View Full Version : To prologue or not to?
December 15th, 2001, 11:46 PM
Write a prologue where some of your setting is discribed, or not?
And, if yes, how long should that prologue be, in your opinion?
December 16th, 2001, 05:25 AM
I think it depends on the story.
For instance, the book Iím writing now will need a prologue. I was reviewing the first few chapters. They were so loaded with history that they were actually quite boring. After considering the problem, I realized that two scenes could explain all that history without all the boring narrative explanations. But I didnít want a flashback in the first chapter. Also a flashback would not have worked since my character is basically alone and she doesnít really remember those event.
A prologue seems the obvious answer. Iíve been able to cut the first few chapters in half, livening them up tremendously. And some vital information (more than Iíd originally intended) can be conveyed to the reader much more subtly than before. The prologue will probably end up being a couple thousand words, about the size of a small chapter.
My other books though, do not need a prologue.
December 16th, 2001, 05:51 AM
Most of the prologues I have read seem to be written after a first edition when a writer feels that some explanation is necessary, having received queries from readers. It probably is not necessary, as KATS says, if the author has been clear in the first place.
Introductions, on the other hand, can set the reader up or put him in a frame of mind that the author feels is useful.
December 16th, 2001, 10:26 AM
But don't forget a prologue can't be used solely as an info-dump. It has to add to the story and you are expecting people to read it.
Personally, I've used prologues when the event is sufficiently separate in distance or time from the opening chapter so as to risk confusion.
Critically, the events have occured first in a chronological sense, and since I don't dive around in time in my writing, they therefore need to be placed first in the book.
Personally, I think they've worked but one person's prologue is another's chapter one...
December 17th, 2001, 06:33 AM
Prologues are tricky business. Literally, they are an "introduction". However a writer chooses to utilize this "introduction" can serve a number of functions. The prologue can srve to introduce the characters to the history of a fantasy world, it can introduce them to the style or the writer, it can introduce exposition...but in my humble opinion, the most effective prologues are ones in which the author tantalizes the reader. By introducing just a taste of the world of the novel, and setting a gripping and well paced scene for the prologue, the author draws the reader in. Ironically, a good prologue should leave the reader asking MORE questions than before they'd read it. Moving from prologue to first chapter, you want your reader hungry to discover just WHAT WAS going on in the prologue. Examples of supremely successful prologues include the prologues in Robert Jordan's EYE OF THE WORLD and George R.R. Martin's GAME OF THRONES. Both prologues whet the appetite of the reader, bringing them fully into the world of the story, but not immediately inroducing us to the protagonists. They introduce information through the ACTION, some of which does not come to bear or even make complete sense until the reader had made it further into the novel. This allows not only for a sense of mystery and intrigue to be developed, but gives the reader a sense of discovery as the story unfolds.
I am very much against prologues which serve simply to relate details of world, or act as an info-dump of exposition. You can effectively relate a great deal of information as the stroy progresses...so if one is to include a prologue to their book, the author should ask themself, "What am I introducing the reader to? Why do I have to do it in a prologue?" As KAT pointed out, the prologue can flash-back to some prior event upon which the story hinges (i.e. THE EYE OF THE WORLD), it can relate a future event and then the story itself goes back and leads us back to the prologue (a very popular motif in films i.e. PULP FICTION) or it can serve to introduce any number of story elements.
As for length...by definition, a prologue is an introduction. If you are writing a 900 page fantasy epic, your prologue could be ten or more pages. If it's a 150 page Sci-fi story, somehting shorter might be appropriate. Length is dependent on the story told and the writers tastes.
Sorry for another long post, but one must find SOMETHING to fill the day at mind-numbing temp jobs!
January 15th, 2002, 09:24 AM
In the book I'm working on (sigh...HAVE been working on for two years...), I included a prologue that reads more like a preceeding chapter, but taking place some many centuries before the story.
It introduces the reader to the historical culture of the characters- seafaring, adventurous, etc....very Norse. Though many generations pass between the prologue and story, I wanted to set apart the people I was writing about from the general population of the region. Hence, the prologue serves to give the reader some sense of identity to the race I am using since those characteristics have a strong bearing on the present state of the people.
January 16th, 2002, 07:22 PM
For me, the prologue must not be another chapter in the story (or else why name it prologue and not chapter one?). It must introduce the reader to the general feel of the world we are writing about, and it mustn't be long. 1000 word max. I usually prefer less than 500.
January 16th, 2002, 07:52 PM
Well, I've been meaning to get around to this thread, and finally have the time!
My three published novels all have a small Prologue. I like the prologue actually, and for myself, I use them to give the novel a launching pad, as it were. Sure, they really shouldn't be a preliminary first chapter, but used effectively, I think they're a worthwhile addition to any novel.
I use mine as a sort of teaser, describing a seemingly unrelated event, which is explained later in the book. Or, in the case of my novel in progress, Bortag's Curse, to convey a scene or event that may have occured on a previous timeline to the actual story, something that may initially appear as it doesn't belong, but will of course be picked up later in the plot, as the mystery is unravelled.
As to a length or word count for a prologue - well again, this would depend on how long it takes you to deliver the message or describe the scene you want your readers to remember. But, as Bardos has alluded to, if it's too long, the reader may lose interest and skip to chapter 1.
[This message has been edited by erebus (edited January 17, 2002).]
January 17th, 2002, 12:16 AM
I never read prologues, and I never write them. To me they're like movie trailers before the main feature.
I don't mean to antagonise other people here, this is just my opinion. I know prologues can be used to set the scene, telling the history of the past 1000 years or whatever. I know some people would no more skip a prologue than they would breakfast, so I'm not declaring it a wasted effort, either.
I think my opinion is shaped by the fact I read more SF than Fantasy. It's a genre thing, I guess. But I just went and checked my well-worn copy of Lord of the Rings, to see whether there was a preview. There is, and I skipped it yet again when I tore through the trilogy last week ;-) But a quick skim shows me it's a chatty piece - author to reader, with a nod and a wink - not a turgid rambling history of Middle Earth. (Perhaps it would be unkind of me to mention the Silmarillion?)
Look on the bright side - you could always write a prologue then work out which parts REALLY matter to the story, and then weave them into the first chapter without dumping or telling. A challenge, no less ;-)
January 17th, 2002, 01:20 AM
You make a good point, Spacejock - plenty of people regard prologues as optional reads so you have to be very careful about the information you place there and what effect not reading it will have on the story as a whole.
Funny thing, on redrafting my latest offering, I was planning to include a prologue but, having written it, have made it chapter one instead because I consider it too important to reamin unread (and too long for a prologue for my liking too).
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