Thursday, August 17, 2006

To Prologue Or Not

Okay, people, need your input here. Really. Prologues or no prologues?

My current project seems to need a scene put in at the front. It didn't at first, but one of the characters who wasn't important became a lot more vital to the story, and now I think the reader needs to know this backstory. But does it have to go in at the front?

Now I view prologues a lot like tigers. They might be nice big cats, but they can turn on you and take your throat out.

On the other hand, I just hate to have to stuff those scenes where you have to stop the story and explain things. Austin Powers got it right with just having Mr. Exposition to get the job done and make it funny. Which proves you can get away with it, if you really make the reader wait and want the info, or if it comes out in some tense, snappy dialogue. Or sometimes you can weave it in here and there.

Of course, a good prologue can work. The trick is making it really, really good. (Loretta Chase did the most brilliant one I've ever in Lord of Scoundrels.) But there's also the issue of making the first chapter just good, too, so that it doesn't seem like the prologue fits another book--or worse, was written by someone else who is a far better writer. (I swear I've read those.)

So, it's to prologue or not to prologue? What's your opinion here?

Shannon Donnelly


Nancy Morse said...

Shannon, I had a prologue in one of my ms and my editor said to lose it, so I wove the background into the story as a dream sequence. For another book I was specifically asked to write an epilogue. So go figure. My only suggestion would be to include the prologue, and if your editor doesn't want it, she'll tell you. If what's in the prologue is that important to your story, you'll find a way to work it in.

Nancy Herkness said...

As a reader, I'm not a big fan of prologues. I tend to read one and then forget about it when the "real" action starts in Chapter 1. Conversely, some prologues seem to foreshadow too much of the story so that I'm not surprised as the plot unfolds (which of course makes me less inclined to keep reading or to buy the author's next book).

However, I LOVE epilogues. If I am involved with the characters I am delighted to get that chance to spend just a little more time with them and maybe even see into their future.

Does this make me schizophrenic?

Cheryl Bolen said...

I think about 95 percent of the time a proglogue can be cut with no loss to the book. I recommend cutting them a lot in contests I judge.

But in my 8 published novels, 3 had prologues that I believe enriched the book. They all occurred several years before the action of the story and greatly impacted the story. And the two different editors I had never once considered axing them.

The main thing to remember about prologues is that you absolutely must keep them brief. Short and powerful. The reader, after all, is anxious to get to the story.

Allison Brennan said...

I love prologues if they're short and introduce an element that really did happen BEFORE the current story but is essential in understanding one or more of the characters. For example in THE HUNT, I had a short (3 page) prologue 12 years before the book started that I believe showed my heroines GMC clearer than if I had threaded it through the book. My heroine was rough around the edges in the first few chapters and I felt it was important for the reader to have sympathy for her by knowing her past so that they would be more accepting of her rougher edges.

All three books in my first trilogy had prologues. So far, the first two books in my second trilogy do not have prologues--they just didn't work. Not sure about the third book yet.

Colleen Thompson said...

I think it depends on the book. I love certain prologues, if they're pithy, convey something that can be conveyed nowhere else, and pull in the reader as effectively as any other opening. If they're long, they usually lose me.

I think a lot of beginning writers try to "tell" everything up front instead of laying down an irrestible trail of breadcrumbs for the reader to follow. The big "info-dump" prologue/opening is a common error I see in manuscript contest entries I've judged.