Wednesday, July 7, 2010

To Prologue or Not to Prologue

Since most of this week at the Secret Archives has been devoted to ranting, I thought I'd continue the trend. (I'm kind of a like a lemming sometimes.)

I like to follow the rules of writing most of the time. But I really enjoy breaking the rules on occasion. Like with fragments. I love a good fragment.

But the one rule it really hurt to follow was when I nixed my prologue. I know agents don't like prologues and I understand why (voice changes, story relevance, etc.), but I enjoy reading prologues. And I liked the prologue I chopped. A lot.

So now I'm curious. Have any of you chopped your prologues? Do you mind reading prologues in published novels?


Adam Heine said...

Yes! I didn't know how to answer Matt's post, but this is it. The rule that bothers me the most is being told prologues are bad.

I've avoided prologues, and yet all three of my manuscripts still have a prologue in them. I don't mind reading them at all if they're short and/or done well.

Joshua McCune said...

I don't mind prologues, though I do mind the 50 pages ones (e.g., Robert Jordan) and frequently skip them if they're more than a few pages.

Joshua McCune said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gary Corby said...

Sorry to say it, but prologues are a technical evil.

If you need a prologue to explain back story, then it means there's something wrong with the rest of the book.

Also...and this is an even worse problem...a prologue means your book has to start twice. Writing one great opening is hellish enough. Why are you volunteering to write two?

Adam Heine said...

Gary, I totally agree with you on the fact that books with prologues have to start twice. But why does a prologue have to be backstory (or infodump, which is the other common complaint)?

All a prologue is, technically, is a chapter from a point of view different from the rest (or at least most) of the novel. A murderer killing his victim in the beginning of a mystery is a perfect example. It lets the author give the reader clues that the protagonist might not have.

Prologues are also used to tell a reader that, yes, this is sci-fi (or whatever genre it really is) even though you wouldn't otherwise know it until two-thirds through. (Tobias Buckell did this in Crystal Rain, as did Orson Scott Card in Memory of Earth).

I agree that prologues often aren't necessary, but to decry all prologues as evil is (cliche warning) throwing the baby out with the bathwater, I think.

Rick Daley said...

I actually like prologues. I don't always include them in my novels, they need to serve a purpose. I like it when they set up a mystery.

Jemi Fraser said...

I don't mind prologues either. In some stories I find them really helpful & enjoyable. I think it always depends on the story. :)

Unknown said...

someone in a criteque class I took once said that prologue was greek for "skip this" so he didn't recomend them. His comment surprised me because I always read prologues and usually enjoy them --unless they really are just a bunch of exposition but usually they're more of a teaser and you have to guess how the rest of the book is going to connect ---but then I usually read forwards and afterwards too so I'm probably not your average reader.

Also. Fragments. They Rock.

Nate Wilson said...

I always read prologues, but most either drag on for far too long or add absolutely nothing to the book.

In my opinion, the better ones typically fall into one of two categories:
1) an opening crime, shown from a different perspective (as Adam suggested)
2) a teaser: a pivotal scene, taken out of context, that will be revisited (and finally understood) later in the novel

Perhaps this is why I tend to like prologues in mysteries and thrillers, but find few that grab me in more literary fare. In fact, I have ideas for a dozen or so novels, and I only envision a prologue in one of them: the lone murder mystery in the bunch.

I wouldn't say all prologues should be wiped from this earth, but a little moderation wouldn't hurt.

L. T. Host said...

This is another "rule" I don't see much sense in. See how split the comments are on this post alone? I think it comes down to personal preference, again. And that's a rule I therefore won't follow-- either it works for my story or it doesn't, but I let my story speak for itself, not the opinions of people who may or may not ever read it.

This doesn't mean I don't take critique, but it does mean that if I feel a particular book needs a prologue, I'll give it one. And people who don't read it are missing out. :)

This is one of those things where again, I see the "rules" as a way to play it safe. It's hard to break them, so by following them you don't take many chances and therefore might appeal to a wider audience. But what if you could really, truly touch someone by shattering them? What if you could make the difference between writing and authoring by throwing them aside?

I guess I'm just a rebel. :) And I, too, love fragments.

To give a specific example, all of V is in first person present, except a small section at the beginning from my MC's mother's 3rd person POV. That section sets up the greater tension in the book and establishes the villain as just that. I did originally just mention it in passing in the narrative, but someone suggested I bring it out and make a scene of it, and you know what? It kind of needs to be a prologue, because it doesn't fit in with the rest of the book at all. But it's one of my favorite scenes in the whole thing, and the story needs it. The story wouldn't be as rich without it.

Eric W. Trant said...

I chopped my last prologue. Often I'll chop my entire first chapter, and I almost always nix the first few opening scents. Most of them are practice laps anyway before I heat up to race speed.

That said, if I ever get that novel published, I may try to sneak in the prologue. I love reading prologues. The best one I can recall off-hand is in The Exorcist.

- Eric
(My Word Verification is FAQUAT. Gads, that's a wonderful word. I love WV!)

storyqueen said...

I stuck my chopped prologue back in. (And I love it.)