uh boy, this one is making Miss Snark's nitwit nose twitch

Dear Miss Snark,
Do you have an opinion about prologues?
My editor is urging me to consider using one. I'm trying to remember the last time I even read one. The dictionary says a proglogue is the preliminary act or course of action foreshadowing greater events.
This would seem to be what needs to be done in my case. BUT, there's a lot of pressure to snap people into the greater events immediately. The first page even. The first sentence even.(Tomorrow it might be the first word, even.)
In your experience, have prologues had the effect of discouraging you from reading further?
I have this shimmery thought that some people consider a prologue optional reading. In other words, they might skip to the first chapter, then, if interested, go back to the prologue later. I might be making this up.
Thank you very much.

Helloo!!!! Wake Up! Smell the coffee!!!
Don't ask me for dog's sake.


I'm full of good advice but if your editor says do a prologue or consider doing one: DO IT.

If you write one and don't like it, talk to your editor, or YOUR agent.
I'm not sticking my long skinny twitchy nose ...well, that's Killer Yapp's nose, but you get the idea, into YOUR editor's comments about a book he's read. I don't like science fiction; does that mean you're going to stop writing it? nooooooooooooo.

You might have to be the nitwit of the day if no one else shows up.


Anonymous said...

As an agent, I hate prologues. Make that all caps HATE. Prologues make me think the writer doesn't know where to begin the story, and that ain't good. I can understand this writer's reluctance.

Prologues are like unnecessary "book trailers" to be viewed/read before the story really starts. If we need that to get us in the mood, then something is wrong. It ain't the literary equivalent of sexual foreplay. So why bother? Just so your interest will be piqued? Come on. That's what first lines are all about. There's a great book on that subject called GREAT BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS by Georgianne Ensign. I read that cover to cover and don't recall any prologues featured (though I could be mistaken).

Prologues are like hillbilly road signs that say "Hey, you idiot reader, here's the big arc to the story line your dumb ass would have missed if I hadn't told ya, so I'm tellin' ya now, fool, so listen up -- here's the hook on which the sto-ry hinges on that you should be looking out for just so your dumb ass doesn't miss it by a freakin' mile...."

And it always hinges on some doom and gloom. Like a knife dripping with blood in some dark and seedy alley (and will somebody tell me what alley isn't by nature "seedy"?).

There are monologues and dialogues, and most unfortunately prologues. To that end, is there any way we can invent an antidote? Perhaps a conlogue? Oh, wait. I think some guy named James recently did. Oh well....

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Well, in my youngish youth back when, when I was just so high (Ok, so I'm short. What of it?) ... I worked part time for a local weekly rag umm errr newspaper.

One does what one's editor asks. One's editor knows best. That's because he's the one who approves the cheque. He's also the one that will allow what you write see the light of day.

I swear that the Queen had just been born when my editor first acquired his status as editor supreme. What? Queen Elizabeth? Oh no! I mean Queen Victoria. Old, old, old dude. But he knew his stuff. Listen, rewrite, perform. OBEY.

If you use a prologue, it should be short. But transfering all the "tell" protions of your first chapter to a prologue might help you focus on the action. So, do that, and then lose all or most of the prologue.

Dave Kuzminski said...

Not that it matters at all, but I've used a prologue exactly once so far. That was after I'd written the book and then realized that readers were going to wonder just how in hell an advanced race could wreck their space ship in a collision with a wooden rowing vessel. It sat around for weeks as I pondered how that happened and then it came to me in the only logical manner that fit with the technology and the action. Once I realized that it resolved several details that needed to be revealed as background information, the only logical place was in a prologue since the collision took place over a century before the story. Evidently readers agreed as the book is selling well as an ebook.

Would I do another prologue for some other book? I might. It just depends upon whether it adds to the overall story.

Unknown said...

I've done all of one prologue, though admittedly no one advised me to do it. It's for a fantasy novel. When I had what is now the prologue in the body of the actual book, it was a very large info dump. I took it out and put it in a prologue. It's not strictly necessary, but it is very helpful in understanding some classifications I set up for the story itself.

E is for Editrix said...

To tack on here with an editorial slant, it's less a question of the value of a PROLOGUE as it is a question of the value of the prologue FOR YOUR BOOK.

Sometimes you just need that little bit of set-up (either emotional or informational) before the action really gets rolling. And the shorter and more to-the-point the prologue the better. The best ones I've read have been about 3 pages long and just drove home exactly the right emotional component to frame the rest of the book. Recently, I was reviewing a first draft manuscript and the prologue literally made me cry. The book wasn't the same without it.

I know a prologue can kind of seem like starting to number your chapters at zero instead of one, but listen to Miss Snark when she tells you to listen to your editor.

Anonymous said...

It's great to hear all this talk about prologues. My novel used to have a prologue; but I was in Florida when I was still writing it, and both my parents said how they hate prologues and usually skip them, so I turned my prologue into Chapter One - and I'm so glad I did! I personally like prologues. I think of Knoxville, Summer of 1918, I forget what year, which Samuel Barber set to music, from Agee's A DEATH IN THE FAMILY. A great prologue. But these days, when rejection is so very easy, I decided to turn my prologue into the first chapter. A terrific agent requested the whole book based on it; but I don't know that she would have, had I submitted it as a prologue.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't think of skipping the prologue. In fact, when I'm shopping for a good read, I look for a prologue to give me a taste of the writer's style and see if it whets my appetite for more.

Besides, to avoid nitwittery, you should always attempt give your editor what he/she wants.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, everyone, for your comments. Dear, Ms. Snark, I'm doing the prologue, for goodness sake, and it's wonderful. My editor rules. You rock.

Anonymous said...

Unless a prologue is on a par with the opening scene of "Citizen Kane" where it is absolutely necessary, then I (an editor as well as writer) don't want to see one.

And, if you truly must have one, like releasing bodily gases in public, keep it SHORT, then move on. I'll likely ask you to remove it and blend the information it imparts with the main text of the book anyway.

Anonymous said...

Just thought I'd way in with my opingion as a hard-core reader (2-3 books a week, and that's while working and raising 2 kids). I have no problem with prologues if 1. they're well written and 2. they tell me something I need to know to get into the story.

Jena said...

Prologue to me usually means some 2-3 page boring bit that's (a) in a different voice from the rest of the novel, (b) deliberately vague, and (c) serves no useful purpose. Changing the name from "Prologue" to "Chapter 1" doesn't make it any less of a hillbilly sign.

But...if you have a significant scene that takes place prior to everything else that happens in the book AND it's a scene with conflict, character, motivation, forward motion, etc., is it a chapter, or a prologue?

Rick said...

If the editor wants a prologue, for God's sake write a prologue!

Prologues are fairly traditional in fantasy - nearly (though not quite) a genre convention, but people still seem to have mixed feelings about them.

In my case I felt I needed one, because the trigger event of my book happens several years before the rest, and putting it first, as an action sequence, would work better than requiring my protagonist to shoehorn in her memories during the first chapter of the main body, when she's got other things on her mind. (Much the situation Trix is implying!)

That said, I pulled the same dodge as The Green Ray - I simply labeled my prologue Chapter 1. My agent is fine with that. But if an editor wants to relabel it as a prologue, or drop it and make me backflash it or whatever ... well, that's what editors are for.

Ken Boy said...

I've got a prologue in my MS, but I've been thinking of converting it to Chapter 1.

It has conflict, characterization, forward motion, etc., but it involves characters that don't appear again until act three, and the action would have to be a back story dump if not in the prologue. And it (hopefully) creates tension.

I'm not sure what to do, but it's time to decide.

Anonymous said...

Just don't do what the author of a book I recently finished did. She wrote a prologue about the main character's birth without any sort of information about who the mother was or why she was on the lam, giving birth in the middle of a forrest. Once the details were revealed in the middle of the book, I wished the author had written that story instead.

It sounded a whole lot more interesting then the one she had.

Anonymous said...

As a writer of genre fiction (historical genre fiction at that!), I find prologues very helpful at times. It really depends on the story and how it needs to be told. The same thing with an epilogue. It depends on the story.
I think it could be short-sighted to ignore a writing tool in every instance, rather it should be used only when needed.

Ken Boy said...

Thus far I've managed to keep the on-the-lam mid-forest births to a minimum. Am I missing a literary trend? Is this an early clue to the new direction?

"Secret Agent Colt 'Axehandle' Fissure saw the AK-47's muzzle flash an instant before the first bullets buried themselves in the lichen-covered floor of his old-growth forrest hideout, inches from the steel toes of his Red Devil hiking boots. Suddenly, his water broke!"

Anonymous said...

I read alot of YA horror (Diane Hoh, L. J. Smith, Jo Gibson) and they often use prologues and I like to read them. I think it sets up the whole story and I can get into the story quicker than if the book didn't have a prologue.

And in my novel I also use one.

Anonymous said...

Lest anyone think that this is just a matter of fantasy and sci-fi, I've read fine leterary novels that begin with prologues--right off hand, I recall Michelle Huneven's "Round Rock."

Don't commit one unless it's needed. But don't include anything unless it's needed.

Anonymous said...

Thanks again to all of you for your comments. I have a much better sense of prologes now. Anonymous 1/29, I really took to heart your suggestion of not giving any more info than is necessary. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I almost NEVER read a prologue - and the one time I recall reading one - I never read the book.

Torgo said...

I get bored of seeing every single fantasy MS start with a god damn prologue. But if there's a point to it, and it isn't just because everybody else has one, why not? What I really don't understand is why people feel it's even possible to skip prologues. It's not a foreword or an introduction or a Note on the Typeface, for heaven's sake! It's a PART OF THE DAMN BOOK!