Monday, October 22, 2012

Prologue...Friend or Foe? by Linda S. Glaz

Just read a wonderful blog that emphasized getting to know your main character right away, creating empathy with him/her. A couple years ago I was told I had to lose my prologue on a suspense novel because the reader didn't have enough feeling for the main character soon enough, and the critique was spot on. I dropped the prologue and the story came alive much sooner as we learned enough about the main character to care about her.
          THAT SAID. How do we know when a prologue is necessary to set up a story or when it is simply taking up space because we, as writers, like what we're saying?
            I think immediately of Mary Higgins Clark who often sets up the entire story through a heart-pounding prologue, which may or may not have anything to do with the main character. But she is successful in that the entire story hinges on what happens to someone in the prologue.
             Do you have an outstanding example of how a prologue intrigued you enough to have a read? Is it absolutely necessary to have the main character in the opening chapter of the book? On another note, does it make a difference in the genre you are reading? I can see romance needing the main characters right away, but what about suspense, thrillers, or a blend of suspense and romance--thriller and romance. What do you like to see?
            How about a book that hooked you right away without there being even a mention of the main character in the opening?


Timothy Fish said...

A prologue should only be used if the story’s problem is bigger than the protagonist. The prologue gives us the opportunity to introduce the antagonist to the reader before the protagonist has heard the call to duty. Consider the opening of Star Wars, episode IV. A very large ship is attacking a very small ship. The evil Darth Vader steps onto the scene and we see how rotten he is. We don’t see the protagonist, Luke Skywalker, until several scenes later, when the droids that escaped come into his possession. From then on, it is his story, but it wouldn’t have been the same if we hadn’t had that prologue to introduce the evil antagonist.

Terry Burns said...

Two things come to mind for me on prologues. First, we all know that a first page should have a hook to push the reader down into the story, get them to turn that page and go on. If there is a prologue we have two 'first pages' as we don't know which one that browsing reader might decide to sample.

Second, though we don't like the idea, there are a lot of readers who do not read prologues. Actually a pretty substantial number, and if there is something in one that one of these readers needs to know for the story, it can create a problem. If the fact that they needed to read it surfaces pretty quickly they may go back and start over. If it is very late in the story they may find themselves out of touch with the story and unwilling to fix the problem.

I assume if a prologue is there it is for a reason and not just to dump some setting information that was too dull to put in the book. Not everybody makes that assumption.

Caroline said...

I agree with Timothy and Terry's observations. I must say, I do love prologues because, like Terry, I always assume they're necessary for some part of the coming story.


There are a few prologues I either skip or skim through either because they are too detailed w/too much technical info or just--to me--unnecessary or too boring.

I can see romance not needing prologues, but suspense? Thrillers? (and probably other genres) I don't understand (and never will) anyone (regardless of what most people like or don't like) not seeing the need for them.

But that's all my opinion only. :)

Good topic, Linda.

Timothy Fish said...

One way to get around the problem of readers skipping the prologue would be to simply not call it chapter one. Or if you are writing sci-fi, you could call it chapter zero. But some readers would find it strange to have such an abrupt change between the first chapter and the second chapter.

Heather Day Gilbert said...

I do enjoy a good prologue when it sets the tone for the entire story.

However, one option is to call it Chapter One (like the flash-forward chapter in REBECCA by du Maurier). Still, it would've been as effective if she'd titled it PROLOGUE--though can it technically be called a PRO-logue if it's a scene that happens in the end of the book?

I think if the prologue is well-written, it can be a HUGE hook, drawing readers into that character's life without giving too much away. I'm definitely a prologue fan.

Sarah Grimm said...

I read fantasy so I'm familiar with prologues. I'd say I usually read them wondering what kind of spoilers they're giving me for the rest of the story.

Honestly, I'm not their biggest fan. I like to be dropped into a different world like an observer trying to figure out the "rules" and nuances of the new place. Prologues that feel like an info dump I'm not keen on. Prologues that make me guess and wonder and leave me with a sense of intrigue? Yeah, they're worth the read.

George R R Martin's prologue in Game of Thrones did two things for me: got me seriously excited to read the rest of the book, and got me attached to a character who *spoiler alert* dies at the end of the prologue. Eh, it set the mood for the series, that's for sure.

I recently read a romance (western? historical?) Short Straw Bride by Karen Witenmeyer with a prologue that I thought completely needed and well done. It also got me excited to read the rest of the book.

Davalyn Spencer said...

To avoid posting a "spoiler" I'll not mention the title of a romantic suspense I really enjoyed: the prologue mentions only one of the MCs and led me to believe someone else was the other MC. But she wasn't. In fact, she died, which I learned in chapter one. But it all worked. However, I think it would have also worked to just call the prologue chapter one.