P is for…Prologue

Ah to prologue, or not to prologue, that is the question-

Well I always fancied having a prologue to my novel. I like a good prologue. It hints at something else. It is something you go back to when you are half way through a book and say “ah ha!”

Or is it?

I started off with a prologue. I  My original one spoke directly to the reader. I wanted it to speak directly to the children in order for them to question the existence of these beings right from the start. In fact I wanted to hook them in by making out they were real. I wanted to convince them that elflings really were there.

So this is what I did. And there I was for 16 months, merrily sitting there, proud as punch with my prologue UNTIL…

I read some blogs about prologues (ooh a rhyme!)

Anyhow. Quite suddenly I was deflated. Why oh why Joanne did you not start researching writing BEFORE you started writing? Well because where would I have got so much material for these blog posts I ask you? Pffft!

Through my reading I discovered that prologues seemed to have a bit of a bad press. DO YOU NEED A PROLOGUE? many articles screamed at me. ‘No’, appeared to be the response.  Well at least not the one you’ve written anyway. No, my Prologue it seemed was information dumping and attempting to hook he reader and this is NOT ALLOWED as a reason for writing a prologue. Oh and besides even if you write a good prologue more than likely READERS WILL SKIP IT! Oh woe was me.

My original prologue was there essentially for world building and although this was in the ‘rules’ for fantasy genre at least, where worlds are so different to our own there may be place for it, everything else I read on prologues said to the contrary.  As I said I wrote it as a direct speech to the reader but it seemed I was breaking rules as it wasn’t written from one of the character’s points of view or really related to the plot directly. As I could technically build the world and characters in through the main narrative it seemed from what I was reading  there was no need for the prologue and anyway I wasn’t executing it in the correct way.

Then I read a  prologue should do one of three things:

1) Show the protagonist at some point in the future of the plot.

2) Show a defining moment of the main protagonist’s past which relates to the main plot. Or

3) Be from the P.O.V of another character and relate to a sub plot.

However, I liked what I’d written so I stubbornly held onto it and incorporated it into my original Chapter One instead. So it was goodbye to Mr Prologue. I was a little sad at this I must admit although I had retained the essence of the opening I wanted.

But, but but. It turned out this slowed down Chapter One in many ways. It wasn’t exciting enough to hook a reader in to the action and after some advice I changed Chapter One completely, writing an entirely new scene. This scene was much needed as it had been a scene from later on in the book but it had been told in hindsight by the main protagonist. So Chapter One showed this event and the original Chapter One became Chapter Two but I had to take out the words of the original prologue because now it didn’t make sense so far in to the book. Still with me? No? Me neither!

Anyway, because I loved my original lines, I did not get rid of them entirely at this point. Oh no, instead I put them back into a prologue again thinking “stuff you rules! Who decides you anyway?” However, I did decide to write it from a future characters P.O.V (so as to perhaps keep within some sort of convention.) I was happy with this as I did it at first as a letter to ‘Oomans‘ from the son of one of the main protagonists instead. I still felt it was important to try and speak to the reader, the child, and try to convince them of the elfling’s existence.

However, once I received feedback from the publishers (who actually did not dismiss the prologue or actually make any comment on it which I took to not be a bad thing), I  figured I needed to change things yet again. I needed to try and make my “credulous characters less credulous of incredulous events.” So at this point I realised I now NEEDED, rather than WANTED, a prologue. But I needed a different prologue. I needed a prologue of an event from the main protagonist’s past which I had actually tried building in throughout the story but seemingly not done too well.

As a result, the original prologue has gone. Yes, those words I loved and have had for two and a half years are gone from the story. (Though they still exist on Drop-box and a flash drive!) I like the new prologue because it DOES follow the rules (to a degree) as it is plot linked, though if a reader did happen to skip it, as apparently this happens ALOT according to everything I read.. (FYI: I’ve never skipped a prologue. I figure it’s been put there for a reason and it would be rude not to read it.)… then no sense will be completely lost. It also works to world build at a slower pace. Some in the prologue, some in Chapter One. (By the by, Chapter Two has now become Chapter One and vice versa.) Confused? Yes, try a day in my head!

Does anyone else have any thoughts on Prologues? Do you think they are necessary? Are you one of everyone else who apparently skips them? (If so, shame on you! Don’t skip mine please, whichever one does end up in the finished product!)


Filed under Editing, Writing

7 responses to “P is for…Prologue

  1. I’m sneaking in a prologue, by calling it chapter 1. I’m a fan of them too. I see them as the opening scare before the title sequence.

    • 😀 Love it! ‘Sneaking’ in a prologue. But I like the word prologue so don’t want to call it Chapter !. Plus it occurs three years prior to the main story. I think my love of the word prologue comes from my love of an old TV programme called Up Pompei with Frankie Howerd which he always began with The Prologue! Silly stuff. 🙂

  2. What Drew said. I don’t like prologues that drown in exposition, or what George R.R. Martin does, feature a character you never see again in a scene that bears only a tangential relationship to anything else that goes on in the rest of the book. (He usually just throws in a mention of the White Walkers to remind you that they exist and they’re coming – albeit on the slowest march in the history of zombie warfare – before forgetting about them for the rest of the story.) I take the James Bond approach – some rollicking action as an appetizer before the meat of the story is served.

    • Well then thankfully I don’t follow George! (Love it btw: The slowest march in the history of zombie warfare!) I’m not sure it’s quite rollicking James Bond action in mine though it features a key death! (I am writing for children I swear.)

  3. I’ve heard about the debate on whether to have a prologue or not, and I think it’s a personal preference, not a set rule. Some people hate them, some don’t mind them, and some enjoy them. I like prologues that at least have the characters doing something. Or, and you mention this above, if it’s fantasy and the author has built an entirely new world with it’s own universal laws that I would need to know in order to understand the story, then I will want to know what’s up before I read and get all confused. I have a novel WIP in which I’ve built an entirely new world in a unique setting and I thought about a prologue. I didn’t use one. I just had the opening scene include bits of foreshadowing that I wove the setting into, but my setting is directly involved in the plot so that might be different.

    Good luck and keep working on it, we are all here for you and want to see you succeed. If it makes you feel any better the fantasy series I call my baby was started about 7 years ago and last year I scrapped everything I had and rewrote it, because after working on becoming a better writer through my 20s, I realized I could do much better, I still have work to do to get to where I want, but at least I have the entire world built and the plot and characters all figured out, lol 🙂 And hey, because you are spending so much time on your WIP, when you are asked to write a sequel, it’ll be easier to tie in things from book one to two, because you’ll know your story so well. Dammit, I’m rambling, aren’t I? I will shut up and go away now.

    I promise Joanne, when I read your book, I won’t skip the prologue 🙂

    • 😀 Thank you for such a great response. Yes, I kind of decided it was all a personal thing really. Mine has characters doing something which then in turn helps to explain more about the world without actually explaining the world but it also gives you a reason for certain ways of the main protagonist’s personality. So I hope it works. 🙂

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