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Author Topic: Prologues  (Read 17591 times)

Offline Justan Henner

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Prologues
« on: December 26, 2013, 05:37:32 PM »
Someone commented in another thread that they do not read book prologues, and as someone who always reads the prologue (except for Scarlet Letter because I thought it was a preface and historical notes) I thought it a bit odd. More interesting than odd I suppose.

As a reader, does anyone else out there ignore the prologue or do you always read it if a book has it? I know it's one of those rules for beginning writers that you should not include one, I suppose that is probably one of the reasons, is that people skip them, but I've always seen it as part of the book.

I can see why, in certain books, prologues are unnecessary. While they set up for the novel, in some cases they don't seem to serve much purpose over all. 

For example, books like Wheel of Time, the prologue of the first book doesn't make sense until like 3-4 books in (I mean, really make sense) so it is a bit of wasted space compared to the actual plot of the novel. A Song of Ice and Fire is an example where the prologue is more neutral. It serves as a reminder that the Wights are the real threat that's facing Westeros, but overall doesn't mean anything until much later.

Novels like Malazan Book of the Fallen, Even though I know that most of the prologue is important, it doesn't feel that way while reading it and by the time it does make sense, you've forgotten about it.

Despite that, a Fantasy novel without a prologue seems a bit off to me. Perhaps it is because I am so used to them in fantasy novels that they seem a part of the genre. But it's true, it seems like most prologues are kind of meaningless (in fact, it seems like most authors write their prologue in cryptic, foreshadowing language, or out of context  dialogue that the prologue is meaningless until the second read).

Personally I think a prologue is vital device for expressing a jump in time for an important event that needs to be in the book. I'd much rather see a character in the event itself than have a flashback or have them simply tell me about it, but I think it needs to be done correctly so that there is a firm transition between the prologue and the actual novel. If I can't see the direct result of the prologue on the rest of the novel within the first half of the novel, (and preferably sooner unless it is a big shocker that makes sense at the end) I think the prologue is kind of a waste of words.

Offline G_R_Matthews

Re: Prologues
« Reply #1 on: December 26, 2013, 05:57:38 PM »
I don't think there can be a hard and fast rule on prologues / epilogues or middleofthebook-logues (if they exist).

Like you I always read them; they can create a mood, give an important piece of info that only becomes clear later on, be a foreshadowing device in a multi-book series, give you world-lore etc. Basically, they can perform a vital function in a book - ignore them at your peril :)

Quote
a firm transition between the prologue and the actual novel. If I can't see the direct result of the prologue on the rest of the novel within the first half of the novel, (and preferably sooner unless it is a big shocker that makes sense at the end) I think the prologue is kind of a waste of words.

Is a good point too. The prologue must reveal something that is used in the book (or series). You quote the Wheel of Time where it becomes clear later on. I think that a prologue should be a prologue - which is cack-handed english for it can't be the first chapter. The segue from a prologue chapter 1 into a real chapter 2 can be jarring if it hasn't been properly labelled.

Like many things a prologue (typed that word so many times now!) is a literary device that has its place. I think that badly used prologues will always give other prologues a bad name :)
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Offline DBASKLS

Re: Prologues
« Reply #2 on: December 26, 2013, 06:27:23 PM »
The prologue is part of the book - why on earth wouldn't you read it?
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Offline ScarletBea

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Re: Prologues
« Reply #3 on: December 26, 2013, 06:42:06 PM »
The prologue is part of the book - why on earth wouldn't you read it?

This.
And I would add "obviously".

Unlike some of you, I actually quite like when the prologue is not directly linked to the start of the book; when it's written in a different style, under a different POV, showing light on something only hinted at during the rest of the book; and sometimes I re-read just the prologue once I finish the book, and it suddenly means something different from when I first read it...
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Offline G_R_Matthews

Re: Prologues
« Reply #4 on: December 26, 2013, 08:12:52 PM »
I think that a prologue should be a prologue - which is cack-handed english for it can't be the first chapter. The segue from a prologue chapter 1 into a real chapter 2 can be jarring if it hasn't been properly labelled.

Quote
I actually quite like when the prologue is not directly linked to the start of the book; when it's written in a different style, under a different POV, showing light on something only hinted at during the rest of the book

The same thing said two completely different ways :)
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Offline AshKB

Re: Prologues
« Reply #5 on: December 26, 2013, 09:07:21 PM »
I'll read prologues, but when writing them, I do try and have a point to them that comes apparently fairly soon. It can just be hints that what happened then is tied into the rest of the book, but it's a setting piece; there should be a point, not, 'ooooh, mystery, they'll never guess until the third book'. Things can be clearer later, but narratively speaking, I think it should tie in (in some form) sooner rather than later.
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Offline AnneL

Re: Prologues
« Reply #6 on: December 26, 2013, 09:34:09 PM »
I usually read them, unless I've seen the author be ineffectual with them before.  I think they are useful primarily to creative narrative tension, where the readers knows something the main characters don't. Although the prologue is not chapter 1, it has to hook the reader as much as a chapter 1 would, and this is where a lot of less effective prologues fall down. A prologue is an appetizer and part of the meal, not a fancy place setting for the meal. If there is a prologue the story needs to start there somehow. 

Offline Elfy

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Re: Prologues
« Reply #7 on: December 26, 2013, 09:49:50 PM »
I don't know that fantasy novels HAVE to have a prologue. I've read plenty that don't and I've read plenty that do. I've also seen an agent say that they personally don't like receiving submissions with a prologue. The person that said they didn't read them on the other thread confused me a little. I'm not sure if they were saying that they didn't read prologues ever or that they didn't read them as a way of getting a feel for the book when they first pick it up. If it's the latter I can understand as the prologue doesn't always give you a good idea of the book, because it's not always related and can be written in a different style from the rest of it. If it's the former then they're doing themselves and the book a disservice, it's there for a reason, that reason may not become apparent until another book in the series or until the end, but it isn't put there just to waste space. To me, not bothering with the prologue is kind of like just skipping a chapter for whatever reason and then wondering why another part of the book doesn't make a great deal of sense.
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Offline Yuan François

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Re: Prologues
« Reply #8 on: December 26, 2013, 10:30:59 PM »
I remember saying once that I don't read prologues... Simply because I'm always eager to rush to chapter one, and most times, the prologues won't make sense until you're into book 2 or 3. Even when it isnt, and is just a prequel to the story, example Christopher Paolini's Eragon, the prologue carries little benefit to the story, because it is, most times, repeated in the body of the novel.

I only take interest in reading the prologues after I've finished the entire series and am hungry for more...  ::)

For me, It's almost tradition not to read the prologue ... I've never been at a disadvantage for not reading them... To me, it makes the book more interesting and mysterious - if that makes sense. It gives you the chance to figure out things yourself. It...enhances the suspense.

 Not all things need introduction. Sometimes you have to appeal to the readers like you already know them or like they already know your story. Books without prologues seem to do just that.

At the end of the day, in most cases, the contents of the prologue are repeated in the bulk of the novel.
« Last Edit: December 26, 2013, 10:33:20 PM by Yuan François »
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Offline Yuan François

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Re: Prologues
« Reply #9 on: December 26, 2013, 10:41:18 PM »
I don't know that fantasy novels HAVE to have a prologue. I've read plenty that don't and I've read plenty that do. I've also seen an agent say that they personally don't like receiving submissions with a prologue. The person that said they didn't read them on the other thread confused me a little. I'm not sure if they were saying that they didn't read prologues ever or that they didn't read them as a way of getting a feel for the book when they first pick it up. If it's the latter I can understand as the prologue doesn't always give you a good idea of the book, because it's not always related and can be written in a different style from the rest of it. If it's the former then they're doing themselves and the book a disservice, it's there for a reason, that reason may not become apparent until another book in the series or until the end, but it isn't put there just to waste space. To me, not bothering with the prologue is kind of like just skipping a chapter for whatever reason and then wondering why another part of the book doesn't make a great deal of sense.

I get your point. But if the prologue was as important as any other chapter, it would be... a chapter. It would be Chapter one. It sets itself apart, but not because it is more important than the chapters. There is a bit of inferiority in the prologue. It seems to be a modifier, and not a chapter on its own.

I found this on a blog... http://www.foremostpress.com/authors/articles/prologue.html
Quote
A prologue should reveal significant facts that contribute to our understanding of the plot. It should be vivid and entertaining in its own right (who wants to read a boring prologue, no matter how much of the background it explains?) It should make us want to read on.

If every prologue offered just that, then it could set itself apart in a positive way...
« Last Edit: December 26, 2013, 10:44:22 PM by Yuan François »
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Offline Elfy

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Re: Prologues
« Reply #10 on: December 26, 2013, 10:53:29 PM »
I don't know that fantasy novels HAVE to have a prologue. I've read plenty that don't and I've read plenty that do. I've also seen an agent say that they personally don't like receiving submissions with a prologue. The person that said they didn't read them on the other thread confused me a little. I'm not sure if they were saying that they didn't read prologues ever or that they didn't read them as a way of getting a feel for the book when they first pick it up. If it's the latter I can understand as the prologue doesn't always give you a good idea of the book, because it's not always related and can be written in a different style from the rest of it. If it's the former then they're doing themselves and the book a disservice, it's there for a reason, that reason may not become apparent until another book in the series or until the end, but it isn't put there just to waste space. To me, not bothering with the prologue is kind of like just skipping a chapter for whatever reason and then wondering why another part of the book doesn't make a great deal of sense.

I get your point. But if the prologue was as important as any other chapter, it would be... a chapter. It would be Chapter one. It sets itself apart, but not because it is more important than the chapters. There is a bit of inferiority in the prologue. It seems to be a modifier, and not a chapter on its own.

I found this on a blog... http://www.foremostpress.com/authors/articles/prologue.html
Quote
A prologue should reveal significant facts that contribute to our understanding of the plot. It should be vivid and entertaining in its own right (who wants to read a boring prologue, no matter how much of the background it explains?) It should make us want to read on.

If every prologue offered just that, then it could set itself apart in a positive way...
Interesting. How do you go with films and TV? They regularly have prologues as well, do you leave the cinema or turn the show off until the 'action' starts? What if the prologue introduces an important character that doesn't come in until later on in the book and you're left wondering why and everyone else is going 'oh yeah, them, from the prologue! Now I get it!' do you then stop reading and go back to the prologue?
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Offline Yuan François

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Re: Prologues
« Reply #11 on: December 26, 2013, 11:11:31 PM »
If needs be, but we're talking about books here.  ;)

How many times do you see an author taking such a risk? So as to put the most important information in the prologue? My point is, I've never been at a disadvantage for reading the prologue. You pick up a book, you look at the title, you examine the cover. You want to read it. Straight to chapter one. It's just the habit. My habit, that is...

It's not about the action. It's about the story being told. Most prologues don't tell the story; they tell what the story may be like. Why certain things will happen. But as the reader, you don't always question what happens, because, naturally you assume certain things, and with the evidences that are given in the book, figure out certain things.

If an entire book, say 120,000 words, is decided on one single prologue of say, 3,000 words, then something is wrong. It's just my point of view. I understand yours. But neglect of the prologue doesn't have much consequence.

Look at movies with prequels. Say, X-men, or LOTR. Did it take the prequel for the story to make sense? I don't think so. If I'm going to read a prologue, I read it last.
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Offline Nighteyes

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Re: Prologues
« Reply #12 on: December 27, 2013, 02:04:46 PM »
I think prologues are pretty essential.   Not reading them is like refusing to watch a film or tv show till opening credits have kicked in. 

There is an argument though that some writers especially in the fantasy genre don't actually seem to understand what a prologue should be.  As earlier posters have said a prologue should reveal pertinent information or foreshadow later events through a different POV, an event that takes place years before or a future event.

Robert Jordan's Eye of the World has a very good example of a prologue.   Sadly in later books he completely lost the concept of a prologue and wrote prologues that were over 100 pages long and should have simply be labelled as chapters 1 to 4. 

Another bad prologue is Red Seas Under Red Skies. Good book but the prologue stank. Anyone who has read it will know what I mean!
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Offline Arry

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Re: Prologues
« Reply #13 on: December 27, 2013, 03:09:55 PM »
I want to read the story the author wants to tell,  how he wants to tell it. So, yes I read prologues. That said, I can understand that sometimes it's not clear why it's there. But that is also part of the experience.
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Offline Dan D Jones

Re: Prologues
« Reply #14 on: December 27, 2013, 04:17:03 PM »
Yes, I will almost always read a prologue.  I do it reluctantly, hissing and spitting and muttering under my breath, but I do read them.  The below quote isn't the reason I don't like prologues, but it captures the reason remarkably well.

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/08/21/elmore-leonard-10-rules-of-writing/

Avoid prologues.

They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in nonfiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.

There is a prologue in John Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday, but it’s O.K. because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: “I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks. . . . figure out what the guy’s thinking from what he says. I like some description but not too much of that. . . . Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. . . . Spin up some pretty words maybe or sing a little song with language. That’s nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don’t have to read it. I don’t want hooptedoodle to get mixed up with the story.”


Prologues are hooptedoodle.  They're lazy writing or a cheap trick.  If they contain essential background material, then the author is too lazy or inexperienced or unskilled to properly fold the material into the story.  If they contain an attention-grabbing cliff-hanger that gets answered at the end of the story, then they're a desperate attempt to grab your interest and force you to read the rest of the book, evidently because the author feels the book isn't interesting enough to keep your attention on its own.

There are exceptions but they are precisely that - exceptions, exceptional, unusual, outside the norm.  A highly skilled writer can break all the rules s/he likes and still write a book that leaves me panting for more.  Most writers aren't that highly skilled.

Yes, that's a strong opinion.  It's mine.  I'm entitled to it.  If you absolutely love prologues and think I'm being a narrow-minded, judgmental boor, then that's your opinion and you're entitled to it too.  We can still get along.  You can read the prologues with pleasure.  I'll read them too.  I won't like it, but I'll do it.