Monday, May 24, 2010

To Prologue or to Prologue

...that is the question.

One of my dearest friends shocked me a couple of years ago when she told me that she never reads Prologues. What??!! I mean, really?

I just finished writing a prologue for a story when I realized it simply had to be done and no amount of tweaking Chapter One was going to replace it. This sparked me asking a question on my Facebook and the discussion that followed was both gratifying and illuminating.

No, my friend is *not* alone, but nor is she the majority...or even representative of a larger minority. :) Breathing a sigh of relief on that, I'll tell you...

Though not always technically part of it, a prologue contains important information for the understanding and enjoyment of the story that follows. Or it's supposed to anyway.

Wikepedia gives this definition for Prologue:
A prologue (Greek πρόλογος prologos, from προ~, pro~ - fore~, and lógos, word), or prolog, is an opening to a story that establishes the setting and gives background details, often some earlier story that ties into the main one, and other miscellaneous information. The Greek prologos included the modern meaning of prologue, but was of wider significance, embracing any kind of preface, like the Latin praefatio. In a book, the prologue is a part of the front matter which is in the voice of one of the book's characters rather than in that of the author.

Mirriam Webster has this entry for Prologue:
Etymology: Middle English prolog, from Anglo-French prologue, from Latin prologus preface to a play, from Greek prologos part of a Greek play preceding the entry of the chorus, from pro- before + legein to speak — more at pro-, legend
Date: 14th century
1 : the preface or introduction to a literary work
2 a : a speech often in verse addressed to the audience by an actor at the beginning of a play b : the actor speaking such a prologue
3 : an introductory or preceding event or development

Okay, so clearly...the prologue is what comes before. I've noticed that some authors label as a prologue, what for me feels like the beginning of Chapter 1 - simply because there is no significant time, location or character circtumstance change between the prologue and first chapter. I find these prologues truly annoying, only because they simply aren't. Prologues, I mean. And labeling them as such feels wrong. ;-) It feels sloppy, like the author didn't want to take the time to figure out how to make the opening work, so s/he just moved it to the prologue so Chapter One started in the place s/he wanted it to.

This always makes me leery going into the book and less likely to read it with my full attention.

But that begs the question even more then, doesn't it? To prologue, or not to prologue. :)

I've come to the conclusion that some books absolutely need a prologue. Inserting the backstory, setting, character motivation in as backstory later will feel clunky and not as visceral for the reader (those that read the bloody things anyway). Those that don't are going to be lost for a good part of the book, aren't they? I talked to my friend about this and she felt a lot of prologues were simply wasted words. The more I paid attention to prologues and what came after, the more I learned she might well be right.

For some authors, not only do they write a prologue, but then dump all the info in it in the first chapter regardless. Heck, I've done something similar myself (if not as wholesale in execution). Why? Because I want to give the reader the visceral connection to what came before on-screen (as it were) rather than merely referring to it. I want to share the emotions of the moment, not the reflections of time.

Still, if that prologue happens directly before the book "starts" - it's going to end up Chapter One instead.

For a while, I tried to avoid prologues all together because of what my friend said. I mean, I figured she wasn't the only one, right? But some books? Just need a prologue and that's simply that. So, my current WIP has one and it sets the tone for the book and the motivation for the heroine's rather scandalous and out of character proposition to the hero.

It's your turn: do prologues annoy you? Do you like them? Are you bothered by a scene being labeled a prologue that feels like it's part of Chapter One?

Over the week, I'll be posting prologues from some of my books, past releases and upcoming releases. You can tell me if you think they're necessary. :)

The first one is in the post below this; it's the prologue for my current WIP, tentatively titled "The Sheikh's Runaway Bride" - it's Zahir's story.

And you know? I think we'll talk about Epilogues next week. :)

~ ~ ~ ~

This week there will *AGAIN* be two blog winners! Each will receive a copy of a "My Romance Story" - a romance graphic novel containing two illustrated romance novella produced by Arrow Publications.


Atia Austen said...

I LOVE prologues! Real prologues. It is annoying to read a prologue which seems to be a part of the first chapter. As a reader I like to have the feeling that the author knows everything about his/her characters before and after the story he/she is telling and I love to catch a glimpse of that.
I have some books on my shelves I never started to read after the prologue failed so satisfy my hunger for information.

Sabrina (about happy books) said...

I also love prologues.
I always read and enjoy them, it's the same with epilogues.

runner10 said...

I like prologues. It gives me a feel for the characters before I really start the book.

Kait Nolan said...

I've heard this whole anti prologue spiel before and it always baffles me that people SKIP THEM. As a reader, I give the author credit for having included only what needs including in the book. Ergo, if there is a prologue, I will read it. Yes, some people do them badly, but generally prologues are not long and you have no way of knowing if the book you have in your hands is one of the bad prologues or the vital ones. What's the five minutes it takes to read it going to hurt?

Kara said...

I don't think that I have ever skipped a prologue...I think I would be so lost without reading it.

However, I agree that it is annoying when the prologue should be the beginning of chapter one.

Judy said...

For me, a prologue is part of the story. I wouldn't notice or care if there were no chapter breaks, since I see the story as a whole, except when chapter titles are used to add to the story. I have noticed when a prologue could have been part of chapter one, but it doesn't bother me. In my current WIP, I'm using the prologue as a warning of sorts. Since I write inspirational, there's an expectation before the book is even opened, and I don't want my readers unpleasantly surprised half way through the book that it isn't your typical inspirational romance. I've really wished some other writers would do that because the surprise bothered me so much I decided I didn't want to read them again.

Valerie said...

I agree if the prologue is really chapter one, it should just be chapter one. However, I love prologues. It's a little extra insight into the hero or heroine that helps us form a better picture of where that person is coming from. I've read books that used flashback scenes to do this and I find that annoying. Well not always, but a good portion of them are just set up wrong...for instance 3/4 of one book was actually written in the past. So you'd have a page of present happenings and be thrown into memories. I lost track of what time period I was in! By the end of the book I when a flashback scene would occur, which was every other page, I started thinking...great here we go again. LOL I lost sympathy and empathy for the characters and worst of all got to the point where I just wanted the book to end. An unusual experience.

Victoria said...

I always read the prologue. It makes it a nice short way to give the back story.

Virginia said...

I love prologues, it prepares you for what's a head in the book! I can't understand why someone would not read them!

gigi said...

Hi Lucy,
I love a prologues. I want to know the background before the actual story begins.
Same for epilogues. If there is not a next book planned I like to know what happened in the near future. You know who married who, when the first child arrived. I wish more authors added epilogues. Sometimes at the end of the book it is like when you watch a movie and they just end it. I look to my husband and say "that was it?" I feel then same way with books that build you up for a good ending and you get "that was it" feeling from the last chapter.
I hope that made sense.

Laurie Ryan said...

I do like prologues. And I tend to put them in my books. Although there are some rules. They need to include the hero and/or heroine and they need to be a pertinent and fun or adventurous piece of backstory that's necessary for the opening.
Thanks, Lucy!

Anonymous said...

I don't mind prologues. Most of the time, the prologues are good enough that I get the picture of what it pertains to. On those rare occassions that I do think the prologues are insignificant and/or should be part of chapter one, then I just sigh and read onward. And putting a lot of info in the first chapter isn't so bad, but sometimes I wished that it could be separated into a prologue and the first chapter. Overall, my experience isn't a bad one.

And as for epilogues, the better it is, the happier I am.

Jane said...

I like prologues and I'm not really annoyed when the prologue is actually more like the first chapter.

s7anna said...

I like prologues...they're a good segue to the the remainder of the story.

Stacy S said...

I like the prologues.

Lucy Monroe said...

Fantastic! I'm really enjoying all your insights...I'd like to respond to each one, but today is Hubcap's birthday, so my time on the computer is uber short. Thanks everyone, though, for giving this so much thought and chatting like the girlfriends you are. :) ~ Hugs~!

Anonymous said...

A prologue does not bother me in the least. If the author needs a prologue, so be it! They are important!!

Valerie said...

Happy Birthday to Hubcap!! =D

Michele said...

Love prologues!!!! Total sets the whole book and I really love epilogues, gives us the reader a glimse in time where our hero and heroine are now.

I vote for prologues!!!! :)

lidia said...


I hope that Hubcap had a great birthday!

As for prologues -- I always read them. Many times they are the key to why the H and h act a certain way.

I also like EPIs because they add a finishing touch to the story.

Anonymous said...

Epi's sound like a whole other blog!! Gotta keep coming up w/ new subjects!!

Jan said...

I like a prologue if it adds to the story. A good prologue will whet my appetite for more.

Lucy Monroe said...

See...I love reading prologues too (when they really *are* prologues and not just Chapter 1 called something else - lol). :) And clearly, I enjoy writing them. Often the scene that starts the book forming in my head will be the prologue or right after it.

Sherry said...

I love reading prologues most of the time it helps you to understand what's happening in the story better. I've read some books that don't have them and I think it would of help the story if they did.

Amy said...

I actually like having prologues. A lot of times when I am book shopping I will read the back cover of a book and then look inside to read the prologue. This way I know if the book interest me or not. Especially if the book is written by a author who is not a automatic buy for me

Lisa F. said...

I've never thought about them. If they are there then I read them just like they are part of the story.

I have went back to the prologue when reading if I needed to clarify something in the book.

Lucy Monroe said...

I don't think I ever considered the whys or wherfores of a prologue before my friend told me she didn't read them either. I just took for granted they were part of the book. I will admit, that like some of you - I do not read "Introductions" in nonfiction because all they do is tell you what they're going to write about, which is like a really long and boring back cover copy. LOL