Author Topic: Prologues, should they be used at all.  (Read 5452 times)

Offline glued

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Prologues, should they be used at all.
« on: October 30, 2006, 08:50:12 AM »
In a recent post prologues were mentioned.
Nadine hated reading them; Paul W didnt. So this makes for an interesting topic in itself.

Personally I have nothing against prologues. I just go on reading without caring too much what the prologue said. To me its justs part of the novel.
Makes me think though what you reckon is the proper use of prologues. Should they even be there.

Offline Alice, a Country Gal

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Re: Prologues, should they be used at all.
« Reply #1 on: October 30, 2006, 09:13:25 AM »
To me its justs part of the novel.
Makes me think though what you reckon is the proper use of prologues. Should they even be there.


Prologues, to use or not, that is the question. 
I suspect you will find as many answers as there are readers, writers and editors.

But one editor said something that has stuck with me; (paraphrased)
If the information in your prologue is important to the story, it should be a chapter, not a prologue.

Much later I was reading a book for a book club, a book I probably would never have picked up, but it was the choice that time around . . . so I read.

In the prologue the author included a 'horned toad' which happened to be one of my favorite little harmless creatures.  This woman had obviously not taken the trouble to learn anything about horned (or 'horny' as we use to call them) toads and had this one hopping about.  Horned toads Never Hop.  Instead they run.  Kind of an awkward run to be sure but given their physical characteristics it's probable the best they can do.
Back to the subject; The prologue in that book probably did more to put me off prologues than anything else. 

So for me if a prologue is needed to set the scene, do it in a few sentences only, keep it simple.  If more information needs to be related, find a way to include it in the story.

My thoughts, likes/dislikes only.  I'm not an expert by any stretch of the imagination.
 
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PaulW

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Re: Prologues, should they be used at all.
« Reply #2 on: October 30, 2006, 09:19:00 AM »
They are a tool that can be overused. Eddings used them in the Belgariad to expose the 'holy books' setting the scene for the story, a self-contained short story. Others have used them to give a 'preview' of the action, so you can take the reader directly into the middle of the action. Say a fight scene, then go back in the book to explain how the character got there.

They're similar to flashbacks, really easy to abuse, but extremely powerful and useful if done well. My test is that it has to be a) separate from the main flow of the book. b) essential to set the scene.  c) stands as a piece of fiction in its own right.

By c) I mean that I don't want to ask direct questions in a prologue to be answered in the main story - if that was the case I'd have it IN the main story. To a certain extent its unavoidable, but I avoid it as much as possible. It's something that will help the reader understand the main story though, as an alternative to having an omniescent narrator (which I hate) to fill them in on this stuff.

So - in the story we were discussing. A mother has a child, the child is taken from her and treated. This is a story in itself. Eighteen years later, the main story takes place, separate from this but linked. That justifies the prologue.

In one of my stories, the prologue describes a young girl at school, scorned and evil. She kills her classmates and is taken into state care. A number of years later the main story takes place, knowing about the earlier event helps - more importantly though I already have the readers attention and curiousity about what became of the girl.

You DO have to ask yourself if there is a better way to do it though, always. I don't like to do a chapter 1 and then have a huge temporal gap between chapter 2 with little flow between them. I don't want to set up the plot lines in the main story back when the character was a young girl, they weren't relevant then. So the prologue is a perfect tool for me in that one. (It's the only one I HAVE used a prologue in though, so don't think it's a tool of choice for me.)

Anyway, that's my view on it ;D  

Nelodra

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Re: Prologues, should they be used at all.
« Reply #3 on: October 30, 2006, 09:37:03 AM »
I agree with Paul (again, I might say). A prologue can be a very good tool if properly used, like in the Belgariad (go and read the series, if you haven't already).
But as with any great writing tool - it can be over-used, mis-used, abused... When you feel you absolutely have to use a prologue, ask yourself if there's another way to achieve whatever it is you want to achieve and then ask yourself if that other way is just as good or even better. If so, go for the other way, if not, by all means, write a prologue. I love reading a GOOD prologues, that draws me into the main story. I HATE reading bad prologues that only distract you from the story and make you wan to burn the book. In fact, now that I've come to think of it, burning that book may just be its best use  ;D

N.Mott

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Re: Prologues, should they be used at all.
« Reply #4 on: October 30, 2006, 10:17:42 AM »
Personally I hate prologues and often refuse to read them purely out of contrariness, and the worst are ones that take a scene from within the novel and rewrite it as a hook to read on.
But I will make an exception if they provide a background to a time and place I am not familiar with - so a classic example would be anything Sci-fi, where details of an alien world and culture are summarised - preferable humourously
For any historical novel the writer can reasonably expect his readers to have some idea of the time and place, and, if not, then I would prefer to be educated through the text, not a prologue full of dry names, facts and dates.

Offline glued

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Re: Prologues, should they be used at all.
« Reply #5 on: October 31, 2006, 01:21:03 AM »
T My test is that it has to be a) separate from the main flow of the book. b) essential to set the scene.  c) stands as a piece of fiction in its own right.

By c) I mean that I don't want to ask direct questions in a prologue to be answered in the main story - if that was the case I'd have it IN the main story. To a certain extent its unavoidable,
Paul, wondering about point c. How can a prologue be a separate piece of fiction if it has links later on in the novel. It has to remain connected to the main book. Can you please elaborate.

Personally I hate prologues and often refuse to read them purely out of contrariness, and the worst are ones that take a scene from within the novel and rewrite it as a hook to read on.
Naomi, you seem to hate prologues for no good reason than the fact that the word prologue is written on top.
Coming back to the hook, sometimes I find my best scenes in the middle of a novel and not at the beginning.
But since we need a hook as we all maintain whats wrong if the hook is set up through a prologue and that scene can be revisited later somehow.

I value your opinions but just some thoughts that spring to mind.

Offline Browncoat

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Re: Prologues, should they be used at all.
« Reply #6 on: October 31, 2006, 02:08:44 AM »
Hey guys,

Well, being just a fledgling writer, Im still figuring these things out for myself and after reading some of the conversation between you guys, Im glad I joined up here. Its great.
As concerns the subject of Prologues, I think its a very situational and personal choice thing, so as was pointed out in one of the replys - you will find as many views on this as there are people. The crux is that some writers feel the need to add a prologue and some dont like having one around, instead turning it into a chapter.

Well if you think about it, a prologue is in fact just a chapter, more like an introductory one actually. In the case of certain stories, the reader needs to have a setup, or a background to the place or idea that the author is putting in, but this only happens depending again on the style of the author and the intent of the story.
Like a sci-fi story that needs some background, but there are those that prefer not to have one and just weave it into the fabric of the whole thing. Its all relative.

And basically what Im trying to say in my own roundabout way is that at the end of the day this question cant really be answered, since you cant have such rigidity in writing, thats the whole point of the creative field, to each his own way.

cheers...
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PaulW

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Re: Prologues, should they be used at all.
« Reply #7 on: October 31, 2006, 06:22:07 AM »
Paul, wondering about point c. How can a prologue be a separate piece of fiction if it has links later on in the novel. It has to remain connected to the main book. Can you please elaborate.

Ok glued, the best I can do is give an example where I used one. The main story concerns a woman with special powers, she's a necromancer and has used her abilities to control the dead to get money and position. Most of the time she covers her true nature really well, being a polished and professional seeming business woman. She obviously uses her powers which gives you the clue that she's not as nice as she seems but it's a little confusing at the same time.

To set the scene I needed a prologue, based back when she was a teenager and just coming to terms with her powers. So I wrote a piece (actually posted in the review section under Necro) that tells the story of how she comes to terms with her powers, kills her parents and schoolmates - effectively a short story that stands alone, ending when she and her spooks reveal themselves to their victims.

It's in the same world as the main story, set earlier, with the same main character. But - you could read it on it's own and get the whole story of that particular time. The main story then takes the Necro in her normal day to day life (which you now understand more because of the prologue) and makes the change that leads to the main story. I don't have to do flashbacks to explain her underlying persona. It's like I've done book 1 of a trilogy in the prologue (a very, very short book admittedly) and book 2 picks up X years later.

Hope that's a bit clearer now. The main idea is ... if it's part of the main story, put it in there. If it's not, and you really need it, flashbacks and prologues are good tools.

Offline Jonathan_Harker

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Re: Prologues, should they be used at all.
« Reply #8 on: October 31, 2006, 06:27:36 AM »
This is an old debate. The prologue was invented by Euripides. His prologues were a kind of cross between an aside, an introduction and a first act. Euripides used them to convey information and events to the audience which would otherwise leave them confused or force the playwright to clog up the following acts with exposition in the form of asides or unrealistic dialogue used purely to tell the audience what the characters would obviously already know (cold and dead exposition masquerading as dialogue).

If prologues are used in this way then I have no problem with them, but in my experience they're often not >:( If you're going to use a prologue then I think you have to be very careful about keeping it precise and brief. Using a lengthy prologue instead of letting the plot unfold fully throughout chapters is pure laziness and is a total turn off in my eyes. It's like a dramatist doing a quick summary of Acts1-3 and skipping straight to the action at the end :P

On the other hand though, the world of classic drama, the medium that invented the prologue (and some other older traditional forms) feel themselves exempt from this kind of thing. For example, Antigone by Sophocles, was the first (first written, although chronologically last) of the Sophocles Oedipus Canon and has no prologue. As a result the reader / audience is left totally in the dark about the long, complex and outright bizarre histories of the characters. Maybe in 450BC Greece, every man and his dog knew these events and characters, but today itís probably safe to say that the majority of people don't. The same applies today as a percentage of your audience will not know things that have been covered in previous books or simple facts that the author may think common knowledge.

It seems you have a stand off between serving the needs of your loyal long standing audience and the needs and accessibility of the 'Johnny Come Lately' and the plain uninformed. Either way, someone will be annoyed.

IMHO prologues should be restricted to factual text that the majority of readers will not know, that has not been covered in previous works and is too complex and/or lengthy to be added in to the work proper. There can simply be no justification for clogging up a story with repetition and dead exposition (John Norman's Gor series anyone? Every book after #2 seemed to recap the previous books with the actual story becoming ever smaller :P).

Personally though, I think an even better way of putting across essential information is the use of footnotes. I find it much better to take on the information in installments as I approach the relevant point in the story. You can even reference footnotes to other books or appendices at the back if required! That way the reader can decide for themselves if what you have is worth their time or not.

There is definitely one thing worse than a prologue though and that's the introduction slapped on the front of literary classics by some publishers >:( If a publisher is going to stick a dissertation length introduction in a book, addressing the reader as an expert and a veteran on the text, then it needs to be at the BACK! I feel sorry for the people who (as I used to) take the time to ruin the book they're about to read with these 'introductions'.

Sorry for the rant ;D Just my 2p

~Shane

N.Mott

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Re: Prologues, should they be used at all.
« Reply #9 on: October 31, 2006, 08:04:16 AM »
Quote
Naomi, you seem to hate prologues for no good reason than the fact that the word prologue is written on top.

Very true, glued.  :)  I am a novelist's worst type of reader, and I have never yet met a prologue that I liked; with the possible exception of a long 'shaggy dog story' from an autobiography, that was not included in the rest of the text.
I will, however, read the blurb on the back of the book, so, if you want to put in a hook, that is probably the best place for it - preferably reduced to a paragraph and with a punchline attached.  ;D

Offline glued

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Re: Prologues, should they be used at all.
« Reply #10 on: November 01, 2006, 12:59:28 AM »
Thanks all for the replies. It seems apparent that the best approach is to avoid the Prologue.

In the novel I am writing; I have a prologue where the narrator a boy of 12 sets off the story by narrating an incident with his Granddad. It has no main connection with the novel and is a stand alone piece of fiction in its own right.
if I take it out it wouldnt detract from the novel. I also have the choice of including it in the novel. BUt I am using it as a hook more than anything else.

My problem is this : Prologue starts withh first person narration of boy of 12.
Chapter 1 starts the boy is now a man of 27 and revisiting his village.  He then goes on to reminisce about the events that took place when he was 12 this is the same point as the prologue. The whole novel then continues in the same time frame except at the last chapter.
I am wondering if the shifting of time to and forth would be distracting or not. [is to and forth proper grammer by the way.]

What would your comments be on this. I know you havent read the novel so this is a little like a shot in the dark.
I did post the Prologue as "prologue to a novel set in Pakistan." in review my work.

Offline Jillanne Nehls

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Re: Prologues, should they be used at all.
« Reply #11 on: November 01, 2006, 06:20:39 AM »
Hi Everyone,

Re prologues in my professional opinion: I've rarely seen a prologue that was vital to the story unless the genre was fantasy or sci/fi, or the story began years earlier than the first chapter. Sometimes a prologue is good if introducing another world in sci/fi, or explaining a world, a setting in fantasy (since this genre consists of a place and setting the author created, it would need explanation), or in family sagas where the story's crux was caused by something far in the past.

The advice to turn the prologue into a chapter is excellent. Writers can note in a sub heading that chapter 2 occurs some years later. I also tended to begin with a prologue, but found that flashbacks, dreams, or even thoughts did a much better job.

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Offline Gltagaman

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Re: Prologues, should they be used at all.
« Reply #12 on: November 06, 2006, 03:44:14 PM »
I agree with Jillane. My novel has a four line prologue a quote from a poem, which gives a reference to a specific incident that occurred forty three years before the date of the first chapter and puts subsequent events in their historical context.


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N.Mott

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Re: Prologues, should they be used at all.
« Reply #13 on: November 07, 2006, 06:33:59 AM »
Ok, despite being vehmently against them, I will admit to writing a prologue. But I have scattered snippets of it throughout the novel in the form of nurserytales and act as clues for the main character to follow. The full background story, written in the form of a Greek Myth is either going right at the end of the book, or as a separate booklet, so as not to spoil the suspense.

And my son has just started reading Vampirates, which has a prologue - a scene where the vampire 'pounces' on a maiden in a rose garden - which he thinks is great, and has got him hooked into reading the rest of the very thick book.

Glued: I think your idea of telling the tale from the different view points of your character at different stages in their life, is a great idea. My only concern would be covering the same scene albeit from different viewpoints, which might be boring for the reader - something I have found out, while doing the current NIAY exercise on Points of View. If there is not enough different information about the same scene in the two versions, it can be very boring to read.
And, as Jillanne says, they could still be opening chapters, rather than a prologue.

Offline glued

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Re: Prologues, should they be used at all.
« Reply #14 on: November 07, 2006, 08:12:47 AM »
Naomi thanks for the comments.
Right now I have the first write hopefully on schedule to be completed in next seven days. This should be under 70,000 words.
Then I am going for my second write to hopefully get everything right and make this a little longer.

I am unsure of the prologue now. And am also struggling to decide if I want to keep this first person POV. In any case I intend to finish this first and see if I like this. I have changed the story amd plot many times. First person is pretty difficult to write as a 12 yr boy. So I am grappling with the idea of third person.

I just had to say this; get it out of my system. Its so frustrating and I know i'm blubbering. And i need a shoulder to cry on. ;)