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Archived Author Help > Prologue length

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message 1: by B.K. (new)

B.K. Harrell (bkharrell) | 23 comments Is there an acceptable length for a prologue? I am currently writing new third novel and this prologue seems so much longer than the other two. At the current rate it will be around 6k words.

Thanks in advance for your help.


message 2: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan Hi Bryan,

From my one book experience...

My first draft of my prologue was 3500 words. I trimmed it back to approx 2500 words.

I think a short, punchy prologue is best.


message 3: by Denae (new)

Denae Christine (denaechristine) | 167 comments Graeme Rodaughan wrote: ". . . . I think a short, punchy prologue is best."

I would agree, but then you have authors like Brandon Sanderson writing four prologues (or maybe 3, but I just looked and it took 33 full pages). So . . . .


message 4: by A.S. (new)

A.S. Arnett (aaronsarnett) | 7 comments Good evening Bryan,

It is a stylistic sort of thing, but definitely think about the information that your prologue contains. If it begins to feel like you have started the story, it may be time to re-evaluate the length. Just my 2 cents.


message 5: by Anna (last edited Oct 08, 2016 11:12PM) (new)

Anna Faversham (annafaversham) | 530 comments I wrote a very short prologue for my first published book, less than 1,000 words, and a US reviewer commented adversely on its brevity. I had tried to do as Graeme said and make it punchy, explaining why my heroine was to be found in the wrong century. (It is a time travel book.)

So you see, even the best advice can be greeted with disapproval by some.

Yet 6,000 words does sound too long to me and as if you have started the first part of your story. Can it be tightened? Can you simply have it as chapter one (or 1 and 2) and in the next chapter heading, announce the change in date? Or just start the first sentence with "some years passed..."?


message 6: by B.K. (new)

B.K. Harrell (bkharrell) | 23 comments My biggest concern with starting this as chapter 1 would be when chapter two starts it will be a ten year jump as the book starts out 10 years ago... I just don't know if there is an answer as this is a complex back story to set up who these people are even though we know the heroine from her minor appearances in the first two book.


message 7: by Zoltán (last edited Oct 09, 2016 03:50AM) (new)

Zoltán (witchhunter) | 267 comments As others have already mentioned, this is also a stylistic question and there is a lot of freedom for authors. After this short disclaimer, my view follows:

- There is no problem with jumps in time between chapters. Many good books are full of such jumps. Sometimes even generations. I wouldn't start to change the content to conform to another format. Just make those transition clear and described, and the readers will follow your story.

- A classical prologue is a relatively short introduction to the story. It usually happens before chapter 1 and mostly includes some event that is used later. Emphasis again on words like 'usually' and 'mostly'. In general it should be at least a little shorter than your average chapters and work as a setup and/or appetizer for you story.

In your case: I'd probably chose to make them chapters.


message 8: by Dwayne, Head of Lettuce (new)

Dwayne Fry | 4309 comments Mod
Bryan wrote: "Is there an acceptable length for a prologue?"

Just like a book, a chapter, a sentence... a prologue needs to be exactly enough words to do what you set out to do. If it isn't saying what it needs to say, it needs to be longer. If it's saying more than it needs to say, it needs to be shorter.


message 9: by Tim (new)

Tim Schaefer | 27 comments Taking off my writer hat and donning my reader hat, I will tell you that I have little patience with prologues, because they're not a part of the "real" story. I want to start the story, not wade through page after page of setup material. I have been known to skip prologues altogether to get to the meat of the story. Call me an impatient reader, but I'm sure I can't be the only one with this kind of temperament. So consider the reader, and the overall attractiveness your book has to the reader...it's user friendliness if you will. Because the reader is the one you have to win over. Just as a poem sits on a page in a way that may invite or give pause to the reader, the same holds true for prose upon initial examination.


message 10: by B.K. (new)

B.K. Harrell (bkharrell) | 23 comments I have come to a decision, I had an epiphany this morning and decided to do a short prologue that will provide an initial conflict background but then open chapter one with a back story from ten years prior. It sets up a good story with excitement and then the reason why things are as they are.

Thanks for all of your help.


message 11: by Ken (new)

Ken Doggett (kendoggett) I had a prologue in my first novel, and people hated it, so I created a second edition and, among other things, eliminated the prologue. No prologue in my second novel, but my current WIP, the sequel, has an opening action scene of a few pages before the first chapter. I don't label it a prologue; instead, I titled it with the name of my main character, and a reader who skips it will miss an important element to the story.


message 12: by Owen (new)

Owen O'Neill (owen_r_oneill) | 1509 comments Tim wrote: "So consider the reader, and the overall attractiveness your book has to the reader...."

However, every reader is different. So "considering the reader" is impossible, because no such entity exists. As Dwayne says, tell the story in such a way that it does what you set out to do. Then let the readers find it. Readers find books. Books don't find readers.

Glad you came to a decision that works for you.


message 13: by J.S. (new)

J.S. Jaeger (jsjaeger) | 73 comments Bryan wrote: "I have come to a decision, I had an epiphany this morning and decided to do a short prologue that will provide an initial conflict background but then open chapter one with a back story from ten ye..."

This sounds like a great plan. It's what I was going to suggest. Good luck!


message 14: by M.L. (last edited Oct 11, 2016 08:24PM) (new)

M.L. | 1103 comments Readers are different, prologues are different. I read one that was a paragraph, so short I almost missed it; it went by so fast it mostly just got in the way. Others really set the story up. My only, I guess, pet peeve would be italics. For me, regular font works better.


M. Ray Holloway Jr.   (mrayhollowayjr) | 180 comments I had never heard the advice about not doing prologues or epilogues. I included both in my novel, and it tied the beginning to the end of the book very nicely. I did not title them "Prologue" or "Epilogue", and just headed them Chapter 1, etc.


message 16: by Ken (new)

Ken Doggett (kendoggett) A lot of people don't seem to like prologues, but I'm not sure there's any problem with short epilogues. I used one with my current book to wrap up a loose end with one of the bad guys. It wasn't really necessary to the main story, and didn't deserve a chapter in itself, but I thought it added a nice finishing touch.


message 17: by Jonnathan (new)

Jonnathan Strawthorne | 4 comments I for one do not like prologues. For me the most important aspect for deciding to read the story is the inside front cover introduction and professional reviews. Just my own opinion.


message 18: by Micah (last edited Oct 28, 2016 01:47PM) (new)

Micah Sisk (micahrsisk) | 1042 comments Tim wrote: "...I have little patience with prologues, because they're not a part of the "real" story...."

Well ... there are prologues and there are prologues. Some, like the one in Lord of the Rings, was put in because that book was written for an adult audience, unlike its predecessor, The Hobbit. As such, Tolkien likely felt it necessary to explain what a Hobbit was and what kind of world the reader was about to experience. Taking into consideration the year it was published--and the fact that High Fantasy for adult readers simply didn't exist (or was at least very rare at the time, and unknown to most of the reading public)--it makes a lot more sense. In today's world Tolkien would never have had to do that. The prologue there literally is "outside" the story, and serves more as a meta-introduction in the author’s voice (not the narrator’s) to the work as a piece of fiction.

However, MOST prologues in modern fiction are indeed in the "real" story. They are written from POVs inside the fictional world (either the narrator’s voice or a characters, but NOT the author’s voice), taking place somewhere in the timeline of the plot (before, during, or after). If they don’t feel necessary or part of the real story, then the author's written a poor prologue.

Skipping a prologue, in my opinion, is rather like an opera buff saying "I always skip the Overture because it's not part of the 'real' opera." I mean, the author put it there for a reason, so why skip it? Aren't you second guessing the actual creator of the book and their vision of the work? You're investing your time in it so why not give it a chance? Just because it's called Prologue rather than Chapter One doesn't make it any less a part of the book.

When to use them? I think a prologue should only be used when the story would be incomplete or less compelling without it. That and when what's covered in the prologue is disconnected from the main plot characters enough that it is difficult to add the information/scenes/events into the general flow of the story.

So, if you've got something that's vital for the reader to know, which is impossible for the main characters to know (a past event they don't know about, etc.), or that cannot really be explored in the main plot without data dumps and sideways exposition, then a prologue would make sense.

There is no preferred length, however. How long should a string be?

Personally, I've not used prologue or epilogue much. I have a finished/unfinished novel that has a prologue of sorts, and an epilogue (in the manuscript's currently guise). The prologue isn't even called that, it's called “First Principle” because it lays down a fundamental mindset I want the reader to hold onto during the rest of the book (and it's only one medium sized paragraph and two single sentence paragraphs long). It's written in the first person, while the book is in limited 3rd. The epilogue, also in first person, echoes and resolves the mystery of the prologue, as well as extending the reader’s knowledge of what happens after the main storyline. The two together fill a similar purpose to that of an Unreliable Narrator: Prologue warns you that all is not as it seems, Epilogue reveals (somewhat) the story behind the story. (All of which, obviously, might actually suck. I don’t know. I wrote it, I can’t judge it.)


message 19: by Ken (last edited Oct 28, 2016 02:05PM) (new)

Ken Doggett (kendoggett) I'm using a prologue in the book I'm working on now to introduce one of the main characters, along with two minor characters, with an action scene. It isn't titled as a prologue; the title is the name of the main character. It's nearly the length of a chapter, almost 2000 words, but it's somewhat outside of the story because it also introduces the setting. If the reader skips this, he not only misses a good part of the action, he misses a vital element of the story. As a reader, I never skip prologues. They're put there for a reason.


message 20: by Annie (new)

Annie Arcane (anniearcane) | 629 comments Hellooo, Mr Bryan!

First things first, congrats on novel #3!!

*fist bumps*

Hmm. My prologue is under 300 words sooo I think whatever works best for you is, well, best haha! What I mean is I personally wouldn't cut 6K words to 3K just cuz ppl say it's too long. Nor would I add padding to reach an "acceptable" length.

Huh. That's not super helpful, eh? Sorry LOL Good luck!!!

Hugs,
Ann


message 21: by Ian (new)

Ian Sylus (ianksylus) | 13 comments I've had a 330 word prologue, and in another novel, about 1,700 words. I think it's whatever works best for you. From certain blogs I've read, some say that readers will blow past the prologue, only to get frustrated. Fooey on that! An event that takes place before the novel, one that builds in the meat-in-the-middle story, is crucial if you ask me.

I do vote for 'short and snappy' though, otherwise it could be good material to start off chapter one!

- Ian


message 22: by J.S. (new)

J.S. Jaeger (jsjaeger) | 73 comments I realized this thread has focused on fiction, but here's an experience I had with non-fiction. After reading the very lengthy prologue of a non-fiction book, I couldn't stomach reading the rest of the book. If my memory serves me right, it was over ten pages long. Not only was it very dry, it summarized the concept being discussed in the book to the point that I didn't feel the need to read more, even if I'd wanted to. For either fiction or non-fiction, I agree with the general feel of this discussion that a prologue should be written to the length needed and only if it adds something to the book.


message 23: by Alex (new)

Alex Carver | 770 comments I've read a lot of books over the years, some with prologues, and some without, and I think it comes down to the value the prologue adds to the story - if it adds something but doesn't fit within the main story then it should be included, if it doesn't, then get rid of it.

John Saul is a big one for using prologues - he frequently has an event that happens some time ago, that leads to a supernatural situation in the current time; he could simply have some research the origin of the supernatural event in history books or something during the main story, and that might be okay, but I like his way of allowing the reader to see things first-hand before the crazy starts.

Clive Cussler is another one who likes prologues, he generally describes an historical event from hundreds or even thousands of years ago and then the story, set in the current time, starts and you have to read to find out how the past is connected to the present in this instance.

I realise that some people may not like this though.


message 24: by Ken (last edited Oct 28, 2016 03:11PM) (new)

Ken Doggett (kendoggett) Alex wrote: "Clive Cussler is another one who likes prologues, he generally describes an historical event from hundreds or even thousands of years ago and then the story, set in the current time, starts and you have to read to find out how the past is connected to the present in this instance..."

I've read one Clive Cussler's novels with such a prologue, Lost Empire, and was enticed by the prologue to read it. But the prologue was only vaguely connected with the story, and I was disappointed with it in the end. The story didn't live up to the prologue, at least not in a way that made the prologue necessary except as an enticement. The book might have been better without it. But a prologue that leads into the immediate story can be both an enticement and an effective scene in itself. I mean, why not read the prologue if it can give you a richer reading experience?


message 25: by Rin (new)

Rin Haven | 17 comments My prologs are normally only a page or two long. I have found that a lot of people won't read the prolog if it's too long.


message 26: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan Bryan wrote: "I have come to a decision, I had an epiphany this morning and decided to do a short prologue that will provide an initial conflict background but then open chapter one with a back story from ten ye..."

Sounds like a good solution.


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