresh. THEN decide.

taeray
02-05-2015, 08:49 AM
Thank you everyone! I knew I could count on you guys to help me. :)



Couldn't you conclude that with their actions in the main story? Seems like an awfully large amount of words to do what a simple explanation and demonstration can. And whenever I hear a writer say, " can't be" I roll my eyes;[I] it can be, you don't want it to be. I'm willing to bet my left leg it can be in flashbacks.

I guess you are right. Flashbacks could work but it'd be the slap in the face obvious revelation I was trying to avoid. I am trying to get the reader to come to the realization on their own that the two characters are surviving 'soldiers' through their bond, actions, and powers.


If you're completely unwilling to think about adjusting this prologue, might want to just start the story off with it; it's fine to call it the first part of the story.


I am willing to do whatever I have to do to get this thing published. I don't think it works as a part one or something like that for this reason though:


Aside from the fact that 15K is really long for a prologue, I'd be deeply annoyed as a reader to invest that much time caring about characters, only to have them killed off and replaced with strangers. Were your beta readers okay with that? I really think, based on your description, it would be enough to stop me reading the rest.

My sister has been pushing me to make it a part one but I don't want readers to get mad and put the book down. Two characters live at the end, but I'm not confident after joining AW that that will be enough to keep them reading.


If the conflict is resolved, and everything is in a state of 'happy for now' at the end, it should be fine. You can query it as a standalone novel with series potential. If there truly is a cliffhanger, then it will probably need to be queried as the first of a trilogy or whatever.

I feel like there is a definite "happy for now" feeling. The most effect the cliffhanger has on the MC is her best friend leaves town with a promise to return. She has no idea what's going on outside of her village. The rebel attack is revealed through the antagonist's POV that has been present throughout the book.


A 15,000 word prologue would be, er, unusual. If a plot device in your story is that two soldiers form a soul-bond, and if how the bond is formed and how it works is so complicated that it takes 15,000 words to describe, and if the reader will not understand the story without understanding all of the aspects and nuances of that bond, then it's probably far too complex a situation to make for enjoyable reading.

My most recent beta reader read the MS and then the prologue after she was done. The feedback I got from her was the prologue doesn't hinder the telling of the MC's story. I feel the prologue just gives insight into who and what she is without me having to say it right out. The 15k is basically a mini story about one of the soldiers as her home comes under attack. As it does, you see her feelings towards her soul sister and how her powers work through the conflict she faces. Comparing the prologue protagonist's bond with her soul sister to the bond between the MC and her own sister will hopefully guide the reader to realize the MC is one of the 'soldiers', even though they're supposedly all dead.


15K seems really long. From what you've told us about the purpose of the prologue, I think the idea is great, but the word count is way too long. Maybe get your betas to help shorten it?

Beta feedback has been so helpful with this but frustrating as well. Two betas (two avid readers) told me not to change a thing, that the book needed the prologue to make sense. One beta (writer) worked with me on a massive overhaul and was happy with it after that. Then the next (writer) told me to cut it completely, and the last (writer) told me to cut bits and pieces. I also had someone (writer & avid reader of fantasy) read just the prologue and chapter one and she loved everything about it. It has been VERY confusing.


Does that mean the prologue isn't essential to your current book? If it does mean that, I'd just take it out altogether.

The thought I had was readers of the prologue as a standalone novel would know more than the readers who skip it and go on to read the next novel (my current MS minus it's prologue). The only comparisons that I can come up with would be kinda like what the Hobbit adds to Lord of the Rings or reading The Magician's Nephew before The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Or reading Tamora Pierce's work in publication order. There would be a lot of "aha, I see the connection" moments and give deeper meaning to all the characters and their purposes. (Not that I'm anywhere near any of these author's caliber, but I've always admired their intricate, multi book plot lines).

You can read my MS without it's prologue but the subtle references will be meaningless. The big reveal of the bad guy's motivation, who the MC is, and what's going on in their world will lose some of its build up.


I'd suggest following the suggestions about prologues as stated here. But always keep in mind that there are exceptions to almost every rule in the real world. I've seen long prologues which were brilliantly written and fascinating.

The one big rule to which I can't imagine an exception is: Don't be boring. If you create that rare long fascinating prologue, keep it in. But don't decide Yea or Nay on it until you've finished the book and set it aside long enough to come to it fresh. THEN decide.

Thank you. :-) Luckily boring has never been used to describe my prologue. I even had someone who doesn't read fantasy say she enjoyed it and the betas who wanted me to cut or change it think it's interesting enough to stand on its own.

I don't hold out hope that I would ever be an exception to the rules of writing. It'd be nice, but I know it's rare.

This MS has been sitting for a few years now though. I completely revised the prologue over the summer and I've been hacking away at it ever since. I originally wrote the MS almost six years ago though and began revising/cutting/tightening it about a year ago in preparation for querying.

Unimportant
02-05-2015, 11:23 PM
Beta feedback has been so helpful with this but frustrating as well. Two betas (two avid readers) told me not to change a thing, that the book needed the prologue to make sense. One beta (writer) worked with me on a massive overhaul and was happy with it after that. Then the next (writer) told me to cut it completely, and the last (writer) told me to cut bits and pieces. I also had someone (writer & avid reader of fantasy) read just the prologue and chapter one and she loved everything about it. It has been VERY confusing.
As James Macdonald says: beta readers are almost always right when they tell you a problem exists. Beta readers are almost always wrong when they tell you how to fix the problem.

It sounds, to me, like you have a well-written prologue that adds to the story, but may also detract from some readers' engagement with the novel as a whole. It's up to you to decide whether it helps more than hurts to keep it as it is. If you decide to change it, then you have to decide what will be the most effective way to go.

Very brief prologue: cuts out most of the info, but won't 'throw' readers since readers are used to short prologues in F.

No prologue: readers will never know what they're missing. You will, but that may or may not be a problem.

Long prologue: readers get the full info, but some readers may not read it, and some readers may not engage with Chapter 1 because they are too engaged with Prologue (or upset that ppl die).

Integrate it elsewhere: readers get the full info, but it will have to be done carefully and skillfully, and the reader will get the info piecemeal rather than in one block. Flashbacks, journal entries, letters written to another person, oral reports -- you have a lot of choices, and if one seems particularly applicable and in character, it may be worth considering.

KTC
02-05-2015, 11:35 PM
I can't wrap my head around a 15K prologue. No matter how I try. And I'm of the camp that has no issues with prologues. I don't understand it when people say they don't read them. I don't understand when people say they hate them. But 15K...it gives me the image of sitting in the waiting room for an overly long period of time...waiting to get in. Sounds like you already got a lot of advice here. I don't have any for you...but I don't think a prologue that long would do anything for me.

Cathy C
02-05-2015, 11:55 PM
Here's what I would recommend because, well...it's what I had to do with mine. :o

Cut the whole darned prologue out and save it as a separate document. Retell the absolutely-necessary-can't-live-without-it parts as flashback. Leave the mystery. Then, after you find a publisher, you tell your editor, "Hey, y'know, I have this terrific prologue that I cut out because it's well, a prologue, but it would make a great short or novella. Editor will get all excited because it's more stuff to sell, and say, "Terrific! Let's set that for release between books one and two as great promo."

:)

Sage
02-06-2015, 12:05 AM
What a great idea, Cathy!

Also, I'm with KTC. I'm pro-prologue. But when I shop for books, I don't read the prologue while previewing because they often aren't a good example of what the book will be like. There's a reason it's a prologue, not chapter 1--the POV is different, the style is different, the setting and/or characters are different... When deciding that I want to invest myself in the full novel, I look to chapter 1 and beyond. But after buying the book, I read that prologue.

I can't imagine going through 15K to get to that point. I would constantly be checking to see if I missed the beginning of chapter 1 as I flipped through, if it was a physical book; in a Kindle sample, I'd never reach chapter 1.

taeray
02-06-2015, 12:48 AM
I can't wrap my head around a 15K prologue. No matter how I try. And I'm of the camp that has no issues with prologues. I don't understand it when people say they don't read them. I don't understand when people say they hate them. But 15K...it gives me the image of sitting in the waiting room for an overly long period of time...waiting to get in.

Heh, well...you can probably imagine better how I got here if you knew where I started. Originally, back when I was starry eyed and writing for fun, I just wrote and wrote. Then I joined a writers group years later and inquired about steps to get published. The leader of the group asked me how long my book was and I had no idea, I'd just been having fun. I looked and it was 400k words with the potential for another 50k. So a 15k prologue was nothing, haha. The group helped me split that beast into three separate novels but I was left with this long prologue and the problem I'm now facing.



Here's what I would recommend because, well...it's what I had to do with mine. :o

Cut the whole darned prologue out and save it as a separate document. Retell the absolutely-necessary-can't-live-without-it parts as flashback. Leave the mystery. Then, after you find a publisher, you tell your editor, "Hey, y'know, I have this terrific prologue that I cut out because it's well, a prologue, but it would make a great short or novella. Editor will get all excited because it's more stuff to sell, and say, "Terrific! Let's set that for release between books one and two as great promo."

:)

That's an angle I had never considered. That's a great idea. Thank you. :-D

Unimportant
02-06-2015, 05:49 AM
That's an angle I had never considered. That's a great idea. Thank you. :-D
It is a great idea!

If the book can't exist without the prologue, then the prologue is needed. If you've written a terrific 15K word piece that you don't want to waste, but isn't needed for the book, then using it as a novella to entice readers to buy the book is a terrific tool.

I'm an avid reader who loves to discover new authors but is a bit leery about spending money on an unknown author, so a free or nearly-free short story that leads into a novel is the best way to 'hook' me.

Roxxsmom
02-08-2015, 06:10 AM
I don't categorically hate prologues, but 15k seems like an awfully long time to wait to get to the main story. It sounds like an awfully long chapter for any part of a a novel. I believe reading somewhere that an "average" chapter length for adult fiction is between 3000-4000 words, though of course there's considerable variation.

Things I'd ask myself if I were writing a novel and I felt like I needed a prologue that was this long.

1. Am I starting the novel in the right place?

2. Is this really just the first several chapters of the novel--aka the first act? 10-15 (10-15% of total length) words is the length it usually takes to get to the so-called plot catalyst in a typical novel.

3. Would 15,000 words spent on a single battle bore my readers to tears? Am I pacing this battle properly?

4. The thing about readers bonding to characters that nearly all die.

5. Is it possible that I've actually got an entire novel, or at least novella, that takes place before this one even starts?


Any or none of these may apply to your story, of course. I haven't read it, so I can't say.

Brutal Mustang
02-08-2015, 07:11 AM
Beta feedback has been so helpful with this but frustrating as well. Two betas (two avid readers) told me not to change a thing, that the book needed the prologue to make sense. One beta (writer) worked with me on a massive overhaul and was happy with it after that. Then the next (writer) told me to cut it completely, and the last (writer) told me to cut bits and pieces. I also had someone (writer & avid reader of fantasy) read just the prologue and chapter one and she loved everything about it. It has been VERY confusing.

Betas will always conflict one another. Because of this, it's best to think of betas as a study group. If they don't form a consensus, get more betas until you do have a consensus! :D


It sounds, to me, like you have a well-written prologue that adds to the story, but may also detract from some readers' engagement with the novel as a whole.

I suspect this as well. It sounds like you're introducing your readers to one story, and then yanking it out from under their feet just when they're cozy and shoving them into another story. This means you'll have to re-hook your readers. And just like fish, they'll be harder to catch the second time around.

Old Hack
02-08-2015, 12:28 PM
I doubt that a novel would sit right with such a big chunk of prologue right at the beginning. The flow will be wrong. Your readers will struggle. If you're absolutely certain it's required, have you considered using it as a series of flashbacks throughout the text? (Or would it be flashforwardses? Ha!)

The big dealbreaker is having a cliffhanger ending. It's ok to leave a couple of smaller story strands open to lead into a possible sequel; but if the main thread of the story is unresolved at the end, it's not a complete book and publishers are very unlikely to take it on.

chompers
02-08-2015, 06:08 PM
Although it's unusual, a 15k prologue isn't impossible. One highly successful series had a very long prologue -- The Flowers in the Attic series.

rwm4768
02-09-2015, 12:31 AM
I think some of the prologues in The Wheel of Time got over that length, but that was later in the series (and you could argue that those books could have done with a lot of cutting).

In a book that's presumably less than 150,000 words, a prologue that takes up ten percent of the story feels too long for me. Are you sure you can't just call it part one? That way, you could separate it into smaller chapters as well.

On the ending, it's okay to leave some things unresolved, but you need to resolve the main conflict. Otherwise, readers will feel cheated.

Katana
02-09-2015, 03:23 AM
Are you sure you can't just call it part one? That way, you could separate it into smaller chapters as well.
This is what I've done, and it seems to be working because no one has complained.