Monday, July 6, 2009

To Prologue or not to Prologue, That is the Question

I had an interesting discussion with Hubby this weekend. I've been working diligently on my WIP, which includes a prologue. I finished a revision of said prologue and proudly announced it to Hubby, whose response was, "Prologues are for sissies."

This comes from a man who has read exactly two books in the 23 years I've known him.

His comment, of course, started a heated debate. I asked him if instead of calling it "proglogue" I called it "chapter one" if he would feel differently. He said that you should be able to incorporate the info you put into a prologue into the rest of the book and do away with the prologue. I told him he doesn't know what he's talking about because the prologue sets up the story, or may give information that is not easily told throughout the rest of the book. He adamantly refused to reconsider his stance.

So, I polled my oldest son. He's 16 years old and reads voraciously, as do I. I asked him what he thought about prologues. He said he likes them because they set up the story.

I gave my Hubby a self-satisfied look, but he was unmoved. The man who never reads stood by his statement that prologues are for sissies.

I, of course, still disagree with him. And to aggravate me even further, the contents of the prologue I added to my WIP (which didn't previously have a prologue), was Hubby's idea. After we had talked about the story, characters, plot, etc, he had suggested adding something at the beginning of the book which would give some insight into the previous conflict that led to where the characters are now.

Sort of like setting up the story?!

So even after incorporating his suggestion, because I named it "prologue" he suddenly doesn't like it. Well, too bad for him. I'm keeping the prologue, whether he likes it or not. He'll probably never read the book anyway.

So what do you think about prologues? Like them? Don't like them? Don't care?


Tony Noland said...

Prologues can be overdone, but are not necessarily a kiss of death. I find the best ones are those that don't seem to make any sense until page 326, when you suddenly realize what that scene in the moonlight was all about. Even better if a subtext in the prologue makes a different kind of sense on the second reading of the book.

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Lynnette Labelle said...

This is where it's important to know your genre. Some use prologues, others don't. I read and write romantic suspense. What I've found is that dark r/s usually has a prologue and is told either in the vilain's POV or the victim's. Light r/s typically doesn't have a prologue.

As for your argument, both you and your husband are right. If there's any way you can incorporate the info you have in the prologue into the rest of the book (you don't necessarily have to start with it), that would be better.

Ask yourself this question. Are you starting your story at the right place? I had originally begun my story with a prologue until I realized it wasn't necessary. The story didn't really start there. I still needed the information, but I added it as little clips of backstory here and there. I like this version a lot better.

Take a close look at your prologue. Is it written as a scene with dialogue and action or is it an info dump where you're telling the reader what happened in the past. Whether it's a prologue or chapter one, you always want your reader to get into the story, which is hard to do if it's told to them rather than shown.

Lynnette Labelle

alana said...

I got to go with you on this one.

There was a time when I thought prologues weren’t necessary and I would skip them. But the more I read, the more I realized that some stories really need them. I also like that they usually give you a clear picture of the tone of the book. I only hate when they’re too long because my attention starts to wane and I just want to get started (but this seems more prevalent in non-fiction in my experience).

Little Ms Blogger said...

I agree with Lynnette.

I've read books where the prologue worked and others where it just annoyed me.

Although I read the prologue, I have a tendency to skim it and get to the beginning of the story. It bothers me I have to go back and read it again.

Anonymous said...

Any generalizations about this would be, well, ignorant. It depends on your plot; it depends on the voice; it depends on the time line; it depends on...YOU. :)

A prologue CAN set up a wonderful, immediate connection, can let the reader in on a "secret," can set up the tension for the entire book.

Elizabeth Bradley said...

I wrote a book that every agent I sent a query to wanted to read. Yay! Not so fast. The prologue did turn out to be the kiss of death in my case, and I never sold that book. (I just couldn't rewrite the whole thing.) Every stinking agent said the same thing that your husband did.

I do not agree with this view, but people are getting to be lazy readers. They are influenced by pulp fiction and TV and inane movies.

But, you might keep it in mind if you want to publish. Agents are not game for going against the grain, unless you are a successful published author, they loathe prologues.

Midlife Jobhunter said...

I've heard prologues are loathed. Often times I have to go back and read the prologue later in the a book as I've forgotten the info I received there.

I think starting in the action can be the best way to hook your read.

Scobberlotcher said...

This is such an interesting question. Elmore Leonard says never write prologues. I didn't for my first book and got a publishing contract. Then, the editor rearranged the first three chapters and had me shape it into a prologue. So, go figure! I guess the answer is "it depends." :)

Terri Tiffany said...

I had an editor once tell me to drop the prologue and start with the action.
So that's what I do know. But if it is a good prologue--it can work!

Alyssa Kirk @ Teens Read and Write said...

I usually skim over the prologue because I like to dig right into the book and for most books you won't be completely lost if you don't read the prologue

Cheryl said...

I tend to want to dive right into the story too, especially in dramatic fiction. But in science fiction/fantasy or historical mysteries I always read the prologue if there is one because I know they'll help me understand the story better.