Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The dreaded prologue.

This month's Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog question came from Laura, who asked: "The prologue: Love it or hate it? Are there times when it's necessary to have a prologue?"

Laura's answer is here. Lydia is up next week--she's usually second up, but today she has a wonderful interview with debut author Samuel Park, and you should go check it out! Deb will round out the month. As for me:

Well. This is a funny story, actually.

When I queried Sanctum, it was prologueless. I had read the blogs. I would never do anything so risky as to query a manuscript with a prologue. So imagine my surprise when I get my very first ed letter from Kathleen ... I'm going to quote her here, and I hope she will forgive me (I think it merely displays her awesomeness):
If you’ve looked me up online, then you probably know that I hate prologues with the passion of a thousand suns and more. I'd rather crawl over hot coals than include a prologue.

With that being said, I’m prepared to bust out a bag of coals and light those suckers on fire, because I think that’s exactly what this story needs. 

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Yes, SANCTUM HAS A PROLOGUE.

And in the fall, you can tell me if you think that was a good decision or not.

In general, I try to do without the prologue. So often they are unnecessary. I like to begin a story with Chapter One and move forward from there whenever possible. I mean, why not jump right in? That said, I have another ms with a prologue (I don't know if that one will survive the editing process before the ms goes on sub). As I was beginning to write that ms, I pondered prologues on Twitter, and none other than Andrew Smith responded by saying that, if the prologue was necessary, not to worry about it.

There.

Andrew Smith.
Said.
Sometimes.
Prologues.
Are.
Okay.

Good enough for me.

However, unless you are Andrew Smith, I suggest you consult with your crit partners and ask yourself if there's any other, better way to start your story. If you're querying, be aware that most agents are very wary of them. You can also educate yourself by reading a handful of the bazillion blog posts and articles on prologues, but no more than that, because that kind of activity can tie you up in knots, I tell you. I'm not going to repeat all of that advice here because I'm definitely no expert on this topic. Obviously, lots of published works have prologues, but like so many things in writing, it's difficult, as an unknown, unpublished writer, to know when it's okay, and when it's not. This is just one of the many decisions we have to make, and it's up to the individual writer to decide what's best for his or her story.

How about you? Are you a fan of the prologue? Why or why not?

33 comments:

  1. Depends on the prologue.
    Some are interesting, some are not.
    But regardless, the author can tell the story any way he or she wants to, and sometimes the story starts before the personal timeline of the main character.

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    1. Agreed. The no-prologue "rule" is sort of annoying, b/c it doesn't take into consideration all the factors that determine whether or not a prologue is necessary or beneficial to a particular story -- and YET it has become this THING, this inviolable monster that everyone clings to. "Hey, you can't have a prologue! That's no good. No one will buy it/read it/like it."

      Why not? If there's actually something about the prologue that's not working, that's one thing, but to hate it just because it IS a prologue? Well, that's silly.

      So yeah. It depends. We don't love 'em, but we don't hate 'em.

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  2. The novel that got me an agent has a prologue. I have my own thoughts on when and when not to use them, but mostly I agree with Nathan Bransford who once said (paraphrased), "Take out the prologue. If the story still makes sense, then you didn't need it."

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    1. Heh. And I just realized yours is the first comment on that post I linked to, Sarah. So, uh...I guess you've read it ;-)

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  3. Eh, I don't mind it. Sometimes the prologue can get you into the action or perk interest faster than the first chapter. Sometimes it really is necessary so the reader isn't lost. As long as its well done, I'm game.

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  4. I don't mind reading them, even if they're the length of a chapter. I pick up a book based on the jacket blurb and have a high tolerance for the opening chapters. (I'll tend to read halfway through a book before I regret not putting it down earlier.)

    I'll even tolerate backstory dumping as long as it means I'm not confused as I keep reading. I hate that more.

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  5. Sometimes, they are unnecessary. Other times, they are VERY necessary. I don't understand and never will the people who say they just don't ever read prologues. They skip right past them or won't buy a book that has one. I've come across a LOT of snotty little writers that say that. I am not one of them. So I'll let you know in the fall, but it sounds like yours wouldn't be there unless it was necessary.. :)

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  6. Pretty sure I know which other ms you're talking about, and I REALLY hope that prologue survives the editing process! I *heart* that story!!! (Then again, I *heart* all of your manuscripts, so ... yeah.)

    As for SANCTUM, that prologue was the most gripping one I've ever read. I can't wait for the world to read it, Sarah! :)

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  7. Kathleen is a wise agent because the prologue seriously rocks and it was definitely needed. (I know because I reread it the other day). :D

    I read prologues and don't have a problem with them. BUT the prologue I read are in published books, and the editor agreed it was necessary. The only time I've read a prologue that I didn't agree with was by a best selling romantic suspense/erotica author. She had TWO prologues. Neither I felt were necessary.

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  8. As a reader, most of my all time favorite books include prologues, even if they're not specifically referred to as prologues. For example, Lord of the Rings has a prologue that's about 100 pages long, even though it's never admitted to. Many people hate that part, but I love it.

    As a writer, I've never written a prologue, at least not so far, or at least not one I've admitted to.

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  9. I love that quote from Kathleen! That was truly awesomesaucey.

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  10. I think I'm one of the few people who almost always likes prologues (unless they're just backstory) but I LOVE epilogues. If the characters are interesting, you want to know what happens to them.

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  11. I think it's a case by case situation. If there is any other way to write that bit of backstory without a prologue, I say go for it. Otherwise, try your luck and see if the publishing world accepts it.

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  12. I don't mind Prologues, as long as they're done right. Most prologues, though, for unpubbed writers, are just backstory and can be cut. Those i am not in favor of

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  13. I guess rules are made to be broken by those who are qualified enough? :)

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  14. My manuscript had no prologue then it had one then it didn't. Some books need them. Good luck with the next book.

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  15. My book has a prologue and I absolutely believe it is necessary. Can you tell I've debated this point before? :)

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  16. Hurray for agents who are flexible!

    I can hardly wait to read your prologue. :-)

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  17. My ms has a prologue. I didn't set out to write it with one, but ended up adding it after the rest of the book was finished. The prologue made it "more finished" and pulled it together.

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  18. aw, as a reader i usually like vague prologues. i don't like spoilery prologues. and i don't like when the action is just jumped to at the beginning to try to entice the reader and then you go back to the beginning of the story.
    but i understand they aren't supposed to be desirable...
    anyway!
    lookin' good there, chicky!
    *wolf whistles*

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  19. Sometimes prologues are okay. I like when they provide info that wouldn't be woven well into the story otherwise. I thought the Twilight ones did nothing for the story (though that's just on a big list of things I don't like about Twilight). I liked the one in the beginning of Shiver. If first words are supposed to be important, sometimes the prologue doesn't create a "Wow, I want to read on" kind of feeling. If it's saved for chapter one, I wonder how many people don't bother reading that far. That's why I like them when they're short.

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  20. hi dr sarah! yikes! miss kathleen was willing to get a hotfoot for a prolog from you. ha ha. sounds like mostly prologs are maybe maybe not. for me a prologs ok if its just way important for the story. i didnt ever write on but i might some day if i think its gonna be good for the story.
    ...hugs from lenny

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  21. ROFL That sounds really funny.
    I covered this very topic in my post: http://scribbleandedit.blogspot.com/2010/08/baptism-by-prologue.html
    I used to hate prologues,too, but I realise now if they are done well they are extremely effective. Good luck

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  22. If someone who knows about this stuff hates prologues, and told you the prologue was needed, then it was :-)

    I don't have a problem at all with prologues. To me they're like any other part of the book. If they're needed, great. If not, get rid of them.

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  23. I like them short and juicy, but not spoiled.

    There's nothing worse, in my opinion, than a prologue that gives away too much. When reading a series, I don't even look at the back of the book. I want it all to be a surprise.

    That said, I currently have a prologue written for my WIP, but have considered taking it out for this very reason. The debate. I read recently that it's prologues (like mine) which try to "lazily dump" back story. My intention was to simply alert the reader to a history/mystery in the coming pages. Critique partners would come in pretty handy about now, I'm guessing. *g*

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  24. Not usually a prologue fan, I must admit, but your editor's letter cracks me up, and I'm sure if she thinks you need one, then it's wonderful and necessary. :) Excited to read it!!

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  25. Done well, the prologue can be sensational -- it can suck you right into the story, engage you deeply from moment one, give you the context you need. It's just that it's so often badly done! I think my inclination is to leave them out, and let somebody as skilled as an editor tell me if I need one.

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  26. Now I'm curious about your prologue.

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  27. Ha. You little rule breaker you. :) Prologues sometimes work and sometimes do not. Case by case, I guess.

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  28. HA! Aren't you a daredevil?? LOL you know, I'm always torn on prologues, but like you point out, some people do them VERY VERY WELL and they are effective. So, as for SANCTUM - I have very positive thoughts:)

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  29. I have one book that doesn't have a prologue, but starts with a two-page foreword and an introduction that's now been slimmed down to one page. I felt it were necessary to briefly explain the origins and history of the radical, quasi-religion of sorts that governs this unusual neighborhood, and at the end tied it into the present day and one of the two protagonists of the book, who doesn't realize she's descended from one of the neighborhood's founders and thus the woman who started their secret society of sorts. I like how the ending of the foreword is sort of like how the end of the Book of Ruth is a genealogy that introduces King David at the end.

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  30. Like you said, I think the whole prologue thing depends on the story and the author. There are plenty of books I've read with prologues that I loved or at least thought were necessary. There have also been books with prologues that I hated because they felt like they were there just to hook me (not because they were necessary). So yeah, it depends.

    And OMG, I don't think I realized SANCTUM was out THIS YEAR. I think I was mixing it up with SCAN's release date. Haha.

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