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Author Topic: Prolouges
Grant John
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I have been writing away polishing my first manuscript and am having a slight problem. I have a triology of first drafts, plus am halfway through rewriting the first one so it is ready for publishing, and have now put together my query package to send out. My problem is that all three manuscripts used to have prolouges, but I never really liked the prolouge for the first book because I wanted to get into my main characters story not some secondary characters, so I have scrapped that prolouge, but still feel the prolouges for the second and third books are good, important and work.

So my question is: would you find it weird if the first book had no prolouge but the next two did?

Or should I make chapter 1 of my first book the prolouge (which is possible as it is set a few years before chapter 2) and risk people skipping it and missing the introduction of my main characters?

As fellow reader and writers what do you think?

Grant John


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skadder
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They do say that you should avoid prologues altogether. I always ignore prologues and never feel like I have missed something story-wise.
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mommiller
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I always read prologues. Why wouldn't you read something that the author wanted you to know?

My current WIP has a prologue. The action occuring within it is almost twenty years previous from where Chapter One starts off.

Only you, as the author, will know what is best for your book at this point. However, your agent or editor may think differently and offer suggestions otherwise.

Good luck.

[This message has been edited by mommiller (edited March 15, 2008).]


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rickfisher
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I think that only about one person in a thousand would even notice that, hey! the second two books have prologues and the first didn't. So whether those few people thought it odd is really pretty immaterial. It won't matter. It's about as important as making sure the books all have the same number of chapters.

If you're really insistent on making them match that way, you'd be better served by making the other prologues "Chapter 1" instead of the first chapter 1 a prologue. People DO skip prologues, for whatever reason, and if the material is important for understanding the rest of the book, you take a risk by placing it where it might not be read.


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Lord Darkstorm
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If the prolog is the recap of the last novel, then by all means, do it. I know that lots of series in the past used to use the prolog as a means of not spending several chapters trying to bring the reader up to speed on the story. This is for stories where the main character is the same as the last book, or very closely linked to the prior main character.


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InarticulateBabbler
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If the prologue is important to the plot, make it chapter one. If it's an expansion of the Protagonist's/Antagonist's character or an intro to the milieu, or magic system, go for it. Some people will read it, searching for more richness to your world, others will skip it (their loss). Remember that there is a price for every decision, just be willing to accept it.

I have never seen anyone pass up a novel because it had a prologue, but there are obviously people who skip the prologue.

[This message has been edited by InarticulateBabbler (edited March 17, 2008).]


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Robert Nowall
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I'd be inclined to keep a separate prologue, especially if it's in some way separated by (1) a different cast of characters, (2) a different setting than Chapter One, and (3) some distance in time (before or after) as well.

(I've seen a lot of debate about skipping prologues, but can't figure the logic of it. What harm would it do one to read it? What harm could it do to not do so?)


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I think that people who tend to skip prologues have found that most of them are just expository lumps and they want to get to the real story.

A particularly crucial prologue, in my opinion, was the one to Guy Gavriel Kay's TIGANA, but it's cruciality wasn't apparent until very near the end of the book, when it made what I consider one of the most horrific reveals I've ever encountered in fantasy even more horrific than it might have been without the prologue.

It wasn't an expository lump, though. It was a scene that occurred long before the start of the "real story," and the main purpose it served, for me, at least, was to create sympathy for a character that the other characters only referred to for most of the rest of the book.

And that may be another reason people skip prologues: if they create sympathy for a character that they never see or only see at the end, they have to transfer that energy to the next sympathetic character in the "real story," and there is a bit of frustration at sympathetic energy wasted.

In the case of TIGANA, I don't think it was all that wasted, but I had to get almost to the end to find that out.


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Lord Darkstorm
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I will start any prolog that I run across, but I'll be honest, if it is a several page info dump, it gets skipped. Some prologs make so little sense I jump them as well. I'm for starting a story and then telling it. If the prolog is critical, make it chapter one.

Why do I skip prologs? If they aren't interesting then they are ok to be skipped, because they aren't a part of the story.


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Doc Brown
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Ender's Game has no prologue. Speaker for the Dead has a prologue. These are two of the finest novels ever written.

Does this answer your question?


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skadder
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I don't understand why an author can't write all the prologue within the story. Isn't that learning to write is about--learning to get the whole story in?

OSC says in his book 'How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy' that writing a prologue should be avoided. Since he is a great writer I would take his advice.(p83)

He says readers, when faced with a 'history lesson', or something equally unengaging (no character-no conflict) are turned off. He says it's usually best to skip the prologue '...as the author should have done..'

Some people like prologues, but many don't. Everyone likes the meat of the story so that is the best place to start.



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Wolfe_boy
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quote:
A particularly crucial prologue, in my opinion, was the one to Guy Gavriel Kay's TIGANA, but it's cruciality wasn't apparent until very near the end of the book, when it made what I consider one of the most horrific reveals I've ever encountered in fantasy even more horrific than it might have been without the prologue.

Ah, Kathleen, you make my heart flutter and die - I love GGK novels! I had the exact same reaction, but not until my second read through when the full implications of Tigana's prologue hit me.

Jayson Merryfield


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JeanneT
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quote:
He says readers, when faced with a 'history lesson', or something equally unengaging (no character-no conflict) are turned off. He says it's usually best to skip the prologue '...as the author should have done..'

Well, Mr. Card isn't the end all of advise or of writing. And who says a prologue has to be "unengaging?"

I suggest you read the prologue to A Game of Thrones. Anyone who is unengaged after they read that--well, it's my opinion, but I think they have something wrong with them.

The question really is what SHOULD a prologue do and when is one right to use?

[This message has been edited by JeanneT (edited March 18, 2008).]


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Igwiz
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Ah! JeanneT has hit upon it...

I think Card is saying that, if you think you have to have a prologue to give blah-blah background about what magic works there or to give a non-applicable history lesson, then avoid it or work it into Chapter 1.

But, let's say that you're writing an adventure story, where the MC will be searching for an artifact that was lost or hidden 300 years ago. If your prologue is an active and vibrant scene that shows how it was lost, hidden, or provides otherwise salient or context building information, then it's no longer just floof.

But if you tried to make it Chapter 1, but it occurs so far distant from your current story line, then, unless you plan to bop back and forth every other chapter between now and 300 years ago, it makes more sense to put it in a prologue.

That's my 2 cents, anyway...


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skadder
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quote:
Well, Mr. Card isn't the end all of advise or of writing. And who says a prologue has to be "unengaging?"

He isn't? Well, what the hell am I doing on his website, then?

I agree that if the prologue is a SCENE, that is different. Then it is really a chapter called a 'PROLOGUE' rather a potted history of the Gods of Boringania or the dull story of how the World of Imtiredofit was created from nothing but a gods fart.

I am all for scenes. When I say I skip prologues, I skip only NON-SCENE like prologues.

JeanneT--I did read A Game of Thrones, but I ...skipped the prologue.

[This message has been edited by skadder (edited March 18, 2008).]


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Robert Nowall
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By and large, we've been talking about prologues with characters and plot and dialog and setting and all that...however, I can also remember Tolkien's prologues (both of them) to The Lord of the Rings. One of them talks of what he went through to write the book(s), and the other explains a little about hobbits and their world and the story thus far. If you just stumble across this work, if you haven't read The Hobbit, or seen the movie, or picked up some of the material out of the general mythological fund of the modern-day world, you might just miss something important to understanding what's going on.

You might be missing a lot of interesting information about the world Tolkien created if you skip them...however, in the "hobbits" introduction, Tolkien also violated one rule by indicating the survival of some characters (and, inversely, the defeat of others), so you'd be missing that, too...


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JasonVaughn
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The only prologue I've ever skipped was for Lord of the Rings. (Admittedly, I had seen the films and read the Hobbit so i knew a lot about the history of Middle Earth.) I always read prologues because they're there to be read.

I think David Gemmell is a great example of how to make good use of prologues/epilogues. Every one of his books (I think) has a prologue and an epilogue. His prologues hint at what is to come, rather than give huge info dumps or background etc. and his epilogues work especially well at hinting towards sequels. The moment I finished 'Sword in the Storm' I ran out and bought 'Midnight Falcon.'


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JeanneT
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quote:
JeanneT--I did read A Game of Thrones, but I ...skipped the prologue.

Silly skadder. Actually I'm guilty of skipping large lumps of GRR's novels and going back to read them later AFTER I've read about the characters I like. (I have yet to put the whiney Sansa on the "characters I like" list)

His progloue is great. When I finished reading it, I couldn't wait to read the novel. And re-reading it in the course of this discussion, I really wish I could read the novel for the first time again.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Maybe a different example will be of use here.

If I remember correctly, the first chapter of C. J. Cherryh's DOWNBELOW STATION was unconnected with the rest of the story in much the same way as some of the prologue possibilities being discussed here.

I submit that it should have been a prologue because it introduced characters that were, as I recall, only incidental to the rest of the book, and it confused me about who the main characters were.

Also, it introduced a story and a setting that really didn't show up in the rest of the novel (at least, that's how I remember it), and I would have liked to have read the story the first chapter introduced as much as I liked reading the story that began with the second chapter and continued from there through the rest of the book. (I hope that made sense.)

If I am remembering DOWNBELOW STATION incorrectly, please let me know, but that's how I remember experiencing the book.


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Grant John
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Well some very interesting responces, I think as Chapter 1 is really a chapter about the main characters then it would fit all the requirements you guys have for a 'good' prolouge and it might make the approx. 2 year gap in time between the end of Chapter 1 and the start of Chapter 2 less strange.

The reverse question then is, what would make a really bad first chapter, but an acceptable prolouge?

What I have for the prolouges for the second and third books are:

Book 2 - Scenes from just before and the day of the birth of one of the main characters, with another main character (his older brother) as a child, which would seem weird to me as Chapter 1 as they were basically fully grown in the final chapter of the previous book, and can't really be in flash back as most of the older generation are missing, presumed dead.

Book 3 - is a serious of scenes involving apparently unrelated secondary characters who become important as the book progresses and their connection to each other, and the main characters becomes clear, but who if I had having flash backs whenever my main characters met one of them I would have a very annoying trend.

Is it more acceptable to have abstract prolouges in later volumes? There should be no confusion about who the main characters are if you have already read an entire book/2 books about them.

What do you guys think?

Grant John


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urodela1
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I had a prologue, then decided to make it a short first chapter, but most of my succesive chapters were over twice as long. Then I reformatted my manuscript and realized each chapter exceeded twenty-ought pages (6,000+ words.)

I was only at Chapter 5, but already in the middle of my book. I figured that would depress most readers having to read that much without any feeling we were advancing. It certainly depressed me. *Shudder*

So I cut all the long chapters in half, manageable 3-4K, rewrote a few bits to polish them in their new boundries, and now the former prologue fits right in with the rest and I'm a happy camper.

I agree with some previous posts. Many of us are indisposed to read prologues, they may make your book seem unmarketable to certain editors, and if that's the beginning rather than a preface, just make it Chapter 1. Hope this helps.

Sincerely,
Urodela1


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tnwilz
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One time I wrote a Prologue that was really good. Kinda long but I thought it worked well. Then I wrote an epilogue that was also quite effective - I thought. In the end I decided not to ruin it with an actual story. Most who read it screw up their face and ask me if I've been under stress lately.

Weird.

So I agree with what’s been said so far. Obviously you have to bring your reader up to speed if they are reading your trilogy out of order and the foundation of the story is complex. The more succinctly you do that the better off you are because as others have stated, few will read a four-page prologue.

Tracy

You should also avoid starting the prologue in the second book with, “Previously in John's story”

[This message has been edited by tnwilz (edited April 11, 2008).]


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