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To prologue or not to prologue



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Sat May 10, 2014 12:34 pm
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Wisteria says...



I’m surprised there hasn’t been an article about the use of prologue already. So, I’ve wanted to write this article for a long time now because I’ve noticed an increasing use of prologues across the YWS board, and it saddens me to say not all are good.


I used to use and write prologues like crazy, treating as a mere introduction or insight to the novel I’m about to write because I felt that just startling off with chapter one was just too crazy. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a little prologue to cushion it? No. I did a research on the pros and cons of writing a prologue so, I’m here to warn you against the dangers of a prologue.


Now, prologues when well-written (which they rarely are even amidst published or renowned authors) can have a great impact and make the readers have a EUREKA moment somewhere during the book. Yet the sad reality is, not many do.


So, below I will list the six deadly sins.


1. Do not under any circumstance use a prologue as an infodump platform for the novel.


Ok, so info dumps are bad enough. Is just basically a series of narrating sentences that spams for ages stating basically facts. No one wants that, but on top of that a prologue. I will say that here, most readers actually skip the prologue if the first sentence doesn’t attract them (I used to do this because I viewed prologues as some sort of boring preface into the novel.) So don’t use a prologue just to have this huge info dump on your character.


2. Don’t use the prologue as a tool to hook readers in.



If readers have a bad tendency to skip past prologues (Yup, it happens.), and the only point of your prologue is to hook the reader, then you have just effectively shot yourself in the foot. You must have a great hook in a prologue, but then you need to also have a hook in Chapter One. If you can merely move the prologue to Chapter One and it not upset the flow of the story, then that is a lot of pressure off your shoulders to be “doubly” interesting.


3. If your prologue really has nothing to do with the main story.

Ok, so the book is about space ships and people killing each other and you write a prologue about Easter Bunnies? (This is pretty self-explanatory)


4. So, that’s pretty long prologue there, sweetheart.

Prologues need to be short and sweet and to the point. Get too long and that is a warning flag that this prologue is being used to cover for sloppy writing.


5: If your prologue is über-condensed world-building…

World-building is generally one of those things, like backstory, that can and should be folded into the narrative. Sometimes it might be necessary to do a little world-building, but think “floating words in Star Wars.” The yellow floating words that drift off into space help the reader get grounded in the larger picture before the story begins. But note the floating words are not super-detailed Tolkien world-building. They are simple and, above all, brief.


6: Prologue = Introduction to chapter one.



I’ve read a lot of prologues on different writing sites where the author just writes a prologue that happens perhaps a decade or perhaps even several years before the actual event of chapter one. Because they think they can provide a background for the story. Now, there is nothing wrong with that but there are other ways to weave that information in. A prologue, is usually a short passage written as a critical element of the novel that cannot be written anywhere else in the novel. It also usually reveals a very important part later on in the novel, now this may or may not be true. But nearly all well-written prologues are not answered until the very end of the book.



Well, that brings an end to this prologue sin, these are just my mere humble opinions coupled with some internet hopping around sites. There are of course good things about prologues, though it is few against the dangers of it. These are just my experiences on prologues, and if anyone has anything to add or would like to say something against those points. Please feel free to!

Spoiler! :
O_O This is my first resource post as a JM, I don't feel no pressure or anything.
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Sat May 10, 2014 12:52 pm
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StellaThomas says...



Love these! I would also add, that when reviewing around the site, I find a lot of prologues that aren't just an introduction to Chapter One, they are Chapter One. I'm generally adverse to prologues but in particular, I'm against prologues that don't need to be prologues. If it's just the first chapter, then call it the first chapter.

But I'm pretty glad this article exists :)
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Sat May 10, 2014 1:17 pm
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lostthought says...



So glad I called my first chapter an actual chapter instead of a prologue. (It's too long to be anything but)
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Sat May 10, 2014 1:51 pm
Wisteria says...



@lostthought, there are a lot of factors besides long that makes a prologue not a prologue, but always safe to call it chapter one,

@StellaThomas, agreed. xD, they should have just called it chapter one and spare the annoyance of being told and lectured.
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Sun May 11, 2014 6:21 pm
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Rosendorn says...



Very nice article! I've been meaning to write one.

My four dos for prologues (even though I really dislike them) :

1- Information you cannot fit anywhere in the novel. You have this explained so I'm not going to go into it too much, but I will point out how in Beauty and the Beast, the information we get in the stained glass (a prologue) is something that would have been so out of character to hear in the movie. The characters are used to the spell, and the Beast is extremely angry with the spell, so the servants would avoid talking about it to keep him calm.

2- It is a self contained short story with continuation possibilities. There is a beginning, middle, and end, but the end isn't completely final. It is independent from the main narrative of the novel, and you can read a prologue and feel that it is finished. "Who could ever learn to love a beast?" is a fantastic closing line, with the main thread (the Beast himself and the fairy) tied up, but that lingering question for "what happens next" is just strong enough to carry us through.

3- It is immediately relevant to the plot. Those threads you left dangling as sequel possibilities? Pick them up immediately in chapter 1. The first character we get a good look at in Beauty and the Beast is Belle, which answers the question. However, because prologues basically act as giant spoilers for the midway point or end point of your novel, you have to pick up other conflicts really quickly. Belle is the town outcast, and we're very quickly swept up in her world, prologue shoved onto the back burner as we wonder "How is she going to deal with this?!"

4- It is interesting. This really should go without saying, but if your prologue isn't interesting, why are you writing it.
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Tue May 13, 2014 3:45 pm
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TimmyJake says...



Prologues... Great article!!

My personal preference is to not have a prologue. Epilogues are different matters because they seem to tie everything together so beautifully.(Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins is an excellent example.)

It really depends on the book, I guess.

One small thing:

Prologues aren't written to snare the reader... which is why I always skip them past. It doesn't matter who wrote it. They are dry and boring, so I skip them. If a writer actually took the time and effort to make their prologue interesting... I don't think it would change a thing! So many other authors have ruined that by making their prologues boring. I skip by every prologue--without reading even the first line.
So in essence, I start at chapter one, no matter if the prologue is one page or twenty.

So I think prologues are sort of like an authors way of padding the pages. Its almost like they realize that, oops! my book is only 95000 words! Lets add 5000 more by inserting a prologue. No, no, no!

I do admit that I wrote a prologue for my book, which has found its place in my trusty schist pile(recycle bin :D). It seems to be something that every writer does initially when starting out on a project. New book? New prologue. It just seems to be the way to do things when first starting a project and then as you go farther into your story, you realize that it isn't necessary.

Just my take on it. :D Awesome article!!
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Sun Aug 24, 2014 11:46 pm
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Holysocks says...



I'm a little late to comment- but I'm going to anyway! :-P

It is incredibly tempting for me to write prologues. It's just so hard to resist! I think it's just an extra thing that a lot of writers think well, why not?

I'm cutting back on writing prologues though... as in; I'm trying to quit. I realized a little while ago that when I read books, I dread reading the prologues... I do read them, thinking that they'll be something that I need to know... but I rarely enjoy them.

I think prologues are so unbearable because you just want to get to the story. Prologues are almost always too far in to the plot for us to be interested early on. I think that's why, like Timmy said, epilogues are much more entertaining; we've already followed these characters, we've explored this new world, life, etc... and we want to know more! With prologues it's like, seriously, why should I care?

Anyway... Great article!
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Mon Aug 25, 2014 11:03 am
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Wisteria says...



@Holysocks, I agree with you that prologues are very tempting to write. Actually, in a way I find prologues much more interesting than epilogues. The well-written ones anyways, I love that great Eureka moment when you finally relates back to the prologue. Regarding Epilogue, I actually haven't looked into that at all seeing I don't see that many writers using epilogues that much.

If you have trouble holding yourself from writing the prologue, you can name it the prologue at first. Then come back to it a few days later, check it against the points I've mentioned. If you still think is fine, then go ahead and name it prologue. If not, just change it to chapter one.
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Mon Aug 25, 2014 2:18 pm
TakeThatYouFiend says...



A nice thing I noted with some prologues is to narrate with someone who isn't the main narrator. Agree or disagree?
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Wed Sep 24, 2014 9:29 pm
PeanutPhoebe says...



Working on a prologue right now... Thank you sooo much, this helped a lot!!
Keep Writing!

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