Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Can I Get a Ruling: How Do We Feel About Prologues?

Prologues are one of the most asked-about subjects in the publishingosphere. Do agents like them? Should I include mine in a partial? How many people dying at the hands of zombie mutants in the first page of my prologue is too many? And so on.

My post on all things prologue is here. But what I am curious about today is: do you like prologues? How strongly do you feel about them either way? Do your feelings run hot, cold, or lukewarm?

If you're reading via a feed reader or by e-mail you'll need to click through to see the poll.







204 comments:

«Oldest   ‹Older   1 – 200 of 204   Newer›   Newest»
Jaimie said...

If something is important enough to go into a prologue, it's important enough to go into chapter 1.

Chapter 1 is what you start your book with. That's the way I see it.

Marilyn Peake said...

I voted: "It depends on how good the prologue is". Great writing comes in all forms.

I noticed many rhetorical questions in today's post. I especially like: "How many people dying at the hands of zombie mutants in the first page of my prologue is too many?" Now there’s an important question, and one that is never adequately covered in books about writing. LOL.

jjdebenedictis said...

I was just reading this article by brain scientist and writer L. K. Blackburne on how to get and keep people's attention.

Creating a mystery does the trick, and the best prologues usually set up a question the reader wants answered. Hence, I think prologues have a place.

Liberty Speidel said...

I rarely notice something's a prologue, so none of the poll answers apply to me. I start reading a book on Page 1, and if that's "Prologue", "Introduction", or "Chapter 1", so be it. The only time I really notice it is when I listen to audio books.

Most writers I talk to agree that having a prologue is okay, but it's probably better to just call it "Chapter 1".

reader said...

Can't stand them. Never read them anymore.

If it's not important enough to be part of the book, why put it in at all? If you have to explain what we're about to read in the book, or set it up, then your first chapter is probably off.

D. G. Hudson said...

Prologues seem unnecessary to me unless the book in question is a long awaited sequel. In that case, the prologue could be useful.

I keep skimming through prologues because I want to actually get into the story itself. The prologue is like a set-up or an opportunity for the author to express his views. (Granted, the expertise of the author could be the reason for so many failed prologues.)

So, I'm not crazy about them and I voted No.

Queen Mab said...

I have read a few prologues that worked. My general impression is that the writer had something important about the story, but was otherwise unable to work it into the story--which translates to laziness. Sorry, to be so mean, but it's how I feel.

Rachel said...

I like short prologues - the ones that are a paragraph or two long.

its like a nice backdrop on a stage, if its done well. It pulls you in makes you curious. Who are these people? What is this place?

Candice Gilmer said...

I have to agree with Liberty, I just read from page one, whether it's a prologue or not, I just start at the beginning. :)

Heidi Norrod said...

As a young adult writer I try to remember how I disliked prologues as a teen reader. I think there are very few circumstances where a prologue is essential. I would rather put the info in as chapter one or use flashbacks in the novel. That's just my opinion.

andrea said...

I HATE prologues--when I was little, I would never, ever read them. Prologues, introductions, nothing. If they weren't titled Chapter One, I wouldn't read them. I force myself to read them now, but only if it looks like they contain necessary information.

maybe genius said...

I'm partial to prologues, so long as they're GOOD prologues, so I selected option #3. I definitely think they can be used as a device to set the mood, or create a set-up for the story if you want to, say, start with a different POV or with an event that happens years before the main storyline.

However, they can definitely be useless or hokey. To be fair, though, MANY things in fiction can be useless or hokey if they're used poorly. One prologue I'm not a fan of is the sort that takes a scene from later in the book - usually just before the climax - and uses it to draw the reader immediately into action that they're not actually going to get to partake in until much later. Many times it's used because the first few chapters are slow. I kind of feel like that's cheating.

camelama said...

I voted "depends" because it's not just the quality of the prologue, it's the QUANTITY for me.

If a prologue is more than a couple pages, I think it should have been a chapter or worked into the body of the book itself. It makes me distrust the author and the rest of the book.

If they can't write this scene/info into the book, what other tricks are they going to pull? What else didn't they care enough to do well?

Karen Yuan said...

I generally don't like prologues either, but then there are the mind-blowingly good books like THE BOOK THIEF, which opens which a prologue. Go figure!

I think it really depends on how good the prologue is.

Ted Cross said...

If done well I love prologues and cannot understand those people who rail against them. All of my favorite books have them. The venom from the other side makes me feel that I should put a prologue into every novel I write.

Shawn Kamesch said...

I rarely read introductions by the author, but I enjoy prologues as a reader. I like knowing more of the greater world than the protagonist or narrator couldn't know or say.

As a writer, I like the idea of showing a slice of the world before revealing where the protagonist fits in it. It gives the reader valuable first impressions that otherwise have to be built over time, perhaps losing their power.

Is that laziness? Maybe. But I like it. :)

DG said...

In my earlier days of reading, I'd often skip prologues and go straight to chapter one. Nowadays it seems so often in a murder/mystery story, the prologue often contains a murder and chapter one begins in flashback. It's like how CSI and Law and Order start. If you miss the first few minutes before the show title and music start, you're sunk.

When I ask friends about prologues, they often say they skip them. Made me get rid of my prologue in my first novel.

The best prologue I've ever read is in Dan Brown's Angels and Demons. It's short and sweet and sets the tone perfectly.

Adventures in Children's Publishing said...

I have a YA manuscript that started out with a prologue before I read that everyone hates them. I removed the prologue and have never been completely happy with the first chapter, no matter how many hundreds of hours I've spent on it. The other day, I woke up and put a prologue back. A different prologue, a better prologue, but a prologue nevertheless. Then I sent the first page of both the prologue and the first chapter around to my crit group and to a gaggle of 16-year-old beta testers--not the same ones who had read the manuscript. I asked which everyone preferred. My crit group was divided but they all said, "Agents hate prologues." The 16-year-olds were evenly divided, until they started passing it around to their friends and friends of friends. It now comes down heavily in favor of the prologue.

Takeaway, it depends a lot on the reader.

I was careful to leave the first chapter independent. If someone skips the prologue, they'll be fine. I'm thinking of sending the mss around without the prologue and then presenting it later as as an option. Just in case of prejudice. Or should I just mention it in the letter?

Marian Allen said...

I love prologues. I know it puts me in the minority, but I do. I expect a prologue to be, as you say, something that will enrich the material that comes after it but needs to be set apart. I usually prefer short ones, so I don't have a chance to get too attached to characters, but I tend to trust any writer I intend to spend a book's-worth of time with to do right by me.

Stephanie McGee said...

I'm in the "I don't notice" camp. Both my last project and my current one had/have a prologue. With the last project I cut the prologue. With the current project, I am keeping the prologue for now, mainly because I'm still in the first draft and so I'm not doing much by way of revisions. After reader feedback, I'll either tweak or scrap the prologue.

If a prologue is done well, meaning it adds to the story in some way, then go for it. There are times when it's necessary. There are times, too, when it's there out of pure laziness. But who are we to judge which is the case?

Eric J. Krause said...

I have no problems with prologues, as long as they are well done. If it holds my attention, then it's an excellent addition to a book. If it doesn't, I'll skim briefly before heading to chapter one.

Livia said...

Hey Nathan, on a totally unrelated topic, remember Made to Stick, the book I recommended that talks about how to make something interesting? I ended up blogging about it. Come on by if you're interested.

Nathan Bransford said...

Saw that, Livia! I'll be linking to it on Friday.

Dee said...

It depends on what the prologue does (and how good it is).
I am annoyed when the prologue foretells something that will happen in chapter 20 as a way to "hook" the reader.

But it can be very useful in setting the atmosphere and giving the writer a chance to understand the book's universe before the real action begins.

I do have a prologue for my current work in progress. It narrates an even that happened almost a decade before the main storyline but has influenced the main character immensely. I guess I could have included that in the storyline, but I don't like flashbacks.

(What do agents think about flashbacks?)

Livia said...

Oh, and jjdebendictis beat me to it. Thanks!

Josin L. McQuein said...

Too many people equate prologue with an excuse to inflict an info-dump. They have all this information that the reader "needs up front", which is usually just information the writer wants to include because they love the characters/world. (I'm glaring at you, George Lucas and your Star Wars intro screens.)

If it's really needed information, then it can be told in the story. If the reader can't get needed information in the story, the writer's doing something wrong.

If there's a totally isolated incident that pertains to the story, sure, make it a prologue. I even like the ones that give a "preview" of a coming scene, especially if they involve a character that enters the story late, but is important.

IMO, stories should work without a prologue, but if someone were to read the prologue (before or after the book because some people skip them at first)it should add dimension to the story.

MJR said...

I don't like prologues. I'll skim through it maybe, but generally I start with Chapter One.

maybe genius said...

I'm kind of curious as to whether or not people would care if the Prologue chapter were just changed to "Chapter 1."

In some cases that wouldn't work, but I'm thinking of something like, say, Book 1 of Harry Potter. It opens with a focus on the Dursleys after Harry had just been born, and then Chapter 2 jumps forward 10 years. "Chapter 1" probably easily could have been labeled a "Prologue," but it wasn't. If writers just called it "Chapter 1," would it bother so many people?

Anonymous said...

No to prologues. They waste my time. They don't make me want to keep reading into chapter 1. They make me want to put the book down as soon as I see the word prologue. They are not a tease for whats to come, and they are not supplying crucial info I need to know. Prologues are an author's inability to start the story from the beginning, where the action is happening. They are using a cheap escape route, a bypass. Prologues are for Hollywood.
Now on to Chapter 1 of my comment on prologues...

Jenn Marie said...

I love prologues in both books and movies. It's that scene that is central to the plot, but which the protagonist as yet knows nothing about. I love reading to see how the two will connect.

However - I HATE prologues that are segments completely lifted from events later in the book. They're just lazy and silly. I'm looking at you, Twilight.

Anonymous said...

Prologues are a writer's way of saying "I didn't know where to start."

I tend to judge a book by whether it begins with a prologue. If it does, I will typically shelve it and not bother. The other thing I check for is an epilogue. Ditto on the shelving. If it has both a prologue AND an epilogue, I will probably give it the sign of the Evil Eye in addition to putting it back on the shelf.

Livia said...

And thanks, Nathan for linking to it. Much appreciated :-)

jenni bailey said...

I sort of hate prologues. And I hate how every new book I pick up lately has one (even though 99% of agents/editors say not to do write them).

Valerie said...

I think there's a time and a place. I would argue that a prologue should be written last rather than first, should the author finish her manuscript and decide that something really needs to be set up or foreshadowed. It can help avoid cumbersome exposition later by conveying information through showing and not telling. I also think it works best when the events of the prologue occur well before the rest of the narrative; a big shift between chapters 1 and 2 might be weird otherwise.

One example that comes to mind is the story of Moses; the prologue is him being set in a basket and found by the princess, chapter 1 is him as a grown man beginning his journey to free his people. Big time gap there, and the prologue contributes to the dramatic irony of the tale.

Latoya Alloway said...

I hate prologues. I have never read a prologue in my life and I read a lot of books. I start reading at Chapter 1. I don't think I've been missing anything either.

Heather Dixon said...

My favorite use of prologues is in Terry Pratchett's "Going Postal"--it begins with two prologues: "The Nine-Thousand Year Prologue" and "The One Month Prologue".

By themselves they make absolutely no sense, other than to set a mysterious tone. But, after you've read the book, you go back and read the prologues and it opens up the entire theme of the book and the characters, like finding a hidden treasure chest. I LOVE prologues like that :D

Remilda Graystone said...

I'm kind of iffy on prologues. I generally don't have them in my stories, and I'm not really into reading them in published works if I feel like I could still understand the story without it. I think there have been only a few prologues that I've felt added something to the story over the years that I've been a reader, prologues that I've actually liked reading. I've read plenty of them and felt like the story would've been fine without them.

I always see Chapter 1 as the beginning of the real story and the prologue as an intro. I think that you can work into the story what's in the prologue. I guess the questions are: How important is this scene? Will the reader still understand the story without it? Then go from there.

LGS said...

At the conference I attended last month, every editor and agent said to avoid the prologue. They just skip them when you submit, so don't bother.

But I noticed that the last three books I picked up to read all had prologues. Two were historical fiction and one a fantasy, so maybe those genres require more background? I dunno.

Dee said...

Giving the *reader* a chance to understand the universe. Hopefully the writer already understands it.

Sorry. :)

Anonymous said...

Quill from the forums here.

Pro-prologue, seeing as I have one in my WIP, and can't take it out, or merge it w/ Chapter 1 or re-name it Chapter 1.

So, yeah.

debutnovelist said...

I voted for 'depends on the prologue' but this is such a hobbyhorse of mine. A good prologue is good. But I've seen so many bad ones!
Anyone interested might like to read my version of the argument
http://debutnovelist.wordpress.com/2009/10/16/against-irritating-prologues/
Thanks for another opportunity to let off steam!
AliB

T.J. said...

I'm gonna add my two cents here on prologues. I think prologues are awesome if done correctly. I think Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone's first chapter should've been a prologue, not a chapter 1. I think prologues are good and should remain a part of writing as I do enjoy reading them. I say the same thing about Terry Brooks' Gypsy Morph. But obviously there are some editors/agents that don't like them. I have a prologue for my book. If it doesn't end up in my book then I'm going to post it on my website for my audience to read because as the author I feel it is still important.

Kelly Wittmann said...

I've really never had strong feelings about them one way or another. Some are good, some are bad.

Kathleen MacIver said...

If the prologue takes place a long time before the book starts, and it's part of the story, it just doesn't make sense to make it Chapter 1. The book I just read...I suppose you could say that the prologue wasn't necessary...but I love the book 2x as much because of that prologue, than I would have otherwise. :-)

debutnovelist said...

I just voted 'depends on the prologue' but this is such a hobbyhorse of mine. A good prologue is good, but I have seen so many bad ones! Anyone interested please stop by here http://debutnovelist.wordpress.com/2009/10/16/against-irritating-prologues/
Thanks Nathan for another chance to let off steam!
AliB

Anonymous said...

Quill again.

Nathan, THANKS for weighing in with "yes" on whether or not to send the prologue with the partial. Seems only logical, but there seems to be a lot of controversy floating around about that.

Melissa Sarno said...

In film, it is generally thought that nothing important should happen in the first 5 minutes because viewers are not 'in' the film yet. I often feel this way about books. It is easy to miss valuable information in the first few pages because you're just not 'in' the story yet.
I know millions of people will argue that you're supposed to be amazing, super-power writer and draw in your readers immediately. That your writing has to be so solid and tight not a single word should be extraneous. But, in reality a lot of stories and readers build slower than that. A prologue can be a good opportunity to draw a reader in, set the mood and tone so they get comfortable, but don't miss valuable information.

ryan field said...

I hardly read them and never write them. They annoy me.

tre said...

I like a good prologue, if it describes something essential that occurred well before the actual story begins. But it has to be sufficiently removed to not warrant just being called chapter 1.

I don't like the prologues that are really describing something halfway through the book, in order to get your attention. I'll read the back cover if I want to know what's going to happen (I hate reading back covers before I finish the book though).

Leah Petersen said...

I went with "depends". I can't imagine the Wheel of Time series without the prologue to capter 1, nor do I want to . It was incredible and SO important.

The prologues of the next eleven books I could happily dump in the trash, never to be seen again.

I hate when it keeps me from getting to the story. When it's integral, it's good. And making it a prologue instead of Chap 1 makes sense if there's a big time difference, change of POV, etc.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

One big problem with prologues is I feel disjointed when Chapter One starts, and it has nothing to do with the prologue. I bought a book recently because I read the dynamite prologue and wanted to hear the story, but Chapter One made no connection to the prologue and wasn't exciting and I felt a bit cheated. Maybe eventually the author will get to it, but my reading experience wasn't a good one.
If the prologue is backstory then find ways to make it part of the story itself.

KaT said...

I think there's a big risk that they'll come across as terribly cliched. I also find that sometimes it feels a bit amateurish (not all the times, but sometimes), especially if they're longwinded and contain some great, spectacular truth.

I know this because the first draft of the ms I'm currently querying had a prologue (a very bad one too, now that I look back) and a very good reader told me that the prologue made her roll her eyes. I'm not Socrates. I can't get away with things like that.

Plus, any themes or general truths should be apparent within the story without the prologue, if it's good writing.

I do however find that brief quotes are nice, but that's a very rare exception.

Kimber An said...

Prologues are rarely done well and I've read plenty, as a blogging book reviewer. So, my advice is to only have one if it's absolutely necessary.

I recently followed my own advice on Sugar Rush. I must've rewritten the beginning a bazillion times and every time the Hero demanded getting the first word in. I refused every time. Finally, I read it without a prologue and agreed under great duress that the Hero was right. I was dragged, kicking and screaming, back to the keyboard, but the Hero got his way and there is a very short, precise prologue to my current Queryland novel.

Only time will tell if the Hero was right.

Mia said...

I think it's completely dependent on how good the prologue is. Generally I don't enjoy reading or writing them BUT if the prologue is good enough, if it captures my imagination, then sometimes I can fall in love with them. :)

Max Munro said...

I'll read any prologue that has action in it. If it doesn't then I'll generally only read it if it's shorter than a few pages.

I was thinking of having a prologue in a novel I'm currently producing because there's an important event set 20 years before Chapter 1 that I didn't want to drip feed to people throughout the first act. Chapter 1 also contained a twist on the outcome of the prologue.

Madara said...

Most how-to books will tell you to get on with it and start with chapter one.

I like a short prologue that gives a taste leaving you hungry for more.

Of course my background is weighed heavily on comic books and movies where you need to hook readers early. Most fiction readers are willing to give you a little more latitude.

Ciara Blount said...

For me, it's dependent on quality and also what type of story it's preceding. Some prologues are unnecessary and weigh down the pace, but it can be done well if it's for the right story. I think it's just another one of those decisions writers have to make that'll be different for each story.

I was going to use Harry Potter & the Philosopher's Stone as an example of a prologue that felt fluid, but it turns out that the book begins with chapter one even though the POV changes in chapter two and remains consistently Harry's for the rest of the series. But anyway, I think chapter one reads like a prologue, and it worked for me.

dyockman said...

I have to echo what Maybe Genius said/asked. In fiction, whether it is called a prologue or chapter one really shouldn't make a difference.

That said, there are good ones and bad ones. :) The prologues I find I enjoy the most give me some insight into an event that shapes one of the MCs or as someone else suggested reveals an event that the MCs have no knowledge of, and would therefore be unable to share from their POV.

All prologues are not equal, but then again neither are all first chapters.

Neil Nyren said...

I've never understood the fuss some people make about prologues. As with anything else involved in writing a book, there are good ones and there are bad ones. Why lay down blanket rules? And by all that's holy, why would you skip over something that the author thought was important enough to make it the first thing you read?

Charli Armstrong said...

I chose option three even though I never really notice. I just begin at the beginning. Once I'm in the story, I usually forget the prologue was there.

Amy said...

I normally don't like prologues. But then I actually wrote one into my latest novel. It's short, it's creepy, and it has a strong hook. Readers of my prologue and first chapter tell me it was the prologue that hooked them--the chapter itself is fairly quiet. The only reason I get away with that quiet first chapter is because of the prologue, which tells the reader what's really going on behind the scenes in that quiet chapter.

Steppe said...

I like the idea of waiting and saving the prologue as a way of introducing back story once you have gone far enough to know which way the story is going to end.
Pin the hero, the hero's helpers, and the allies all in one scene in a small: skin of your teeth, hair of your chinny chin chin type of temporary early victory over
the opposition forces and the battleground they hold. Then start the real story, set the stage introduce the cast, draw the reader into the world building process as they walk along with the characters entering the new realm.

Prologue is good snapshot advertising the world and people up ahead and a good way to suggest the final outcome;
But never write the prologue first save that initial version for page 17-30 or first full rhythm peak around 60-85.

It's also a great way to achieve the first five pages hurdle in an authentic sensible way. A mini version of the story, then relax, then start the wind-ups.

Cheree said...

It really depends on how good the prologue is. Most of the prologues I've read are either cheap ways to fit in back story or has absolutely nothing to do with the main story.

Fawn Neun said...

I'll read them the first time I read a book. If I reread the book and the prologue is all 'tonal' and mood-setting, then I skip to Chapter One. If it contains important action or great dialogue, then I treat it as Chapter One.

Ha! Word Verification is "winge"!

heather said...

What really makes that first little bit a prologue anyway, and not just 'chapter 1' by another name?

I suppose it would be that it's backstory, set-up for what's to come in chapter one. Personally, I'm neither here nor there with my feelings. I agree with charli. I just start at the beginning. And like I said, what's in a name anyway? ;)

Dan Holloway said...

It was good enough for Chaucer. If you're book works better with one, use it; if not, don't.

Amanda said...

I like prologues. I like the background info that they give or the mood that they set. I go into the book with a little understanding of what is there or something to expect.

I especially like them if they are necessary history to help develop the world. That being said, I also like them interesting.

Anonymous said...

I voted for the third choice, however, I wished for a fourth.

I think prologues are often necessary with fantasy. Sometimes the previous story and the world itself have to be built before the story can be understood and to just drop it in along the way might be more cumbersome and keep the reader confused. At the same time, much as I hate just telling, it can shorten a complex prologue whereas showing prologue can make it much bigger and takes so much more writing.

I have a work with a lengthy prologue that I (so far) don't have any way around needing. (Beta readers don't mind it, but I worry over it.)

In another work, I changed a prologue into a Part I showing of the novel. It's longer than a telling, but I like it much better.

Leah Petersen said...

I did go with a prologue, myself. Just two sentences essentially telling you you're not allowed to read the book.

That could backfire....

jjdebenedictis said...

I agree with Neil Nyren's comment. We writers don't need another blanket rule to obsess over. Anything can be done well.

Also, people who dismiss novels based on the presence of the prologue might as well be dismissing them based on the cover art. It's a desperately superficial criteria to judge a book by.

Sandy Shin said...

I voted for "depends on how good the prologue is," but the caveat is that, most of the time, it isn't good at all. Most prologues I have read could have been cut and the book would have been stronger for it.

Neil said...

Look, the truth is a great writer can do anything he or she wants. I'm loving those of you who are saying you just start reading on page one and let things happen. That's absolutely how we should be as readers -- open-minded and ready to be led, toyed with, stimulated and surprised. I can't understand those who are saying they don't read prologues as a matter of course; if the writer thought it was important, an agent thought it was important, an editor thought it was important and a publisher thought it was important enough to stay, then you can be damn sure I'll read it. I don't personally care if you open your book with a rhetorical question or a hundred-page prologue about how the zombies ruined Christmas. I'm up for the ride. Thrill me, shake me, make it happen and paint it vivid - and above all, don't stress about prologue-haters. If it works, it works.

Becca said...

I do like some prologues. I only really like them to help set the tone of a novel so that you can know ahead of time if it's going to be scary, suspense, or whatever.

Lisa Desrochers said...

I write YA and, without even cracking open books, can think of at least 2 NYT YA bestsellers with prologues.

Personally, as a writer, I feel like they're a bit of a cop out. When I've written one, it's alway been because the begining of my story felt slow, so I needed to give it a boost. In the end, I've always pulled the prologue and rewriten the begining of the book.

Amethyst said...

Depends on the prologue, quality and quantity. If it is a length of a chapter, call it Chapter 1. I am in agreement with some of the comments already made.

What doesn't work for me:

-a summary of what happens later
-used as a way to dump info that can be integrated throughout the novel
-one that ends as a dream sequence (sorry!)

I can't quite put a finger on what works. I usually know when I read it. Prologues I read. Introductions, especially from other authors about the book, I don't because most give away the plot. These are usually seen in literary works and especially in the classics.

csmith said...

All I can say is that no-one has whined about mine yet. As it is a short story (30K) and published as part of an anthology earlier this month, there is still plenty of time left though.

The reason I used it was because I wanted to drag the readers a third of the way into the story so that my horribly unsympathetic main character (which for some reason, and I think in no short measure thanks to the prologue, people like!) is given context, so his amazingly self centred ramblings don't put the reader off too much as they can see what a self-delusional hypocrite he is. It also helps that he starts off this complete sod (literally and figuratively) and through massive amount of self revelation, and a minor war, turns into a half decent human. Sort of.

As a newbie, it was rather nice that the publisher chose my prologue as opposed to excerpts of the other three previously published authors, two of whom are "names" in the genre, as the titillation bit of the anthology.

PS. Am being purposely obtuse with regards to description as I am sure there will be some YA ppl following this blog.

patlaff said...

Dan Holloway...If you're book works better with one, use it; if not, don't.

Preach on, brother.

Renee Miller said...

It depends on the prologue. By that I mean, does it serve its purpose as a prologue or is it simply chapter one in disguise. A brief prologue that sets the atmosphere, raises a question, or gives the reader a little something to chew on throughout the story, therefore getting them to turn the page; absolutely.

If it does none of that, or if the same could be shown in the first chapter, then there's no need for it.

That's my opinion as a reader, and mostly as a writer. I usually start with one, but by the final draft I've changed it and it has become chapter 1.

Terry Stonecrop said...

Wow, I'm in the majority for a change. I've read some books where they're needed, work well and are written well.

Others, not so much.

David R. Slayton said...

I don't like prologues that never tie back in strongly enough. Great example: George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones contains a first chapter/prologue that quickly introduces us to some characters, sets them up, and kills them off. They've tied back in here or there in the massive series, but far past the point where I cared.

I dislike prologues when they equate to loose threads. They can work well when they setup a crucial moment later, but you've got to handle them with enough care to make sure the reader is fully invested (something Martin did extremely well in his).

I would also pose another question: how many times do you clearly see through a prologue masquerading as Chapter One? For me, it's always when I reach the end and ask myself: "But what happened to the dog?"

Munk said...

Stories can be told in many ways. To have an opinion as which way is best is superfluous.
I initially began my novel with a prologue which admittedly sucked. It ended up as a list of facts adorned with sparkle words (see Josin's comments at 12:39). After an appropriate scolding by my betas I have re-written... but just because my prologue sucked doesn't mean they all do.
If you missed it, scroll up to Melissa Sarno's comment as well (12:49) I like the idea of setting tone rather than plot stakes at the beginning of a book.

Other Lisa said...

It ALWAYS depends!

Tricia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tricia said...

Mostly no.

It seems most prologues fall into two categories:
1.Info dump
2.Here's something exciting because my first chapter is really boring and I hope my prologue will keep your interest.

Katie Rob said...

I just used a prologue in my most recent YA novel, but I ended up taking it out because it seemed like a cheap trick. I thought my chapter 1 wasn't exciting enough to catch an agent's eye, so I tried to create some excitement with a prologue. After removing the prologue, I was forced to take another look at chapter 1. A concise, relevant prologue can be wonderful, though. Particularly, I am thinking about The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Samuel said...

An example of a brilliant prologue can be found in Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance. There, the prologue not only sets up wonderfully the story and the characters, it also acts as an anchor for the rest of the narrative, with Mistry several times referring back to the prologue to re-orient the reader.

J. R. McLemore said...

If the prologue introduces something significant to the story that the reader should know before diving into the main story, I think a prologue is the right place to do. However, I feel that prologue should be brief. Give me the quick info I need and let me get to the meat of the book.

Besides, I'm slightly bias since my very first novel starts with a one page prologue. :)

Rick Daley said...

It depends on how good the prologue is.

For that matter, Chapter 1 depends on how good Chapter 1 is. Same goes for every chapter after that.

I don't get people who don't read prologues. The author wrote it for a reason, and if the prologue is part of the story, and if you respect the author enough to read the story, read the prologue.

There are also people who say prologues are lazy writing, but I disagree. Typos are lazy writing (or lazy editing). So are plot holes and dangling participles. Or not writing in general, that's totally lazy. If you write a prologue and stop there, than may that could be considered lazy. But writing a great book and then crafting an interesting prologue to set it up is not lazy. I loves me a good prologue, it makes me want to turn the rest of the pages.

But I'm the kind of guy who reads the entire cereal box, so I have my issues and maybe this is just one of them.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Most of them seem rather unimportant or unconnected to the story, and in those cases, they can usually be left out. But there are some that seem vital to setting up the story, especially if they happen a long time before it but are still necessary to the main plot. So it really does depend.

Francis K7 said...

My prologue is two pages, was included in the sample pages with the query, and got me a full request by my dream agent.

So yes, I like them.

Krista V. said...

Maybe genius makes a good point: A lot of the time, you could just rename the prologue "Chapter One," and then the issue is moot.

The real point is, you don't want to info-dump at the beginning of your book. Whether you call it a prologue or chapter one, if it's info-dumping, get rid of it.

Mira said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Choice 4: It depends on how necessary and helpful the prologue is.

Pam said...

I don't understand why people say the prologues is not where the story starts. It *is* where the story starts. It may not be where *these* particular characters start, but prologues provide hints and background so as you read along, you can start piecing the history together. I like prologues, I think they create atmosphere.

Lyn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lyn said...

The venomous attacks on prologues have to do with two ideas:
1. The reader does not want to waste time. Excuse me? You call yourself a reader? No, you are a consumer of books. Different. If you like rushing around like that, take up drag racing.
2. Prologues are the output of a lazy writer. Not necessarily. Perhaps they are the output of an organized writer.

Myself, I'd a thousand times rather read a prologue than plow through FLASHBACKS!!! Okay, here's where I hiss and spit.

If there's backstory or worldbuilding I, the reader, need to know about, then I want you, the writer, or organize it and make it interesting so I don't think you're a bore, and spit it out. I feel bored and irritated when I get to a phrase like, "The last time she had worn this dress, things had been very different." Oh, Lordie, here comes the stinking flashback.

The Red Angel said...

This is the first post of yours that I've seen a poll attached to it...I think you should use polls more often! It provides a lot of reader input and is a nice addition to a blog post.

I also think that it really depends on the prologue itself. Some are really important in setting the stage for the novel, while others just throw out a bucket of suspense but not a lot of valuable information about the characters. So yeah...it really depends.

~TRA

http://xtheredangelx.blogspot.com

Wendy Qualls said...

If the prologue is a prologue because it's a short (<4 pages) bit of story that doesn't share the same setting as the "real" beginning of the book, then it belongs. If done right, the prologue can set up a hook that the protagonist doesn't know about yet.

On the other hand, if the prologue is there because the author can't be bothered to drop backstory slowly as he/she goes along, then the prologue needs to be fed into the meat grinder and sprinkled liberally throughout the first few chapters instead.

Alessa Ellefson said...

As a reader, I have to say I like prologues when they don't reveal what happens in the future--meaning they're temporarily in line with the rest of the story. Ex: an event that took place in the past, that will/does affect the protagonist in the main part of the story. The key is to make sure whatever's brought up in the prologue is referred to again (discover what the meaning behind that passage was) later in the "actual" story.
The prologue needs to be as exciting as the rest of the story and I feel should can be from a POV other than the protagonist's (whereas I feel chapter 1 should be from the protagonist's POV).
Otherwise, I feel most prologues are detractors or false promises.

Janna Qualman said...

I think the writer's style has more to do with a good prologue than anything else.

And generally, if it's in the book, I read it.

Jil said...

I like short prologues which give a back ground, or reason for what is about to happen. I would rather have it there to whet my appetite that have it slowing down the story,as a flashback, later.

I don't like long prologues about someone or something that is only mentioned again at the novel's end so I am left throughout the whole book wondering what on earth those first pages were all about.

Courtney Price ~ Vintage Ginger Peaches said...

If you've written a good prologue, as all of them SHOULD be well written, then it should be included. If it's all meaningless fluff, you should just ditch it anyway.

abel said...

I never read prologues.

Nicole Zoltack said...

Personally, I almost always hate prologues. They can too often be confusing, and not enough is explained so they make little sense, almost like they're out of context. Now, if the prologue is a flashback, then it usually works better.

Another prologue that I hate: a scene from the middle of the book.

bethhull.com said...

I really enjoy writing prologues. They usually feature a murder victim dying his grisly death. Oh the drama! And then, after I've stopped prologuing (read: procrastinating) I write the rest of the manuscript. After that, if the prologue doesn't fit, I take it out. Simple.
The "poetic," mood-setting prologues I've seen in a lot of YA novels lately--I can do without those.

ee hershey said...

Refusing to read a prologue on principle seems arrogant.

The writer may choose their method of storytelling; if I love their story and their voice, I'll love every word they've given me, whether it's labeled prologue, footnote or afterward.

Toby Speed said...

This is discouraging. I had no idea people hated prologues so much. I read a short prologue in a book by Michael Connolly that so inspired me with the device's potential that I never forgot it. It would not have been the same book without it. (Sorry, I forget which title it was. The narrator was a female whose SO had been killed in Las Vegas, if this helps.)

I have a prologue in the novel I'm writing. It's a piece of backstory from many years earlier, and by the time the subject comes up in the body of the novel, the reader will already know this crucial piece of information that (I hope) will enhance the suspense of the story. When it comes up again, at the end of the book, the foundation has been laid.

Call it chapter 1? I don't know. All the other chapters have the story in order, with the usual flashbacks here and there. It doesn't seem at all like a chapter 1 to me.

Shelli Cornelison said...

I'm okay with a SHORT prologue. Otherwise, if you want me to read that stuff, call it Chapter 1. Or sprinkle it in throughout the first few chapters. But I'll read a short, relevant prologue.

Shell said...

You would ask this question. I have a prologue, but I really didn't want to do one. However, I'm writing a middle grade fantasy and was getting completely contradictory input on whether to start it in the 'real' world or the fantasy world. Having a VERY SHORT prologue set in the fantasy world allowed me to start chapter one in the real world with the understanding and expectation that the magic was coming. Laziness on my part? Quite possibly. But at least my readers on both sides of the real vs. fantasy controversy seemed to have been satisfied.

Amanda Borenstadt said...

I don't mind a short prologue. If it's long, it should be called Chapter 1. Otherwise it feels like I've started the book twice or even a separate book if the prologue seems to have nothing to do with chapter one.

Scott said...

The way I see it, a prologue is a miniature Chapter 1 that hooks the reader, which isn't long enough to form a whole chapter (less than two pages) but still provides a good intro to the story.

For instance, a mysterious stranger arriving on the shores of an exotic land and doing VERY LITTLE ELSE might make a good prologue. Anything beyond that is Chapter 1.

Amanda said...

It has to be good. I think it works when catching up on past information that is vital to the story. Also, flashbacks throughout the story do provide and element of mystery. It all depends on how it's done.

Sori said...

I abhor prologues and even more flashbacks. Both take me right out of a story.

swampfox said...

I'd say it depends entirely on the book, ie: the type of story, and what exactly the prologue entails.

Nicole L Rivera said...

Sometimes prologues are necessary sometimes they aren't. I don't hold a grudge against them. Stephanie Meyer had a phenomenal prologue for Twilight. However, I think they need to be short, sweet, and to the point. I can't stand long prologues.

Koneko said...

Prologues have their place.

They can set the scene and mood, in a way jumping into the action at the start of chapter one can't. Done well, you can weave in foreboding and subtle clues - but dreams* and prophecies, especially in prologues, seem to be little more than obvious crutches and tell you exactly where the story will go.

In fact, I find prophecies are more boring and useless than prologues. I see one of them, the book doesn't get another look. You don't want to know how the story ends before it's begun!



* Which have a chance to make a comeback! I wouldn't mind a fantasy book that wove dreams and visions in well.

Ermo said...

Honestly, who cares? I think an author should be free to craft his story in any way they think is best. If that's a prologue - so be it. If that's a one word chapter then that's fine too. As long as it works.

Cathy said...

I voted no, but really I read them and grumble.

Rrrandy Wurst said...

Seems to be as many opinions on prologues as there are on the great social issues of our time. Regarding whether agents/editors want prologues, wait a month, it'll change. Questions such as this can and do draw some interesting opinions, but the question takes me back to a "truth" I heard long ago, that there are only three rules to know about writing, unfortunately nobody knows what they are. Maybe it comes from Mencken, maybe not. But I think it's a good thing for writers to keep in their thoughts. Write a good story without worrying about the shoulds and shouldn'ts. Oh, and I do read prologues because the writer thought it important enough to include it.
[Nathan: apologies if you have already offered the "3 rules" comment; I'm new to your very helpful and interesting blog.]

Linda Adams said...

I voted "It depends," because there are some prologues that are clearly out of the timeline of the story. Those make me wonder how that event is going to fit in with the main story. The first thing I think of is a Clive Cussler book which shows a historical event like the sinking of a ship or burying of an ancient treasure, then segues into today's events. You know that treasure is going to be in the story, so that's where the fun starts!

But I've also seen ones that leave me wondering why the author needed it.

Jillian said...

I find it hard to get into a book (particularly part of a series) if chapter one is mixed exposition and back-tracking. I find a prologue is better in these cases to set the scene, and get a reader ready to *experience* the story.

I LOVE the Sookie Stackhouse series, but that is an example of needing a prologue, to set the atmosphere and get introductions and descriptions out of the way.

Backfence said...

I think it depends on the story. Some stories call for a prologue; some (I'll even go so far as to say MOST), don't. The writer needs to know their story well enough to recognize which it is in their case.

R.M.Gilbert said...

I used to begin books at the end or the epilogue (whichever the story concluded with)--yes, you read right, I'd read the end first. And if I liked it, I knew I wouldn't care whether the beginning started with a prologue or Chapter 1.

That admission aside, I've grown up some. More and more I've started reading books from their beginnings. And while there are bad prologues out there, there are crappy endings too.

What's important to remember is one persons 'cup of tea' is another persons 'cup of coffee'.

Claudie said...

Most of the time I'm not bothered by a prologue. It helps to set the mood, and can carry details and some information that helps comprehend the plot or setting. Admittedly, I come from a fantasy background, where prologue can do a great deal towards grasping the setting.

One of the problem is that prologues often don't feature the same characters, and it's like starting twice the same book. I can understand how that's hard, but I'm curious... isn't it the same as multiple Point of Views? So if we're to disregard prologues with that argument, shouldn't we be wary of books that demand we follow more than one character, even when they sometimes start it completely different part of the world?

I've always seen the prologue as an integral and essential part of the story that, unfortunately, doesn't fit with the rest of the narrative. An example of this is when you need to convey information about a past event. A prologue, where we see things happen, will always be more interesting than an infodump.

Prologues that raise more questions than they answer are also fun. It's a good way to hook your reader.

Cheers,

Claudie

Magdalena Munro said...

I checked my personal library and noticed that the greats (Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Kafka, Joyce, Mann, and Hesse were a few I checked) did not use prologues. Post modern greats like Murakami and Mitchell also don't use them. I trust the masters on this one.

Simon Haynes said...

I don't read prologues so I don't mind if they're included or not.

Most prologues just dump a ton of back story on you, discussing people and events I'm supposed to magically recall in chapter 15. Unfortunately I'll have forgotten most of the essential data by the middle of chapter one.

Far better to mention relevant people and events in chapter 13 or 14.

Jennifer said...

Prologues usually take action from 3/4 of the way into the book and yank it to the front so it starts out "exciting," THEN we start the actual book and have no idea what is going on until we get 3/4 of the way through the book. I hate that.

The Zuccini said...

Good writing being nonnegotiable,I choose option 4: It depends upon the book.

WhisperingWriter said...

I don't mind prologues.

In my novel I don't have one but I do have an epilogue and I wasn't sure if that were strange or not.

So long as I enjoy reading the book, I don't care what it has.

k m kelly said...

Don't like them. Generally don't bother reading them unless I get into the book and it's interesting. Then I might go back and read the prologue. I figure if it's important enough to be in the book, it belongs in the first chapter.

Marva said...

Since I read all the blurbs at the front, the dedication, acknowledgements, and copyright page, why wouldn't I read the Prologue?

I've used prologues a couple of times, both describing something that occurred years before the events of the story. I didn't want the reader to get whiplash jumping from 1540 to 2010 from one chapter to the next.

Anonymous said...

I don't see what the problem with prologues is. I actually rather like them, but really, I always just start with page one no matter what it's labeled. Chapter One, prologue, introduction, whatever, so long as it's interesting and well-written.

Anonymous said...

Snobbery is the public face of insecurity.

90% of everything is crap. Just because you've never read a good prologue doesn't mean there's something flawed about prologues.

And vilifying the books that have them doesn't make your book any better.

alynnwise said...

Talking about actual prologues and not Forward by SoandSo, I say they Rock the Casba! Unlike those lame Epilogues.
Prologues work by perspective. Everyone sees things their individual way. Finding out a whole different is part of the fun.
Epilogues kind of take away the reader's imagined continuation.

Lindsey Edwards said...

I know of some novels that have beautiful prologues that supported the book beautifully. I think the key is to keep it short and make it interesting!

Jolene said...

Only if it's brief.

Lindsey Edwards said...

Um, yeah, I just realized I used beautiful twice! Just goes to show I love a good prologue! LoL

Sommer Leigh said...

I love a good prologue and am pretty indifferent to bad ones. I don't really agree with hating them on principle...that doesn't seem to make sense to me.

Here's what I like about a good prologue: it's not back story that we could read somewhere else. It's another piece of story that you CAN'T get otherwise. It doesn't fit, but it's important. It could not be told by the main character if it were not told separately in the prologue. Those are the ones I like.

For example take China Mieville's Perdido Street Station. China is an amazing author, and he starts out this book with a killer prologue. I'm glad it was there and that someone wasn't like "Prologues suck, take it out." And I hope that when people read the book they don't skip that scene, because man, they'd be missing out.

wendy said...

I remember when I once read a lot that I would flinch if I came to a prologue. It usually seemed a piece of writing devoid of anything interesting. So when I came to doing a prologue, I made sure to make the writing exceptional and the events full of magic sparkle and fantastic elements. As I was writing a novel focusing on fairy people, Magination, this was relatively easy to pull off. (Actually, it took tons of rewrites to get it how I wanted it.) This prologue was written in first tense and directly addressed the reader as if a character in the story. It was a part of the story which didn't involve the MC, but lead to the events of the first chapter. From then on, whenever I wrote a scene that didn't have the MC, I would make that scene similar to the prologue stylistically, although without addressing the reader.

mvs said...

I don't mind prologues at all, but I feel that not EVERY book needs one.

Nick said...

Usually a prologue is kinda boring, but if it's not too long then it's not super detrimental. Usually a prologue is just a way to have two intro chapters which take time to ramp up.Definitely don't put a boring chapter at the end of an earlier book series as the "sneak peak" to the next volume. I almost didn't continue a good series because of a sneak peak prologue.

Star-Dreamer said...

I voted that it depends on how good the prologue is. I've read some pretty good ones, but I've also read some pretty bad ones... or ones that just don't seem nessisary. An example of a good one would have to be the prologue for "Eregon". I felt that it had just the right mix of action and info to keep the reader going, and it wasn't info that could be explained easily in the story. An example of one that is unnessisary would have to be from some of the Redwall Books: they're good books, granted, but half the time the prologues are just about an elder telling a youngster a story... and then the whole book ends up being the story.

For me, you use a prologue if you have important info that just can't be easily written into the story. In one of my books, I have such information; I tried to cut the prologue and write the info into the body of the manuscript, but it didn't work well at all. I tried to just cut the prologue period, but that didn't work either because it left the reader without some important information. So yes, I have a prologue, hopefully a well-written one. But usually I try to leave prologues alone and start with chapter 1. :)

Madeleine said...

I went out on a limb and included a prologue in my book. I've gotten great feedback concerning that short-enough prologue, and I love it, so I'm keeping it. The passage is the sort of thing that would be difficult to incorporate into chapter one, so prologue it is, and prologue it shall remain.

Jan Rider Newman said...

I voted against prologues. That said, I have read one or two I liked. But the majority of prologues annoy me.

cheekychook said...

I think prologues, like everything else, can be great if they're written well. I've read some prologues that seem to have no real connection to story itself (I'd give an example, but I've blocked them out of my mind). They're jarring. Instead of pulling you more into the story they bring you out of it and leave you wonder "what was that all about?" I don't like those.

Other times a prologue sucks you right in, like the first words of story should, and when you get into the book you're glad that you know whatever it was that the prologue told you.

These comments show that some people are so opposed to prologues they won't even bother reading them, and I'd venture a guess that in general the people who read here are far more patient and avid readers than the general public, so a lot of prologues probably do go unread. That in itself can be reason not to go with one, particularly if you have a target audience would be among those more likely to skip it.

Regardless of whether you have a prologue or not your first chapter should still be strong, with a solid hook, and should stand alone. In other words a good prologue is there as a bonus for the people who bothered to read it. It's the literary equivalent of an "amuse-bouche"; you won't starve without it, you'll still enjoy the meal, but it's kinda nice that the chef decided to send it out to you while you're waiting for your real food to arrive.

Or maybe I'm just hungry.

Scott Marlowe said...

Everyone always says don't do a prologue. Yet here I am reading Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb and it has a quite long prologue. I think it depends on the situation. Bottom line, though, it has to add to the story and be done right.

Mira said...

Whoops. I don't usually re-post for typos, but I used the wrong words. :)

So, I remember your original post on this, Nathan, and I thought at the time you had a very good points about prologues needing to engage the reader twice, and how prologues make the reader work hard, so they may not be worth it. A prologue does give the reader a chance to put the book down twice.

Personally, I sort of sigh when I see a prologue.

So, I guess my feeling is a prologue needs to be done really well, and for a very good reason, otherwise, best not to use them.

Lisa said...

I don't read them. That's awful isn't it. An author takes the time to write it, I buy the book, and skim over his/her words. I always feel guilty about it, but I ALWAYS skip it.

February Grace said...

I don't care what you call it.

Make me care about your character(s) on page one.

If I love your character(s) I'll keep reading even if you call it your History to the Introduction of the Preamble and Explanation of All Past and/or Allusion to All Future Events: The Sequelogue

Just write well, drat it. Hang the headings, who cares. Amuse me!

Nicole said...

I admit - I've never understood why people freak out over prologues. Whatever it's called, it's probably there for a reason. Granted, there are times when whatever is on page one has NO reason, but that's happened in first chapters too.

I don't care what you call it. It's there, it's done, and as long as it makes me want to read more, then more power to you.

Nicole said...

P.S. Lyn I am with you COMPLETELY when it comes to flashbacks. Too many flashbacks make me want to shoot myself.

Ja'Nese Dixon said...

I like them when they're short, sweet and punchy.

Tambra said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
T. Anne said...

I'm late to the party but I usually skim prologue's. Edgar Sawtelle has one so does the popular YA book Hush Hush. Those are the two I can think of off the top of my head that I've read in the last year with prologue's. Why is it such a sin for a newbie author? (not rhetorical ;) And while I'm on the verge of a mild rant, I've also read a ton of books that 'tell' the story this year as well. I'll be nice to those authors and not name names. I don't mind the prologue at all though.

bettielee said...

I do not get the hatred of prologues. It's just another part of the book! Its just like... more story for free!! ????? And if everyone supposedly hates prologues, now come every fantasy I pick up (my genre!) has one?!

Angelica Weatherby said...

Usually if it's a stand alone novel I never read the prologue. However if it's in a series I can see where a prologue is helpful. I've decided a prologue is useless in any books I've written though. Still have a lot to learn.

Leis said...

I love well-written books, prologue or no prologue -- if it's there I'll read it. It all hinges on the quality of the writing for me.

Polenth said...

I like prologues when they're a little bit of story. I tolerate them if they're telling me something about the world and they're short (an example is the brief intro in the Pern books, which is basically there to tell you the dragons are science fiction).

Unfortunately, most prologues in SFF are the boring infodump variety (and usually a really long infodump). You couldn't call them 'chapter one' and get away with it, because it's obvious they're intended as an infodump rather than a piece of story. I don't like that sort.

Tambra said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Emily Anderson said...

It depends on the point of a prologue. I can't stand prologues that are a tease about what comes later in the novel. But if they're information from a different point of view or a different time or anything you're not going to get from the MC in the story told in the novel, I don't always mind them. If they work. It's like with a lot of rules about writing: in general, avoid prologues, but if it works for your novel, use it. Some books with good prologues: Unwind, Sabriel, Fire, The Book Thief (can you tell i write YA?). I liked the comment about the first chapter in Sorcerer's Stone basically being a prologue but shown as chapter one (same goes for Half-blood Prince). And like some have mentioned, they can't be long.

Steve said...

My first and only attempt at a novel has a prologue (and 3 chapters so far).

The prologue has been revised. At first all I did was to introduce my main character, set the theme of the story by having her eccentric (but lovable) uncle arrive at her middle school graduation party with a bouquet of dandelions and some cryptic philosophy. And we see a bit more backstory when her dad gives her a used Fender P-Bass.

After months online reading writing advice, most of which I rejected, I accepted the advice about having an attention-grabbing opening, and decided mine failed. So, I wrote a flash-forward to very near the climax of the story. Our girl, and her band, Dandelion Lawn, are onstage at the Wood City Civic Areana, opening for well-known Midwest rockers Northern Heart.

Afte their first encore, the crowd takes up the chant "Forest Fire, Forest Fire!" The song that got her kicked out of exclusive Forest Academy, and almost sent to jail! The song they haven't played in almost two years.

She decides there and then that the music is no longer enough - she wants people to know their story.

Transition to the rest of prologue as originally written.

-Steve

P.S. I plan to revise the graduation party scene further to establish that she has a brother Chip serving in Iraq. He will die from an IED during early fall of her freshman year.

Nicole said...

I just start at the beginning regardless of whether it says Prologue or Chapter 1. It amazes me how many people skip the prologue.

Nic said...

I'll start on page 1 but one time - i did wonder whether to skip the prologue but that particular prologue was interesting.
I think prologue's could be like voiceovers in tv and show that another part of the writing is off but sometimes it works to have the prologue.
I once read one of Alex Rider novels by Anthony Horowitz and for the first time it had a prologue. The prologue was about Alex's dad so didn't quite fit into the main novel and happened 13/4 years before the action of the main story and was vital in showing characterisation and the motivation of a character later in the story so to all those naysayers about prologues - sometime they have their place and shouldn't just be chapter 1. A piece of information that is important enough to go in but does not fit with the main story should be a prologue and not chapter 1 but they need to be done well.

Nancy said...

For my taste, if a prologue is absolutely necessary then OK. But only 2-2 1/2 pages of fast-paced action, even if the work is produced in a literary style. A lot of back story and explanation is not for me.

I once read a historical novel where the author put the back story in the first third of the book, after the first 30 pages. After another 30 pages of this I put the book down and never went back to it. I kept wanting to get back to the real story. I suspect the author originally placed this portion as the prologue (the book didn't officially have one) but when her editor pointed out that it was too long to be a prologue and "Do you really need one? where does your story start?" the author thought that putting it into the book as a chapter (a very long one, too) was a clever way of saving it, which was needed to have the story make sense. But this structure seemed to me ill-conceived. Some of that back story could have been woven in as blurbs or into the dialog.

Anyway, my point is if the story needs an info dump as a prologue, a back story, or extraneous info in order to ground the reader for chapter one, then I think the story hasn't been honed well enough and it ought to go back to the drawing board and structured a little better.

Christina said...

Typically, if prologues are included they are necessary in some way. You can't say that they didn't include it in the book. It is in the book. It's in the prologue.

They are events that happen well before the beginning of the story. Sometimes they set up mood. Sometimes they give necessary information (like in a fantasy book you often see them as set up for a prophesy that was written thousands of years before, or used like a flashback). I don't think that they should be longer than a page or two though.

I chose option 3 because when they are well done, they're interesting and important. If they're poorly done, it can be distracting. Either way, the author did include it in the book.

Barbara said...

I sometimes (not always) put a "prologue" of something that happens years before the start of the actual book and gives some indsight on a character or foreshadows the rest... sort of a short story before the actual novel. Do you think it could work?

India Drummond said...

I think it's important to put something as a prologue if it's out of character with the rest of the book, like a flashback, a dream... something like that. I see this a lot in spec fiction.

I would never put the word PROLOGUE above it though. I've heard too many people say they skip them! Eeeek!

Wordy Birdie said...

Although I prefer to start with chapter one in my own writing, it does essentially depend on how good the prologue is. But in my line of work I see so many irrelevant, misplaced, jarring, and obscure prologues to be wary (and a little irritated) by them all. What I'm seeing more and more in unpublished work is the 'preface,' which I find off-putting in too many ways to list here, (especially when there's a prologue after it, too).

csmith said...

Nathan, would it be possible for there to be a sort of definition discussion of the differences between prologues, prefaces, forwards, introductions etc.

Thanks

C.

Guinevere said...

I don't generally love prologues, as a reader or a writer, but they have their place. For me, a prologue works when there's information that isn't part of the forward moving story arc that's necessary for the reader to know. I don't like the data-dump type of prologues either, though, with all the backstory; it has to be delicately handled, in my opinion.

I use a prologue in the rough draft of my fantasy novel, and it can go or not in revisions, but I do think it gives a helpful handle on other happenings in the world beside my MC's narrow viewpoint. It's the scene where her father dies, before she's ever born, and she's lied to about it - so I think the prologue helps set that up. But it doesn't belong as chapter one, because it's fifteen years before and not part of the "story" once it takes off, kwim? You can certainly argue the point, though.

Cynthia Wilson said...

I'm using a prologue in a work-in-process to tell the reader something that the main character doesn't know in order to build tension.

I recently read a book that would have benefitted from a prologue. The beginning of the book was really hard to follow. If another reader hadn't told me that it was about a human with an alien inside her, I would have been lost.

That all being said, I voted that it depends on how "good" the prologue is, but I think it's whether or not the prologue is needed.

Susan said...

I have never understood the loathing for prologues. (And those people who say they don't even read them??? Hello! They're not the author's introduction--this is the start of the story!) I totally see their worth in the grand set-up of a book.

But I've found that prologues work best in thriller-type books. The promise of things to come. A thriller does need that Ordinary World set-up, and getting tortured/dismembered/psychologically played with in Ch. 1 makes me, the reader, feel a bit off-kilter. But a prologue with that bad stuff? Or the prologue in the killer's point of view? Maybe cliche, but I loves it!

-Susan

Susan said...

I can tell you one author who would have benefitted greatly from a prologue--Judith McNaught (massive bestseller). She started at a wedding on Ch. 1, then had the girl think about what led up to that wedding for 200 PAGES OF BACKSTORY!

I think she was afraid to use a prologue (because of this inane fear of prologues). And the telling of the book suffered a bit because of it.

Susan said...

After reading most the responses, I have a question for you, Nathan.

Do you think that most agents' fear of prologues come from reading so many bad ones? And has this fear rubbed off on the writing community to the point that many hate them because that's what they're supposed to do, even though (when you truly get down to it) they don't know the difference between a prologue, a preface, and an introduction??

I tell my writing students to avoid semicolons if possible until they know how to use them properly--a misused semicolon is the surest way to screw up the credibility of a paper.

Is the prologue the agent's semicolon?

-S.

Debbie said...

I like prologues as long as they're crisp and short. A good one is a great teaser for the story to come.

L.R. Giles said...

I find it odd to apply a hard and fast rule to anything in writing. 'Prologues are bad/unnecessary', 'The story should always begin in Chapter 1'...it all depends. We read things about Big Publishing looking for a new, original voice...that being said, that new original voice may need a prologue for their blockbuster bestseller, or maybe they don't. A number of my favorite books have prologues, while others favorites start a chapter 1. As I've seen most agents post in their blogs, isn't good writing the key?

GalaktioNova said...

I don't like prologues in any shape or form, period. Even -- especially!! -- when they're well-written, all prologues are standalone things, followed by a huge jump in time, space, POV, etc. You've just tuned in to follow a good story when you're torn away from it and relocated to a totally different setting (often in a very different style and even genre), and you have to start tuning in all over again! No, thank you very much :-) Absolutely no prologues for me.

K.L. Brady said...

I have never read a prologue to my knowledge. If I did, it was by accident. I figure the important stuff is in chapter one.

Ironically, I started the sequel to one book with a prologue and then nixed it because I realized I wouldn't even read it if I bought my own book. lol

I'm firmly anti-prologue.

Christi Goddard said...

I don't understand the venom against prologues. Most of my favorite stories have them. I enjoy anything extra an artist can give me, whether it's deleted scenes on a DVD from a movie or a scene that happened ten years prior to the actual story that follows the prologue. To say that all prologues are the creation of lazy writers is like saying all *insert stereotype person* likes *stereotype thing* because they are *stereotype*. Most stories don't need a prologue because the story is self-contained. But sometimes a story is so vast and complex, a bit of a heads up is needed for a reader.

K Simmons said...

It doesn't depend on how good the prologue is, it depends on whether the story requires a prologue. Some do, some don't. I see no point in stripping out a prologue that you (the author) think serves an important purpose in a story, at least not before an agent or editor sees it. If the general feedback is to cut it, then obviously it's time to reassess how important you think that prologue is. But I view this question the same way I view writing to a hot trend - ultimately, your success comes from writing your story, not what other people think your story should be.

Joseph L. Selby said...

Sometimes I think prologues can just be chapter 1 or just dropped all together. Sometimes they create a good frame of reference for the author but not the reader, in which case the author can write it, use it, but when he's finished drop it.

Pat Rothfuss' prologue to THE NAME OF THE WIND is the greatest prologue I've ever read. Ever.

Jane Harmony said...

I voted on it depending on how good the prologue is.

In my first and second drafts, I took about two chapters to convey some background to the story. It was really slow (though it had its moments), and there was a lot that was unimportant.

So I changed it to a first-person present-tense, italicized preface, only writing the "moments" and I'm so glad I did. It's more exciting, and it sets up the conflict a lot faster. This is probably the best move I have made.

However - I don't think every book needs a preface. Actually, if every book had a preface, we could call it...Chapter 1.

Watery Tart said...

I think it depends a lot on the genre of the book, and frankly, I LOVE the idea that the prologue can be from another PoV than the rest of the book--I don't see it as lazy at all if used right. I like a mystery where it gives what the rest is pulling toward, or suspense where the reader gets a hint just how dark things ARE.

Probably YA isn't the place for them... no matter how much I love prologues, neither of my kids has ever been willing to listen to one (or read one)--they are for a better attention span, I guess.

Stuart said...

The blanket "all prologues are bad" statements are amusing. I've read some realy bad prologues and I've read some very good ones.

The best ones in my mind (or at least for the types of books I read) serve as a hook or set up a mystery that the protagonist can't know about in chapter 1. For books written in very limited 3rd person with only one or a few POV narrators, a prologue can give the reader a glimpse into something the POV characters won't see for a hundred pages or more. It can create suspense, letting the reader glimpse the shadow at the end of the tunnel that's await the hero(ine).

Most books don't need prologues, but some books can use them to great effect.

Scott said...

I think part of the dislike of prologues stems from the fact that most aren't very good or are, good or bad, are unnecessary. But sometimes, they're brilliant. I love the prologue from Steinbeck's "Sweet Thursday," for example.

The rare good prologue is from a different POV, and might contain some sort of setup, like something that happened centuries before. It is not an info dump, but more like a very short story on its own.

Now epilogues--I hate epilogues, especially the kind that tell you what happened to every character years later. So many good books have been spoiled by those.

Debra L. Schubert said...

I almost always like them. Love an appetizer before the meal.

Jill Elizabeth said...

Liberty Speidel--I agree. I have a prologue in my current WIP. I call it chapter 1.

John C said...

It's a shame nobody seems to have an opinion or bothered sharing their thoughts about prologues.

I prefer epiprologues which appear at the center of the novel, are usually told in 2nd person perspective, and generally attempt to insult the reader with comments about their questionable legitimacy, oral hygiene, and toe fungus.

Reena Jacobs said...

I don't mind prologues which are purposeful. For example, if it explains how a house became haunted (two children were murdered and buried in the basement). Then chapter 1 begins with the new family moving in. I like that. It's just a little back story which answers questions a writer doesn't want to put in the main story for whatever reason.

What I don't like are prologues which really aren't prologues. For example, an italicized prologue which seems like it'll explain something later in the novel, only to find the writer has italicized whole chapters within the novel which continue the story of the prologue. That's not a prologue; it's a separate story meshed in with the main plot. Personally, I think it's deceptive.

Courtney said...

Go Prologues!!!

I've read my share of bad prologues (preambles, preludes,prefaces, etc), but when they work, they work. I can't condemn a whole novel because someone's style preference is to include a prologue. Plus, I just love getting a lil morsel before the real show starts. As I've seen a lot of people state in the comments, my favorites are the ones that come from a different voice/character than the protagonist.

So...how would you borderline pro-prologuers feel about a scene that happens over 50 years after the main action of the novel? So it's like an epilogue-ish prologue thingy.

Alright... yay prologues! the end.

Courtney said...

Also! Also! I read a lot of complaints about prologues being a trust-deterrent for readers, BUT I like to see more than one side of a writer. For me, it demonstrates control and precision when an author contrasts the voice in the prologue with the voice of the novel, especially if writing the the rest of the novel in first person or an intimate 3rd person.

so yeah...

Amy Lundebrek said...

I think the well-written prologue can be a tasty morsel to ease into an epic science fiction or fantasy novel. But then again, if you are writing something that can be described as both "well-written" and "epic," you'll probably already know whether or not your intended prologue will work.

I'd say in most other cases it should either be cut, or it should be chapter one.

veela-valoom said...

Prologues have never bothered me. Honestly while reading I never put much thought into them.

Forwards & any form of explanatory letter before a novel...now those are another story

Amy Lundebrek said...

The other thing about a prologue is that if it's well done, you can either read it or skip it. If you read it, your experience of the story will be slightly enriched, if you don't it's no big deal. I am sad that some people won't even read a book if they see it has a prologue.

Anonymous said...

I chose option 3. For me, a good prologue will set up a question or a scene that you want answered or to know more about by reading the subsequent chapters. It's a teaser. They don't always work, however, and that's where the problem lies.

Samantha Royce said...

I voted that it depends on how good the prologue is. It also depends sometimes on the chronology and structure of the story. Think "Love in the Time of Cholera." (Although now that I do think of it, I don't think "Love in the Time of Cholera" actually has a prologue. Hmmmm...)

David Kubicek said...

I voted that it depends on how good the prologue is, but I can't think of many situations where a prologue is necessary. If it's to provide back story, I would work it into the novel later. If it's to provide action, character development, etc., why not call it Chapter 1?

Amanda Sablan said...

If there's a good reason for a prologue, then sure, throw it in there. The problem is that some prologues don't feel necessary, as if they're just there to take up space because the info. provided isn't too important and/or could be placed elsewhere in the novel.

Ishta Mercurio said...

Without reading any of the comments, because it is LATE and I have a big day tomorrow (but I will read over the weekend):

It depends on how good the prologue is. I hate prologues that are actually an excerpt from later in the book; that's cheating the reader out of the pleasure of not knowing what is coming next, and it isn't a prologue anyway, it's a trailer (or, as we call it when we go to the movies, a preview or a teaser). Besides, if I'm holding the book, I can just flip through it to find the exciting parts anyway if I need to know that there are exciting parts before I'll commit to reading the book. No need to just paste them onto the first page.

I also hate prologues that are really the author talking about how they wrote the book, or why they wrote the book, or whatever. I just want to read the book, and if I want that other stuff, I'll look for an appendix. And if I need to know why or how an author wrote a book in order to properly appreciate the book, the book probably wasn't written as well as it could have been.

I really like prologues that give us some important backstory - for example, if the book starts when the MC is 16, but we need to know that the MC was raped by her uncle at the age of 9, I wouldn't mind a prologue that showed that happening so that we are grounded in this important part of who our MC is.

Claire Dawn said...

One of my WIPs has a prologue. It's a war scene which occurs a decade before the rest of the action. While it is set up, it is fast-paced and interesting. In fact it's so good, that I had to start upgrading the rest of the book after I added it! lol!

IMO, a prologue should show us a scene we would otherwise not have seen, but it shouldn't be an info dump. A trend I've noticed of late is the prologue, which isn't really a PROlogue, but actually something which happens somewhere near the climax of the story. I'm a pretty impatient person, so knowing what's going to happen, but not how it happens, usually just bugs me.

«Oldest ‹Older   1 – 200 of 204   Newer› Newest»
Related Posts with Thumbnails