That really is a question!
Before we go any further, this is ‘just’ a writing blog. Nothing about the dogs, no recipes, nothing about gardening, no sunset…okay maybe some sunset pictures. Mainly I’m going to muse about writing. Although, yeah, I do have some interesting garden developments.
You’ve been forewarned
I have used a prologue one time. It worked for that particular book. I worked on that
sucker for HOURS, with more input than anything I’d ever written. That prologue was intended to set up the two main characters, who would meet years later. Well, here, check it out:
It was a storybook wedding. The elite of the world’s beautiful people crowded the groom’s yacht, cruising off the south French coast. The groom’s austere face was only slightly lined, the gray at his temples adding a distinguished air. His still trim body was clothed by the establishment which had enjoyed the patronage of every male in his family since his great-grandfather. Although he conversed urbanely with his guests, his possessive gaze never left his bride.
Framed in the lens of the ever-clicking camera, the bride had the lithe slenderness seen only in the very young and healthy. Delicate curves hinted at the woman she would one day become. Her short dark hair was gamine cut by the stylist who had created the look. Her make-up had been applied by the hands of the genius whose company had taken three generations of women from beautiful to gorgeous. Her lavish bouquet was of rare miniature white orchids, picked deep in the rain forests of South America and flown in for this ceremony. The lace for her veil had been created by devout hands in a convent which had produced lacework of this gossamer perfection for centuries.
The veil was secured by a pearl crown once belonging to a medieval princess. It framed a delicate, serious face dominated by enormous, hazy green eyes and a lush, slightly trembling mouth, and billowed down to hand made, four inch spike heels. By tradition the
full length veil attested to the purity of the bride, leaving no doubt in the mind of anyone attending that day that this was, indeed, a virgin bride. The diaphanous covering enhanced her bridal outfit, personally designed by the hand of the dresser of royalty. Brilliant fire opals had been meticulously applied to the hand sewn, French cut white bikini.
The fire opals were a suggestion of friend who was a college librarian and an inveterate reader. I’d originally chosen seed pearls which she insisted were far too mundane. I’m sure she was right! This is from Teach Me To Forget, a non-hyphenated Romance. No Suspense, no Fantasy. Just male-female meeting, realizing they have a fairly difficult history, and choosing to move forward together.
In this instance the prologue worked, and was balanced by a description at the end of another, entirely different, wedding. You might want to check it out, I had a blast writing it (and later slicing out pages of driving in San Francisco!)
There’s a sequel…isn’t there always…set in New Mexico. Actually mostly written. Which I’ll get to work on after this most recent Stormhaven story.
So what were we talking about? Oh, yeah, prologues. In the case of TMTF, the prologue worked, introducing two people who would meet again later. There is, of course, a wedding at the end of the book that is not nearly so sophisticated.
In A Question of Trust, which I’m editing, I started with a prologue, and had a blast writing the first chapter. Unfortunately this chapter was all about the characters from the first two Stormhaven books. Not good if I want to write about new and different people. Cut that chapter, and move on. I might share it…anyone interested?
So I’m asking readers, before I get on with edits: Prologue? No Prologue? What works best for you?
Okay, I guess I can share sunsets. Tonight’s were particularly nice:
Next, I’ll get back to gardening. I have guests coming from a long long way and I really want the place to look good!
10 responses to “To Prologue…Or Not to Prologue #MFRWAuthor”
Whichever one the book needs, says the smartass writer pal.
(But do not commit prologue lightly, or if only trying to avoid a challenging but better approach.)
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Like you said, it works for some books, not for others. I was never a reader of prologues. I’d skip them and start on chapter one. Sometimes I discovered that I should have read the prologue – such as in SF writer Jack McDevitt’s books. He almost always writes a prologue, setting up (usually) what happened a long time ago, which the real story attempts to solve.
They are often found in fantasy and SF, where the author uses a prologue to get the reader up to speed. That’s adding backstory which could be incorporated into the book, and I’ll have to say, I often thought McDevitt’s prologues were unnecessary.
The day came when, after much navel gazing, I added a prologue (and an epilogue) to my historical fiction novel, the only prologue I have written for all my books. I thought long and hard before I did it, knowing full well I’m not the only one who doesn’t much like them. In this case I backed my judgement and went ahead.
And that, I think, is the argument. Could your novel stand alone without the prologue? If the answer is ‘yes’, leave it out. If it’s ‘no’, then write a prologue.
My short & sweet answer above notwithstanding, I think it’s more complicated than that. I think there’s a second question, which is “Are there other effective ways to fill the needs of the story that don’t use a prologue?”
The “avoid prologues” thing is like every other writing rule–one can safely ignore it as long as it’s done well. But this wouldn’t even be a common discussion if people didn’t reach for prologues unnecessarily (and poorly)–and so often as a cop-out for decent worldbuilding (thus their presence in SF/F). So the matter is definitely worth some think-twice time, IMO, even if one initially believes the answer is “yay, prologue!”
PS Yes, I have indeed committed prologue!
PPS Now, how about those TV shows that drop you into some critical and usually misleading moment in the story and then yank you back out with a little title across the bottom of the screen: “Thirty-six hours earlier…” ==80
I think for television it’s a cheap attempt to grab our attention…that usually works! For books, I agree it totally depends on the story. Taking it away from Teach Me To Forget IMO weakened the story because we start out with a brittle young woman who has trust issues and trying to explain those as I went along slowed things down.
For this current book, the prologue added too much distance between story and reader. We’ll see!
Greta you got buried in spamville…how could that happen??? I often ‘write myself into’ a story, typing along until I get to the real story. Fortunately I learned very early to just delete those pages and pages and PAGES. And not try to force them into a prologue
For A Question of Trust the prologue was a cheat. It took a LONG time to get that first chapter in order, but it really is setting up the book. Notice the positive spin!
I just read something from an interview with John Grisham. He said “No Prologues, ever.” His advice to writers. Yours is splendid. I guess it’s always up to the writer. Best to you, Charmaine
So glad you enjoyed this prologue! I think it depends on the book, and the writer. Thanks for chiming in, always great to hear from you
I don’t understand why this became a ‘topic’, which I think is sad. Modern authors must not understand its usage. I never shy away from reading (or writing) a Prologue since it is supposed to be a lead-in to the actual events surrounding whatever occurred in the prologue. Just as an epilogue is supposed to give readers what they want… an even happier HEA. And, John Grisham needs to keep his opinion to himself, Charmaine 😉
my thoughts on Grisham! In Teach Me To Forget the prologue was critical since it helped set up the book, which starts ten years later. I salted in the details of her wedding later on but I felt the story needed this. In A Question of Trust, I was stalled on edits until I realized the prologue needed to be the first chapter since it was here and now. And the first chapter needed to go away. THANKS for stopping by!