Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Prologue

I like to write long short stories (novelettes?). I have also got into the habit of writing a sort of prologue that I use to set the scene. I always kind of liked those American programmes that had a prologue then ran the credits be fore the main story. Of course, they filled the space with adverts, which we did not see.

James Bond movies were hot on prologues. Truth to tell, the prologue was often better than the film.

So I tend to use them in my short stories. I always get criticised for this. Apparently, I am breaking one of those unwritten writing rules that 'every one knows'.

How do the rest of you feel about this burning issue?


Anonymous said...

Too many prologues turn into history lessons. Or they hook the reader on a character who at the start of chapter one turns out to have been dead for a thousand years.

A James Bond style action prologue that stars the hero of the rest of the book isn't bad. I don't even think it has to have some tenuous relationship to the plot of the book. It can be a way to introduce a character and tell the reader a lot about him, the World and their relationship.

So, how do you decide what's a prologue and what's chapter one? Plot? A major time gap?

If the action sequence has no relationship to the story, is it just a hook, dangled to grab readers? That's not criticism, per se, I'm all for hooking readers. But it's got to have some relevance to the story, and some indication of the amount and type of action to be found later in the book, or readers are likely to get ticked.

Sometimes "stories start in the normal world, then something happens" fails to hook the modern reader. Sometimes you need to start right off with the weirdness to tell the reader what sort of book this is. Then let the characters go back to the real world and go from there.

KylieQ said...

I've read a lot lately about how prologues are a waste of time and words and should never be used. However I'm writing a time travel book. The nature of a time travel book is that the reader will start in the present (or wherever) and then go to the time where all the action is. That in itself, I think, doesn't necessarily require a prologue to hook the reader. But the bulk of my story happens in ancient Egypt and I think that's far more interesting than the lead-up in the present. So I'm using a prologue set in ancient Egypt to give the reader a taste of the setting that is to come, and then going back to start in the present. It might work for some readers and not for others but I'm happy with it.

Ori Pomerantz said...

As long as the prologue is interesting, it works. If it doesn't, it doesn't. It's that simple.

In "The Temple of Thorns" the prologue was somewhat confusing, at least to people relatively ignorant of Greek mythology. It had a big pay off at the end, but I'm not sure if I would have continued reading if I didn't already like you from your other work.

I didn't detect any prologue in "As Black As Hell" or "Storming Hell", and their beginnings worked better for me - especially the second.

I think that the problem isn't have a prologue per se. It's that prologues need to capture the reader. There needs to be a mystery, or action, preferably in the first paragraph or so. "Temple of Thorns" might have worked better at the beginning if you started it with:

The royal party stood at the end of the promontory where the cliffs fell in a sheer drop into the sea. Spearmen and warriors sealed off the area but they allowed the companion and his party to pass without comment. She walked up to an elderly man in long purple robes and curtseyed. “Greetings, royal father.”Of course, you're the published author here - my advice is probably worth its weight in gold. Given how much electrons weigh, that's not a lot.

John Lambshead said...

Dear Ori

I think you are right about Temple of Thorns. Storming Hell and As Black as Hell did have prologues but they were better focussed. I could have started Temple with Perseus escaping the boat. I think that would have worked better.