Monday, September 10, 2012

Prologues??? by Linda S. Glaz

Just read a wonderful blog that emphasized getting to know your main character right away, creating empathy with him/her. I was told last year that 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.

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.

What kind of experiences have you, as writers, as readers, had with respects to prologues opening a story?

Can you give an 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?

Or give us an example of a book that hooked you right away without there being even a mention of the main character in the opening.


Davalyn Spencer said...

The recent release Submerged has a brief prologue. It threw me at first, because the character in prologue action was not the main character of the book. I had to rethink who I was reading about when I started the first chapter. However, the prologue put the reader in-scene which was better than simply being told about what had happened. It added a little "you-are-there" moment.

V.V. Denman said...

Last week I added my prologue back into my work in progress after MANY failed attempts to make the story work without it. So I'm very interested in this post today, and I'll be back to read more comments.

In the end, I think I figured out the reason I couldn't make it work without the prologue. I was attempting to show the reader this huge conflict between my characters, but the only action I could use was passive aggressive (since that was appropriate for the situation). I simply couldn't convey the magnitude of the main character's feelings without going back and showing the reader the actions/emotions before the story started.

Can you tell I'm still trying to convince myself? On the bright side, I've read many books with prologues, and almost all of them add to the story. Seems like unnecessary prologues are being weeded out these days.

Thanks for a great post!

Timothy Fish said...

I think a prologue is helpful when we want to show that there is something going on behind the scenes. Our main character is often limited in what he can see going on around him. He may not encounter the villian until late in the book, but we can use a prologue to acquant the reader with the villian. We might kill off a red shirt or throw in a half-man, just so the reader fears for our main character before our main character realizes he has something to fear.

Anonymous said...

I hate prologues when you have to read half of the book before you can see a connection. Some prologues are necessary to set up something that happened long before the story begins, but otherwise they can be a distraction.
Connie Leonard

Heather Day Gilbert said...

I think one of the best-executed prologues was in Daphne du Maurier's REBECCA (though it was more like a flash-forward!). That threw you right into the heart-pounding action and made you HAVE to read what the MC had to tell us.

I am rather fond of prologues in historical fiction, because *ahem* I used one in my own novel. I wanted to show exactly what event in my MC's life shaped her. She's not the kind of MC who broods over injustices done to her all the time, but I wanted to create that quick sympathy in the reader for what this stoic, compassionate woman saw as a child.

Patricia Zell said...

Speaking of prologues, as a senior English teacher, I decided to play editor with A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. My students were struggling with the book because it did not make sense until late in the book. So, I had them read the fortieth chapter first--that "prologue" made all the difference in the world. Sometimes, starting with the backstory helps the reader to understand.

Norma Vaughn Danzey said...

I used prologues in my first two novels. When I read a prologue, it whets my appetite to read the book just to find out what that prologue was all about. I used a prologue in "Shelter In The Storm" to let the reader know that my character would be in a setting on the beach although the story begins on a ranch in Colorado. I do not think they are a waste of space if used in the right way.