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All Things Writing > Prologues

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message 1: by Neil (new)

Neil Bursnoll | 109 comments I've just asked this over on Twitter, but figured it'd be easier to keep track of here.

So... what do people think to prologues? Especially when aiming to give background on a villain? Too much exposition, or a necessary evil?

I was going to start my next book off with a chapter as a prologue, to get the reader used to the new baddie. But on the other hand I like the idea of keeping his full history/identity an utter mystery. He's likely to be around for a few volumes, so I don't need to explain everything this time, just his motive.

message 2: by Adrienne (new)

Adrienne (adrienne_s) | 10 comments I guess I never thought about it before, but I guess I would say that prologues are useful. I especially like it when they are used to draw the reader in. As long as they don't give too much away, I say go for it!

message 3: by Mark (new)

Mark Bordner I always check out the prologue to get a feel of the book. That, and the teaser on the back cover, along with the cover art. If those 3 don't grab me, I put the book back on the shelf.

message 4: by G.G. (last edited Feb 10, 2014 11:34AM) (new)

G.G. (ggatcheson) | 1053 comments Mod
I'd be an hypocrite to say that I don't like prologues.
I rewrote my book before I published just to add one. The change helped start the book with action that I hope pulls the readers, and also cut down on 'tell VS show'.

In your case, it's a hard choice. Both keeping the mystery and introducing the new baddie sounds good. I wouldn't reveal too much about the baddie if you choose to use a prologue, a little bit of mystery is always more intriguing. :P

message 5: by David (new)

David Thirteen (davidjthirteen) It's a fine line with prologues whether they're useful or extraneous. I think it can be very useful to set up the story or to provide a hook that the first chapter might be missing. But ultimately an author has to ask: "is it essential?"

I actually just finished a book with an infuriating prologue. It was actually well written and a great hook, but by the epilogue you find out it was a tease for the villain in book two of the series. Not cool.

message 6: by Bisky (new)

Bisky Scribbles (bisky_scribbles) | 2536 comments Mod
I like prologues if the story is part of a series. I like to be thrown into action. I recently read an indie where the prologue was the history of the town, I'm sure it was very accurate but the book was a scifi and in the end I couldn't finish it and it missed my list.

Buuuutt! I love villians with complex backstories. Hard to say, depends if you want the reader to feel sorry or hate them before the story starts :3

message 7: by Adrienne (new)

Adrienne (adrienne_s) | 10 comments A villain is one of the most important parts of any story, so if this will help your villain be the strongest possible, then do it!

message 8: by Neil (new)

Neil Bursnoll | 109 comments @Bisky and @Adrienne - that's quite an interesting response actually, as it's made me think. The prologue would pretty much explain WHY he's pissed off and angry, which would then lead onto him chasing down my protagonist.

I think my next worry is making the prologue too long, as I don't want to bog people down with too much exposition. He's angry - this is why - he now wants to kick your arse.

message 9: by Barbara (new)

Barbara Garren (barbara_garren) | 18 comments I think it really depends on the book. If you need the prologue to develop the back story, you may need to look more closely at "where" you are starting your story. Prologues as a means of avoiding data dump is also not preferred. I like to see more organic glimpses of the important elements of the character's back story.

Prologues as a means of setting a scene to carry you into the beginning, if they avoid the problems above, can be very helpful. I think the author just needs to make sure they aren't giving away to much of the necessary tension and drama by using this tool.

message 10: by Agustin (new)

Agustin Guerrero (agustinguerrero) | 37 comments I like a prologue if it draws you into the action. It's a good way to start the book off with a bang. If it's just a boring set of facts I think it's better presented in the main body of the story.

I think that a prologue that shows the mysterious baddy doing some despicable acts without revealing any identifying information could work great. It would kickstart the action but at the same time keep the mystery that you want.

message 11: by J. David (new)

J. David Clarke (clarketacular) | 418 comments I will always answer that it depends on the story, so let's just assume I said that and move on. I like prologues that are not pointless "hey I'm about to tell you a story" fluff. They need to have meaning and they need to introduce story elements that are important to understanding what is to follow. Personally I like to use prologues that throw you in at the deep end in the middle of everything that's going on and say "okay, start swimming M*** F***er"

message 12: by Mark (new)

Mark Bordner I kept my prologue brief, and used it to not only intro the main character, but give a taste of some of the action further in, like what J. stated. Hold on to your socks !

message 13: by Claire (new)

Claire (cycraw) | 278 comments @Neil, I don't know if you're interested in traditional publishing, but if you are I'd be careful with a prologue. Some agents just roll their eyes and reject when they see the prologue. You have to be certain it is necessary and that it is doing your story justice.

message 14: by Sophie (new)

Sophie Sophie | 14 comments For me I've never written a prologue until my latest piece. I don't know why, it just kind of fit. It also depends on how long you want to make it. I've seen some which have been nine or ten pages (plus) and others have only been one or two. So I guess it all depends on how you want the story to feel from the off.

Just my opinion.

Sophie xx

message 15: by Julie (new)

Julie | 17 comments I know agents and publishers tend not to love prologues, and I can see why. My first book had one, and it was unnecessary; things that should have been weeded into the story. But a different book I wrote called The Harpy which is on submission with publishers now has one and I think it was needed. The difference was that it wasn't overly descriptive, and was a snapshot of what the character's life was like IN GENERAL. So, I think if it's well done and with purpose aside from giving background, they work really well. But if it's seemingly unnecessary, I have to wonder if the rest of the book is as undisciplined as that prologue was.

message 16: by Bisky (new)

Bisky Scribbles (bisky_scribbles) | 2536 comments Mod
It's funny what we learn from one submisson to the next.

message 17: by Julie (new)

Julie | 17 comments Isn't that the truth?!

message 18: by Amanda J. (new)

Amanda J. Winter (ajwinter) I don't do prologues because I don't really know how to write them, so I tend to shy away from them.

message 19: by Julie (new)

Julie | 17 comments Quite honestly, I've never heard of anyone that said prologues were a great idea. They tend to be more of a turnoff than anything in publishing.

message 20: by Amanda J. (new)

Amanda J. Winter (ajwinter) Julie wrote: "Quite honestly, I've never heard of anyone that said prologues were a great idea. They tend to be more of a turnoff than anything in publishing."

That is also why I don't write them. For example, the ones in the Twilight just give away the plot.

message 21: by Lauren (new)

Lauren Gilley | 40 comments As a reader, I'm not put off by a prologue. I've never set a book down because it had one, or skipped ahead to chapter 1, but I do know publishers don't like them. My most recent novel has a prologue - it's a thriller and someone gets axed before the curtain comes up, so to speak, on the rest of the story. I liken it to a pre-credits Law & Order death scene. But when I pitched it to agents, I labeled it as chapter 1. I figured we'd cross the prologue bridge when we got to it. Ha!

message 22: by Wayne (new)

Wayne Marinovich (wayne_marinovich) | 2 comments When I read a novel or short story, I simple read from the start. I have never been phased by whether there is a prologue or not. If its part of the story, I want to read about it.

I self-publish, so simply start with Chapter 1 and use dialog throughout the story, to cover the history. It certainly doesn't bother my reading when an author sets the scene via a prologue or rounds off a book with an epilogue.

But that's just me. Cool Topic

message 23: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (nicolemdixonauthor) | 9 comments In my opinion and many other writers who also teach, prologues are to be avoided unless absolutely necessary. I won’t put a book down if I don’t care for its having prologue, but the story should be able to unfold under the chapters. You should trust your readers to figure out the story as you tell it rather than play down to them—you shouldn’t need to hold their hands. If you must put a prologue in it should be kept short.

message 24: by Lauren (new)

Lauren Gilley | 40 comments I tend not to look at it as "holding a reader's hand." Only if the author is setting up rote information does a prologue serve as a "cheat sheet" that way. I think, honestly, if a prologue is terribly done...that speaks to the writing in general, and not just the chapter structure. One of my favorite contemporary writers - George R.R. Martin - uses a prologue at the beginning of each of his ASOIAF novels, and a lengthy one at that, always one that adds to the overall narrative of the novel, and isn't just background fluff.

The "no prologues" rule is a prevalent opinion, and most of the time, I agree that they aren't necessary in books. But it's a lot like the "absolutely no adverbs under any circumstance" rule - there are creative exceptions to every rule. I've read some wonderful books that began with prologues, so I always leave that creative door open in my own writing decisions.

message 25: by G.G. (new)

G.G. (ggatcheson) | 1053 comments Mod
Personally, I think a prologue should set the mood for what's following. You know, kind of like candles. You don't need them, but it can add to the ambiance, or destroy it if something catch on fire. :P

message 26: by Lauren (new)

Lauren Gilley | 40 comments @G.G. - I love that analogy! :)

message 27: by David (new)

David Thirteen (davidjthirteen) I actually just started reading a book that uses a prologue expertly. The prologue introduces a character under very mysterious circumstances. Then halfway through the first chapter, she shows up as a side character. It instantly gave a sense of urgency to the scene, and the character, who would otherwise have been a nobody, has an aura of power - even though very little was revealed about her in the prologue.

message 28: by Karey (new)

Karey G.G. wrote: "Personally, I think a prologue should set the mood for what's following. You know, kind of like candles. You don't need them, but it can add to the ambiance, or destroy it if something catch on fir..."
This has to be one of the best ways I've ever heard defense of a prologue described!!!

message 29: by G.G. (new)

G.G. (ggatcheson) | 1053 comments Mod
@Lauren and Karey


message 30: by Kamil (new)

Kamil | 187 comments I loved the prologue chapter that Bernard Cornwell wrote in The Winter King, the narrator, a simple monk, is asked by the queen to write down the story of king arthur, and from the first few pages it's clear he was no ordianry monk. Descriptions and memories entwine in a perfect mixture

message 31: by Rachel Annie (new)

Rachel Annie (snapdragoness) I had started off my WIP with a prologue since the hero's backstory begins in the 16th century (gotta love those cheeky immortals in PNR's) but after it ran on for a while I just labeled it Chapter 1.

I have no problem with prologues unless they go on for pages and pages, becoming just as long as a chapter.

message 32: by G.G. (new)

G.G. (ggatcheson) | 1053 comments Mod
Now you're making me wonder if I should just call my prologue chapter 1 instead. It's only a page and a half though, and doesn't happen anywhere near where the story takes place.

message 33: by Rachel Annie (new)

Rachel Annie (snapdragoness) Hey there GG!

I don't consider myself any kind of baseline, of course. I'm not published and the book's not yet finished, but the above worked for me.

For now...

But strictly as a reader, I wouldn't consider a page and a half too long for a prologue at all. ☺

message 34: by G.G. (new)

G.G. (ggatcheson) | 1053 comments Mod
Hi Rachel, :)
Thank you for your input! All that is being said about prologues here (and in another thread in another discussion group, where someone even acknowledged not reading prologues) makes me question my decision. :(

By the way, it seems you live near(ish) my in-laws. They are in Jeannette PA and in North Huntingdon PA. It's a small world after all. :P

message 35: by Rachel Annie (new)

Rachel Annie (snapdragoness) G.G. wrote: "Hi Rachel, :)
Thank you for your input! All that is being said about prologues here (and in another thread in another discussion group, where someone even acknowledged not reading prologues) makes ..."


Bet they have the same weather goofiness to contend with. : P

message 36: by G.G. (new)

G.G. (ggatcheson) | 1053 comments Mod
Haha Probably. I'm near Columbus Ohio. It's not that far away and yet sometimes it feels like a world apart when it comes to the weather. Strange.

message 37: by Kandie (new)

Kandie (kankan929) | 36 comments With the publishing market the way that it is today, you have to grab the reader within the sample they get on Kindle or Nook, and depending on what type of book you've published, that may or may not be a full chapter, so for certain genres, I think having a prologue is good, just make the most of it!

message 38: by Maya (new)

Maya Panika I like a prologue if it adds to the mystery. It seems a good way to get a little background in, about a villain, or any other aspect of your story before hitting your reader with the plot.
I have a wee one on my novel that mentions my villain in passing but is really just a scene-setter before I start the main plot. As for publishers not liking them, I called mine chapter 0. I called the epilogue the same thing, it being about the infinity of time. ;)

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