Monday, June 11, 2012

To Prologue or Not to Prologue, That is the Question

Post Prologue

Once, in a dungeon far, far away, there was a girl who pounded out a story born of dreams.  When she completed this story, she edited and edited, finally giving it to a beta reader, then editing again.  She gathered up all her courage, despite fear and insecurity, and submitted that story to a contest, then another.  Each set of feedback she received was seriously considered, some of it used to tweak the story a bit, but one question lingered...

Should I put a prologue or keep the discovery of the situation gradual?

The word out there is so anti-prologue that it's hard to decide if I'm avoiding a prologue because I think it's the wrong choice, or if I'm doing it because I'm afraid of the prologue due to constant "NO PROLOGUE" dialogue around the cyber writing world.  Are they really so bad?  

I've been paying close attention to the books I read, and whether they feature a prologue or not.  So far, I have not run across one (at least not while I've been paying attention) that I found to be annoying or unnecessary.  Well, maybe unnecessary, but I didn't think that it was a bad thing.  

A prologue can set the scene or give back story that might be too hard to place convincingly into the story.  However, some consider it a lazy writer's crutch.  While I don't agree with this concept, at least to an extent, do I want to face those who do and have them automatically turned off when it comes to my story?  Do I want others to consider me a lazy writer?  Am I?

Here's the thing: I've already written the story without a prologue.  In fact, I don't recall wanting to put a prologue in at the beginning.  Instead, I worked to weave bits of the back story into the tale, making sure the reader discovers answers alongside the characters.  BUT there is a catalyst that has put them in the position they're in, something the characters are fully aware of from the beginning. that might benefit from the prologue treatment.  In the meantime, that's one thing I've had to establish immediately in the story, and that involves a little more "telling" than I might have preferred, though I've broken it up.  If my concept is that the reader discovers the answers with the characters, shouldn't the reader know what they know from the beginning?

Before I sign out, I wanted to say that I am FINALLY catching up on my blog comments from April to now.  I know I dropped the ball in a few places, and I'm going through to respond, though likely few will see it after all this time, and visiting the blogs of those who commented during that time and did not get a previous visit from me.  As of today, I've made it back to the A-to-Z Reflections post, so it is just the A-to-Z posts I got behind on, which isn't all of them, thankfully!  Then I can start catching up on the lists of participants.  Shew.  Feels good to finally be catching up.

Also, here's a BuNoWriMo status update (based off of one half-hour of writing, plus three hours on another day):

Myth Stalker
is 5% complete

2553 / 50000 words written

What are your feelings on prologues?  Is there a place for them?  Do you have any examples of particularly good or bad prologues?  Do you think it's the sign of a lazy writer or a useful tool, when necessary?  Did you ever get around to all your A-to-Z commenters?  How are you BuNo'ers doing?

May you find your Muse.


Unknown said...

Go with your feelings. One of my novels has a prologue because it was important backstory set several years before the main story. It also introduced the two characters in the quickest way, so that readers could relate immediately to them. No-one's complained about it yet! And there's an epilogue (LOL - no-one's complained about that either). So...if it works then do it.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

My publisher requested a prologue for my first book and it worked. If you feel yours needs one, go for it.

Anonymous said...

I would have to say that prologues depend on the book. I usually enjoy them.

Spanj said...

I hate all this anti-prologue rubbish there is out there. I've seen people stating that they refuse to read a book if it has a prologue! Seriously?!

A prologue is not the 'crutch of a lazy writer' unless you're using it to data dump what could be revealed gradually by your characters and plot. Ignore those people. Ignore them.

Prologues can add so much to a book, and they can separate out information that's vital and would otherwise slow down the book.

To be honest, I think the best people to know are your beta readers. Either give them the book without the prologue and then supply it to them afterwards, or give it to some of them, and not the others and see what different reactions you get. If you readers understand/enjoy the book without it, leave it out. If they're left confused or wanting to know more, put it in.

Oops, I seem to have written a whole essay here! But either way, ignore the nay sayers and do what is right for YOUR book.

Miss Cole said...

I did a couple of posts the week before last on this subject and I think you've got to go with your gut instinct. If you think your story needs it, stay with it!

Sarah Allen said...

Mmmm, honestly, I'm not usually a fan. But you have to take yours on an individual basis and see if it works for your particular book. Maybe it does :)

Sarah Allen
(my creative writing blog)

Andrew Leon said...

I think the prologue prohibition is similar to the adverb prohibition. People are inclined to misuse them, so people say not to use them rather than learn how to use them.

One thing I like with prologues is when they are written in a different style from the actual book.

I think a prologue where you can "show" the back story is probably better than "telling" it in some unnatural way within the story.

I toyed with a prologue for House that idea transitioned into the idea of the Third Person Edition. Once I get to that.

Unknown said...

I generally love prologues; mainly because they're somewhat historical in nature and that fits me :) I'm reading The Way of Kings now and the prologue in that provides the backstory that forms the basis of the mythology and faith of the culture in the rest of the book, and it works.

I think it's a love/hate thing, and you can't please 'em all. If you like prologues, put one in. Naysayers be damned :)

Rebecca said...

i think prologues depend on books and whether the writer feels they are needed

Sabrina A. Fish said...

I personally love prologues and my books will most likely have them because of that unless I change my writing style. I don't feel like I am a lazy writer for this. Hmmm...great post!

Susan Kane said...

I know your dilemma. To prologue or not to prologue. It is kinda nice just to lay the backstory out, and then be free to move onto the real story.

DL Hammons said...

I'm a fan of prologues (when they are done right) and my own novel includes one. I'm not sure where all the negative reaction to them comes from, but my experience with them has been neutral...but never negative! :)

Shannon Lawrence said...

Susan, thank you for the advice! What I'm considering a prologue on is also set in the past and would really set the scene.

Alex, it is somehow reassuring to hear a publisher would consider a prologue a good enough idea to request one.

Charles, thank you for the feedback.

Angeline, great advice, thanks! Before I was considering the prologue, my Beta readers understood the story as I had written it. One did have a couple questions to confirm what they thought, though.

Miss Cole, thank you for the info!

Sarah, thank you for your feedback!

Andrew, thanks, that sounds right. I like the feedback about writing it in a different style. I was toying with a newspaper article or journal style prologue.

Jamie, indeed! I need to keep that for everything: "Naysayers be damned!"

Becca, I tend to agree.

Sabrina, thank you for the feedback!

Susan, ugh, why can't we be dilemma-less?

DL, that's really good to hear, thank you!