I've seen here at Hatrack where some writers submit the first thirteen of a prologue, or portions from a letter or diary and this got me thinking about how and what I submit (here or to a publisher/agent).
When I submit my works to publishers/agents I only ever begin with the actual prose from the first chapter up to the required length of the submission.
If my story has a prologue I don't send that in initially. If my story begins with a poem, or a stanza from a prophecy, or a news article, or letter, or captain's log entry -- anything but actual prose that is not part of the first chapter -- I save these for the hoped for request for more of the manuscript.
Same applies here at Hatrack when I submit my first thirteen.
I believe a story starts with the first chapter. Am I doing something wrong by maintaining this method of submission? What are some of the things y'all will or won't send in initially?
Hmm. Can't say I've ever heard that advice. I count the prologue as a chapter and include it. I figure if they want to see how the book starts, I should send them how the book starts.
Why would you not want to include the prologue? (Or, in the case of submitting the first 13 here, why would you not want to include what would be in the actual first thirteen lines of your manuscript?)
I hear what you're saying, Eric. But, usually a prologue is some type of back story that doesn't necessarily introduce the main character(s), and as I've always understood it, some readers skip over prologues/prefaces/intros and go right to chapter 1, so it makes sense to me to submit starting from chapter 1.
Now, if, as we do here at Hatrack, a writer seeks help with a prologue than by all means submit it for critique, but we can also submit first thirteens of subsequent chapters, too. All in an effort to make our work that much better and clearer.
How would you interpret a publisher's guidelines that specify "send us the first three chapters of your manuscript?" Would one of those three be your prologue? Can't say I've every seen any guidelines that allow for inclusion of a prologue (if one exists) with a submission unless the entire manuscript is asked for. Just curious how you would do things.
I've seen the same advice, but only recently (and it was Janet Reid's blog that I first came across it). But until recently, I followed EricJamesStone's line of thinking. Why send chapter one when the story begins in the prologue?
Well I've come up with an answer from OSC himself: don't write a prologue.
In How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, OSC says of prologues:
"I have learned, as a book reviewer, that it's usually best to skip the prologue entirely and begin with the story--as the author should also have done. I have never--not once--found that by skipping the prologue I missed some information I needed to have in order to read the story; and when I have read the prologue first, I have never--not once--found it interesting, helpful, or even understandable."
Hard words to read when I am a lover of prologues, but the people who have critiqued my stories say basically the same things: skip the prologue, start with the story.
So it is understandable that agents don't want to see prologues. If that's what your story stands on, you should probably integrate the information it into the story better and leave the prologue out--at least until an agent asks for a full MS. Better safe than sorry, right?
Edited: I've read of a few different authors that said they intentionally left the prologue out of their submissions for fear of rejection, though it did make it into the published book. (At the moment Becca Fitzpatrick is the only one that comes to mind.)
[This message has been edited by TrishaH24 (edited April 30, 2010).]
[This message has been edited by TrishaH24 (edited April 30, 2010).]
I'm sort of a fan of prologues myself. As a reader I read every part of a book. From the critiques at the beginning, through the prologue, onto the body of the book, and even (as in the case of Tolkien) the appendices. I'm a glutton for information like that.
I have done as you say and learned to incorporate much of what were prologues into my books thus nixing the prologue in the end, but some of my writings I've kept prologues in. Personal preference I suppose.
However, as far as professional submissions have gone I've always taken them literally and if the guidelines specify "first three chapters" then that's what they get, even if my story has a prologue, they still only get the first three chapters.
quote:But, usually a prologue is some type of back story that doesn't necessarily introduce the main character(s), and as I've always understood it, some readers skip over prologues/prefaces/intros and go right to chapter 1, so it makes sense to me to submit starting from chapter 1.
But if your prologue is only backstory and you feel like you can skip it when submitting a manuscript... why not just omit the prologue entirely? Backstory can always be woven in somewhere else.
quote:How would you interpret a publisher's guidelines that specify "send us the first three chapters of your manuscript?" Would one of those three be your prologue?
I've written two novels (neither of which has been published or even agented, so I'm not really claiming any expertise on this subject), both of which have prologues. But in my epic fantasy, the prologue is labeled "Prologue," while in my SF thriller, the prologue is labeled "Chapter One." As far as I'm concerned, a prologue is just a special chapter, no matter what it's labeled.
I've never had an agent say that I shouldn't have submitted the prologue of my epic fantasy as one of the chapters.
It seems to me that if one doesn't think one's prologue is going to hook the reader, one probably should leave it off not just when submitting the first three chapters, but also when submitting the entire novel.
My prologue is less than 300 words, so I would hate to count that as one of my three chapters (my average chapter length is 2k). Technically, I suppose you don't need it to understand the rest of the story so I can see dropping it for submission, but adding back later. For the story, I like the setup and I think my story needs the epilogue. I want the epilogue to sum things up a year later, from a different POV than the rest of the story. Having the prologue and the epilogue both being from that perspective feels like a better setup to me than just the epilogue. I also like the prologue because it starts with a call to the quest, whereas chapter one doesn't do as succinctly. It shows the motivations of a character which are only hinted in the rest of the text. It also shows some other characters in a different way, which might slightly change how people read chapter one (more suspicion perhaps). The prologue basically says be distrustful.
Basically, I am convinced the prologue is the best way to start the story, but I am not convinced it is the best part of the novel for getting an idea of where the novel is going. Better to have the agent read chapter 3 (which has some exciting stuff on the main plotline) instead of the prologue.
quote:It seems to me that if one doesn't think one's prologue is going to hook the reader, one probably should leave it off...
From what I've read and learned about writing the prologue is never the place for the hook. The hook should always be at the beginning of Chapter 1, and if not the first sentence then somewhere on that first page, especially when submitting. Agents/Editors who see submissions that include a prologue AND a Chapter 1, 2... are surely going to skip the prologue and go to Chapter 1 looking for the hook. Aren't they?
I'm of the school that not all back story needs to be woven into a tale. Some can be succinctly eluded to in a prologue, if that's what the author desires to do, and some can even be left out entirely, leaving the reader free to wonder about the history of an event themselves.
Depends on the prologue. Anyone read the prologue for A Game of Thrones. I think it's very effective, and without it the book just wouldn't be the same. And it is truly a prologue, not chapter one IMHO. I look at prologues the same way as adverbs, sometimes they are overused and unnecessary, but not always.
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A hook--the creation of a strong desire to read on--should appear as soon as you can in whatever you stick initially under your reader's nose--prologue or chapter one.
If you fail to hook in your prologue--and that is what you send an agent as your first chapter--I would imagine you are taking a risk. If it didn't hook me I would read the next manuscript until I found a chapter 1 that did hook.
It doesn't have to be your main hook--just a hook. I would avoid info dump prologues like the plague.
How come in the US you spell it 'prologue' and not prolog? We (UK) spell 'dialogue', which you seem to have changed to dialog. I'm not looking for an actual answer, just seems strange as they are such similar words.
quote:How come in the US you spell it 'prologue' and not prolog? We (UK) spell 'dialogue', which you seem to have changed to dialog. I'm not looking for an actual answer, just seems strange as they are such similar words.
I suspect that it's simply because dialog gets more common usage than prologue. But, really, a better question is what was the purpose of two unvoiced vowels at the ends of those words in the first place.
As a reader, I also start at the beginning, even if it's a prologue, but I rarely find that the prologue was really necessary. It seems to me that there are three kinds of prologue.
Type 1 prologue tries to slip in backstory or setting that could probably have been woven directly into the story (ELANTRIS).
Type 2 prologue tries to establish the mood or setting and is often in danger of being over-written. This prologue is often disorienting if only because the scene and characters (if any) have little to do with the actual beginning of the story.
Type 3 prologue appears at the beginning of later books in a series and tries to sum up what happened in the earlier book(s). It's often every bit as interesting as reading a synopsis (MEMORY, SORROW, AND THORN). The author should have just trusted the reader to remember, or better yet, made the stories stand on their own.
As a writer, I try to avoid prologues. I can see a few instances in which a prologue might help a story, but most really don't need it.
[This message has been edited by Meredith (edited May 01, 2010).]
The ol' "prologue" discussion...can't figure out why so much discussion about the idea goes on...why not just call it Chapter One and leave the editors to figure it out, no matter how short it is?
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If I call my prologue chapter one, readers are more likely to expect that POV to show up again (before the epilogue). People know that in prologues the POV, story line doesn't have to immediately "fit." Calling it a prologue gives a certain freedom. Also, having a one page chapter annoys me (not when I read though, just writing).
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quote:From what I've read and learned about writing the prologue is never the place for the hook. The hook should always be at the beginning of Chapter 1, and if not the first sentence then somewhere on that first page, especially when submitting.
Sorry, I probably should not have used the word "hook" because it's associated with the concept of having some sort of one-time gimmick ("the hook") for getting a reader to read the book.
What I mean is that if you are going to have a prologue, it should be interesting enough that if a reader starts there, the reader will want to continue. Your chapter one should also be interesting enough that if the reader starts there, the reader will want to continue.
If someone starts reading a novel with a prologue and the prologue is not interesting enough to make the reader want to continue reading the novel, then the prologue should not be in the novel.
What I'm basically trying to say is that if a prologue is not compelling enough to send to an agent, it probably should not be in the book. Either make the prologue compelling or drop it.
What about if your novel revolves around something that happened 5 or 10 years before the actual story where the POV enters it?
A good example would be Disney's "Beauty & the Beast" where the whole first scene of the story sets up everything else. I realize it's a fairy tale, and they can be told differently than other tales, but my one novel has basically the same format: An event happens at the birth of the main character that leaves a lot of unanswered questions that will affect him and is the main drive for the story.
By dramatizing that single event at the beginning of the book, it brings out its importance much more than the characters talking about it throughout the book. Right now that section is 29 pages long. I have it broke down into the first 3 chapters but have angonized over whether it should be left that way or made into a long prologue or separated in some way from the rest of the book.
Once this section ends in Chapter 3, Chapter 4 starts with the MC as a young boy, and I'm not sure whether to leave the first 3 chapters be or make it a prologue.
[This message has been edited by Crystal Stevens (edited May 01, 2010).]
OSC's take on prologues, abridged from my boot camp notes:
quote:must write prologue as if it is a story, a scene in and of itself, fully engaging reader and must already be promising the book that you're delivering
GRR Martin's prologue in book one is a rare good one because it fully promises novel, happens in real time, characters initially not aware but soon become aware of what happened in prologue and it immediately affects what they're doing. note: killing everyone in prologue is a warning he's going to do it in the book!
"even if I were committing a prologue I would call it chapter one"
As a reader I don't like prologues. I always want to skip them because I don't care about the backstory or whatever yet, I just want to get in the story. I never skip them though because I'm afraid I'll miss something important and lose out on the experience of reading the book. It has to have something important, or else the author wouldn't include it, right? So I'm always torn between sludging through the prologue and jumping right in at chapter one but potentially missing something good. For me, I hate prologues.
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quote:What about if your novel revolves around something that happened 5 or 10 years before the actual story where the POV enters it?
That's exactly the dilemma I found myself in some months ago, Crystal. And by POV I assume you mean the hero? I had written a prologue full of events that happened some 20 years before the events of my first chapter, but I found that the prologue had grown too long. I don't think there's a rule specifically, but I don't want any prologue of mine to be very long at all. So, I took off with some of the advice gained here at Hatrack and turned the prologue into my first chapters, making the story flow chronologically. This brought my original Chapter 1 down to Chapter 4, and I actually think it worked out well. I may stick with it...and I may not.
quote:The ol' "prologue" discussion...can't figure out why so much discussion about the idea goes on...why not just call it Chapter One and leave the editors to figure it out, no matter how short it is?
My initial intent was not to debate the pros and cons of prologues (although I am glad the debate ensued), but whether or not one should or should not be included in a submission. Each author does what is best for his tale. Let me be clear I mean prologues that are marked by the heading Prologue not a Chapter 1 that only the author knows to be his prologue. If a publisher/agent asks for one's first chapter do they mean a prologue, if one exists, or do they mean the first chapter in any of its forms be it Chapter 1, or One, or 1, or the Roman numeral I?
quote:Sorry, I probably should not have used the word "hook"
Nothing to apologize for, Eric. You make a valid point. Even though I read prologues before plunging into the tale I know others do not. I, may in fact be the exception rather than the norm. But, as a writer, my enjoyment of prologues doesn't matter. What matters is hooking the reader and since many don't read prologues, I only ever put the hook in my first chapter even if my book contains a prologue.
To be honest, as someone who reads prologues, I find it difficult understanding why anyone would skip over one, but to each his own.
quote:To be honest, as someone who reads prologues, I find it difficult understanding why anyone would skip over one, but to each his own.
It's because they have been burned in the past. There have been a lot of bad prologues, especially in fantasy and science fiction. Ones that are so terribly overwrought and purple that they defy meaning. Ones that often seem to have nothing to do with the story. (And sometimes it isn't until you read book 12 that it finally makes sense. Then the Aha! moment doesn't come unless they reread the series.) Some prologues tend to be more 'artistic' then the body of the story. (As in "I don't understand this at all it must be 'artistic")
Judging by your response I don't think you understood what Eric was trying to say, every page should have a 'hook,' hook here meaning a reason to keep reading the story. (Yes even the last page, always leave em wanting more and all that.) He wasn't talking about that brilliant idea you insert at the beginning of a story to sell it.
I'll echo the sentiments of others, I think you should include it in your submission if it should be there at all. If it's a good introduction to the story it belongs there. (Notice I didn't say world, a map in the front and a appendix in the back should work for that.) In my WIP the prologue shows the destruction of the people the main character in chapter one starts looking for. It's tiny and all the rest of the chapters are of nearly uniform length so I feel like it should be called nothing else but prologue and I will submit it. If it was long I would call it chapter one. (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince starts with a prologue called chapter one.)
Oh and as to the extra ue at the end, I blame the French.
Prologues are really just the first chapter that you organize by calling a prologue. Yes it often has backstory, etc... but it is really the beginning of the book. I think it depends how good of a hook your prologue is.
If you want to read a great hook in a prologue, grab The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan and read the 3-4 page prologue. If that does not want to make you buy the book, you don't like fantasy literature. It is the best prologue/hook I have ever seen.
Yes, I agree that the prologue is the beginning of the book -- for the author. Though I never fail to read one it is by apparent consensus seldom the beginning for the reader, at least going by what I have learned here and elsewhere. While a reader may skip over a prologue he will not skip over a Chapter 1, and this is why I don't see where submitting a titled prologue as a chapter helps a prospective author. Unless, as I said earlier, it is submitted along with the entire manuscript.
But it is rare to be asked for a full manuscript right off the bat. Most want a few pages, maybe the first three chapters. I interpret this as meaning the opening parts of the novel other than the prologue.
I can't skip. I just can't. I have this odd quirk that if I don't read every word the author put down, I really didn't read the book. I've never glossed over a paragraph or skipped a prologue. If its that bad I just won't read it. Just my two cents.
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