Tuesday, January 12, 2010

To Prologue or Not to Prologue

Last week, when I placed second in Natalie's contest, Josin L. McQuein's comment about my entry made me think.  She said, "And Myrna's is a lesson on how to pack maximum story into minimum space. I've seen full length chapters that aren't that clear with establishing a world's backstory and structure."  

Nice of her to say so, but reading it made me realize the first chapter of my WIP is guilty guilty guilty.  I spent a great deal of time revising and moving stuff around last week, and I'm still not happy.  I think I need to write a prologue.

I originally decided not to write a prologue because having that prologue pushes my story that much closer to being high fantasy, and most of my favorite agents aren't the least bit interested in high fantasy.  But maybe that's what the story is,and I kind of like prologues.  A great prologue draws a reader right into the story and gives them a sense of background.  My novel has an obnoxious amount of backstory (some of which the reader will never know), and it's challenging to work the essentials into the story without force-feeding the reader.

What do you think about prologues?  

I've noticed a trend (Twilight, The Sisters Grimm, ect.) where, instead of a prologue, they take the most exciting/dangerous moment in the story and put it at the beginning of the book.  They leave the reader hanging at the worst possible moment and then begin the story.  How do you feel about those (not sure what to call them)? They certainly made me want to know what was going to happen.

But that isn't what I'm off to write.  I'm off to write a prologue.

P.S.  If you have a copy of CALAMITY JACK, Nathan Hale is drawing avatars for anyone who sends him a picture of their copy.  Go here to find out more, but be quick about it.  His offer is only good through today. 




  1. Well, having surfed industry blogs for the past, gosh, almost two years, I hear the word prologue and immediately start hexing it. Seems like prologues are so not in right now.

    Now, having said that, every manuscript is different. If you think yours need a prologue, then it probably does. That's the great thing about being an author: absolute power:)

    As for those Stephenie-Meyer-like move-the-climax-to-the-beginning-of-the-book things, I'm not sure what to make of them. I really liked her prelude in TWILIGHT - and that book really needed a shot of adrenaline at the beginning, because not much happened in the first few pages of chapter one - but now they're starting to seem gimmicky. But that's just my take.

  2. I personally as a reader love prologues. Only as an author I suggest against them unless it isn't the first book in the series. My reasoning is because of the research I have done into agents and publishers and their likes and dislikes. Many of them feel that Prologues are almost never done properly and so shy away from them. Etc. However, if you can do a great job just go for it. Your novel is your own, not your agents or your publishers. The main thing that matters isn't what they think, it is what you think. Because every novel you write is a part of you, so the better you feel about it the more you are able to put into it. So go with what you feel. At the worst you might be asked to take it out but it is worth a shot to make the book feel the way that you want it to.


  3. Thank you. I really did write a prologue yesterday, and I like it a lot. That may change when I look at it later. I'm supposed to be working on the end of my novel, not the beginning (again). The prologue is from the MC's mother's POV and explains how and why they came to be where they are when the real story starts and their relationships to the other characters.

    I workshopped the beginning of the novel a few years back, and readers complained the relationships were confusing--that they needed more background. Adding background has slowed down the beginning to the point where I think it's boring, so I had to do something. The prologue is not boring.

  4. I have no experience in writing or any of that, but as a reader, it's always nice to read a book without wondering why characters are doing what they're doing or things like that. I like back-story. So, if you like the prologue, go for it! :)

  5. I don't particularly like that kind of prologue; it feels like cheating. I'd never write one myself. I prefer to drop the reader into the middle of the story and forge onward from there, sprinkling backstory when necessary.

  6. I love the first chapter when it draws you in and you just want to know more, without really knowing any history. It is intriguing and it keeps me wanting more.

  7. Thanks, Rorie!

    Q, They're manipulative, so I agree to a point. It doesn't make me put down a book, but I don't think I'd use one either. And usually I like dropping a reader into a story too, but I'm struggling with this beginning.

    Thanks, Maile. I do too. In fact, I really like not knowing anything about a book when I start reading it.

  8. Shhhh, don't tell anyone, but I like prologues.

    I hear they are unpopular amongst those who make decisions about what gets published and all, but I like'em.


  9. I hear ya! I like them too, but I've heard the same thing. Your secret's safe with me.

  10. My prologue is a scene that revealed later action in the story... so it's more of a foreward.

    I love it.

    But, I'm afraid I'll end up having to cut it. Have you written your prologue yet -- just to see how it feels? I know it's a mixed bag on whether or not they work, and it seems the "nays" are more vocal about it in the blogosphere.