That such a simple word can raise the hackles of so many agents, editors, and writers lends proof to its power. Most people fall into one camp or the other, with the majority, at least those folks who are most vocal, falling into the "prologues must die" camp.
I don't use prologues myself, and I admit that when I see them in a book, I am most likely to ignore them. For me most prologues feel like the author was cheating, as if they doubted their ability to bring a story completely to life, so pulled me aside and said, "Ok, now here's the important stuff you need to know."
While I may not read prologues in my fun reading, I have wadded through my share in a few years of judging writer's contests. While I have never lowered a score because of a prologue, I have also yet to find a book where the prologue was needed.
And right now prologue lovers everywhere are throwing things at the screen :). Let me interject, while I don't feel most prologues help the story, many folks really love them. And the first rule that I think all writers need to stick with (and the only one, aside from "just keep writing, damnit") is be true to yourself. If you love prologues, and feel you have to have them- do it. Just really examine why you are using them. Try taking them out or making them chapter one and see what happens.
To show the other side of the great prologue debate, I wanted to use an example of a successful prologue. I know I've probably got some written examples, but A) can't find them, and B) have found that movie examples often show writing issues better. So my example of a prologue that works is the recent Star Trek movie. The first ten minutes of the film take place prior to the title shot, so I'm calling it a prologue. If you haven't seen the movie, the first ten minutes are an intense action scene in which were are shown that Star Trek cannon will not be followed (aka someone goes back in time and screws things up) and that it's a very rough world we have here. The scene is needed because the actions set up the rest of the movie, ST fans would be confused without it as it changes the life history of the primary characters. Since no one in that first scene is seen later on in the movie (except the bad guys) I think it works nicely as a prologue to give vital information and set the tone for the movie.
Now what about you? Love prologues? Hate them? If you do use them, why?
I had a prologue in my first novel and after two contests judges and an agent told me to take it out, I did, even though my critique partners liked it.ReplyDelete
After my book was published, one reviewer, told me she wished I'd included a prologue. She thought it may have given her more information about the hero and heroine's past. Oh, well, you can't please everyone!
Although, I don't think my prologue was info dumping, I think the decision to remove it was the right one. It forced me to weave the information about the H/H's beginning into the story, making it more interesting and entertaining.
Thanks for commenting Darcy- your experience shows that sometimes even a good prologue isn't always needed, and the removal made the book stronger.Delete
I think a good prologue either frames the context (like the ST example that you gave) or sets up an expectation that has to be paid off later in the book. It could be the first innocent-looking scene that will later be re-interpreted by the reader as the first look at the Big Bad. I'm thinking of a few Stephen King novels that do that. I mean, what could possibly be ominous about a kid watching his paper boat floating along in the gutter of a street. Everyone's done that, right?ReplyDelete
LOL- very good points Lynne! Thanks for coming by :)Delete
I'm not 100% anti-prologues, and I've written them. Had I the chance to rewrite those books, I probably would do it differently.ReplyDelete
Consider the film "Cowboys & Aliens." Wouldn't a prologue have weakened the story? If we'd known starting out what had led to Daniel Craig waking up in the desert with a strange metal bracelet, it would've robbed us of the mystery.
A few writers do prologues well, among them Mary Higgins Clark, but going forward I'm challenging myself to write an engaging and compelling first chapter without the need for a prologue. We'll see...
Good point about a prologue actually weakening a story, Cheryl! I hadn't really thought of that, but you're right- too much into beforehand could ruin many books.Delete
Thanks for the great comment!
I think prologues have their place. In 'The Princess Bride', I'd consider everything up to Wesley vanishing a prologue. It's necessary to the story, in order to set up his romance with Buttercup and to give a sense of the characters before the main action kicks in.ReplyDelete
In 'The Game of Thrones', Martin uses the prologue to set up the epic world plot. Apart from one of the characters showing up (briefly) in Winterfell in the opening chapters, we're left to wonder what the heck was going on in the prologue for quite a long time. However, it's information that none of the primary characters could know and would have been dull to have been delivered in reported speech.
On the other hand, I agree that writers can use them lazily, instead of finding other ways of bringing out their back story. However, if I had to choose between a writer who used a prologue, versus a writer who stuck an expository info-dump in the middle of their novel, I think I'd go with the prologue!
The trick is doing away with the prologue and the need for info dumping!
Thanks Clare, I hadn't thought about Princess Bride, but yeah, that could also be a prologue start. (One of my fav movie's btw ;)) And true, opting out of a prologue only to dump a bunch of info somewhere esle, isn't a better option ;).Delete
I think for me most prologue writers should take a long hard look at why they feel the need for it- take it out and see what's missing?
Thank you for all the great comments- very good and balanced opnions on prologues :).ReplyDelete
I personally love to read prologues. When I decided to start writing and started reading the "to do or not to do" prologue conflict I was perplexed because as a reader I always thought a little more info never hurt. In fact it helped me get into the "world" of the characters more quickly. I think many of the examples of prologues are from movies because the visual aspect is something we would not want to miss but to me if the 1st visual in a novel is the prologue or a great scene in the beginning of a chapter I am a happy girl.ReplyDelete
Interestin point, E. I think if the prologue is done well, and adds to the story's impact instead of just being dead weight (or worse) it might be ok. The trick would be that a writer would have to get past alot of bias in the publishing world. And I'd still think they should see why it's there- if it's because the reader won't know what's going on without it? Might be timing for some story triage :).Delete
Thanks for coming by and commenting!
Marie Andreas(stuck at work, can't log onto blogger :))
I'm okay with prologues if they're about something in the distant past, so the "book" can stay in the present, or their from the viewpoint of someone who only has that one shot on stage, but they really have to be short. I know what you mean about the visual medium showing good/bad prologues more readily, too. I remember when I first started watching Psych, the five minute prologue scene at first annoyed me, then I realized it helped me better understand present day-Sean, and the dynamic between he and Gus. Now I just watch it to see how it's going to segue into a tie-in to the present. None of them have been absolutely crucial to any of the programs, but they all serve a useful purpose, and we're just trained to expect them now (so when they skip one due to time constraints, you can bet I notice right away).ReplyDelete
Good points Joanie. Yeah, I agree about older ones, the only draw back for me personally is if I can't see the connection to the present. Then I keep thinking about "where does the prologue fit?!" instead of enjoying the book!Delete
Thanks for coming by- great comments :)
Marie Andreas- stuck at work can't get on blogger