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I read from at least a few different sources that prologues tend to distract from the story rather than move them along. I wrote a prologue, in which the reader will definitely get emotionally involved in a character other than the main protagonist. However, since I did the research, I think I am going to incorporate it as a letter within story. However, I still might have need of a prologue in my historical fantasy because of an event that occurred when my main character, Ciara was only an infant, (her father was killed saving Ciara and her mother). This event wouldn't be revealed until much later in the story I think.  Should I just wait and reveal this certain event in the story as well?

 

Thank you.

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I’d say so...if you’re going to reveal it later in the story anyway, why lead with it in the prologue? One or the other seems unnecessary (probably the prologue.)

 

My latest story is the only one I’ve ever written a prologue for. It’s only a paragraph long, and its purpose was to allow the fourth book in a series to function better as a standalone.

 

I think I’d only use a prologue if I had an excellent reason for not just diving into Chapter One. Creating emotional ties with a character other than the protagonist doesn’t seem a good one.

Edited by Zee
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Sometimes a prologue is necessary. The thing is, prologues have a bad rep because often they've been used to impart dry, uninteresting info, blah, blah, blah, and so many readers skip them. I used a prologue in my first novel BUT I didn't call it a prologue. I labeled it "Muirne." It was a dramatic scene depicting something which happened to a character about 10 years before the story started and was not a part of the story but which was necessary to explain a core issue in the story. 

 

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I’ve read a lot of Prologues. Many of the Space Opera prologues are the worst sort: In the deep space in the Archana Nebula, the evil overlord Mitochondria and his legions of blah blah… you’ve likely read those prologues, as well.
 

But I’ve also read brilliant prologues from Fantasy masters which absolutely work. GRRM springs to mind, as does Steven Brust (his prologue from his debut novel JHEREG tells how his POV character becomes an assassin with a lizard familiar).

The prologue written by Pat Rothfuss from THE WISE MAN’S FEAR is one of my favorites.

Quote

The Waystone was his, just as the third silence was his. This was appropriate, as it was the greatest silence of the three, holding the others inside itself. It was deep and wide as autumn’s ending. It was heavy as a great river-smooth stone. It was the patient, cut-flower sound of a man who is waiting to die.


I wasn’t planning to write a prologue, but had a compelling reason which my editor pointed out in her diagnostic.
 

I’m writing a golem detective story told in the 1st Person where his status at the end is in doubt. My editor recommended bookending the story with a Prologue and Epilogue told in the 3rd Person, and I added a short 3rd Person Interlude at the Midpoint when my POV character is temporarily away from his body (for Reasons, heh). The Prologue introduces a mystery which will extend throughout the trilogy, and the Epilogue introduces another mystery which will be carry us over to the second novel.

I think genre also makes a difference. I think you can get away with a prologue for a Fantasy or a Space Opera as long as you don't infodump. I don't think you typically see Prologues in Romance novels.

You have to grab your reader's attention and make them want to read more. If the Prologue only exists for worldbuilding, I'd think about cutting it and moving that content into the body of the book. 

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27 minutes ago, Wesley Southern said:

I read the words "historical fantasy." No offense, but isn't that a contradiction?


It's a well established genre. 
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_fantasy#:~:text=Historical fantasy is a category,a more "realistic" narrative.&text=Stories fitting this classification generally take place prior to the 20th century.

The most famous novel in this genre that I've heard of is JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR. MORREL, which was an award-winning novel and a pretty good mini series.
https://offtheshelf.com/2019/04/captivating-historical-fantasy-novels/

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30 minutes ago, Wesley Southern said:

Most people skip the prologue. You probably don't need it!


It depends on the genre. GRRM writes terrific Prologues, as does Patrick Rothfuss. 

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15 hours ago, CelticLady said:

This event wouldn't be revealed until much later in the story I think.  Should I just wait and reveal this certain event in the story as well?

Depends. Do you need the information before this point? Also, is there a good time within the story before the information is needed to place it?

 

Also, another option, if you write the prolong the same way you do the story, you could get away with making it chapter one, and chapter two starts with "10 years later..." Or something to that effect. If done correctly, I don't mind it. If done badly, it is a rough switch that risks your reader putting down your book. So use it cautiously, and get lots of feedback before publishing. 

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6 hours ago, Wesley Southern said:

read the words "historical fantasy." No offense, but isn't that a contradiction?

Basically, it is a historical setting, but the book is a fantasy. Hence the word mash. 

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I agree with @Tommie Lyn be careful.

 

I had a prologue in my first book, then changed it to the first chapter, then I put in to the end of the book and finally reinstated it at the front as chapter 1 but change the final bit so that it lead into the 2nd chapter which was set in a earlier timescale. The problem was not that it was a prologue but that my ending of it was not working. It was out of sync with the follow on chapter.

 

I would think hard about whether you really need it. Can you drip feed the info in the book? If it is a important event that take place earlier or later than the main body of the book think about how you can link it to the next chapter. 

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I think prologues are largely unnecessary. You'd be better off picking your story's starting point and go. Otherwise, prologues are a temptation to info-dump, which will likely put the reader to sleep before you even start.  

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I'm now reconsidering my prologue/introduction.  It gives some history of the county in which the story takes place.  Maybe it'd be a better fit as an appendix.  Hmm.  I guess it could help explain why the place is so different from the rest of the USA.

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3 hours ago, Accord64 said:

I think prologues are largely unnecessary. You'd be better off picking your story's starting point and go. Otherwise, prologues are a temptation to info-dump, which will likely put the reader to sleep before you even start.  

 

I agree wholeheartedly with @Accord64.   Prologues are unnecessary.

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Prologues should be rare, and should only cover ancillary (but important) information.

 

The best I have ever read was the prologue to A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin.  It covered The Others - who were supposed to be the main protagonist - but without directly involving any main characters.  The events in there are re-referenced in the actual story during the execution of the deserter (who is a character in the prologue).

 

It tied the Others to the story, set out the existential threat AND got the reader's interest before the story went down some pretty inconsequential events that were laid out in the first chapter.  

 

If you are doing a prologue just for an info dump: don't.  Weave the info into the story instead.  

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1 hour ago, suspensewriter said:

Prologues are unnecessary.

 

...unless you have a situation like mine where the 1st Person POV character may not be alive at the very end, in which case a Prologue / Epilogue told in the 3rd Person acts as a valuable framing device.

Which is to say, I wouldn't paint all Prologues with the same broad brush. We see Prologues perhaps more often in SF/F. I've read many bad ones and some good ones, but the good ones were really good, and a few were awesome. 

I think the larger point is to do your homework and know why you're doing it. Tolkien doesn't use a Prologue and his LOTR work starts at the right place and in the right way, and he seeds his deep back history into the work in bits and pieces as necessary. Steven Brust begins his novel JHEREG with a Prologue which works because his main story dives into a story in media res with his assassin character already established and on the run against a clever antagonist. He uses his prologue to introduce his assassin as a young busboy, shows how he runs afoul of the dominant Dragaeran race (humans are the minority on that planet), and is taken under the wing of assassin, trained, and set on the course which turns him into the person he is at the beginning of Chapter One. It's a daring approach and it pays off because of the structure of the rest of the novel. 

Most prologues I've read were handled poorly and there's a good reason why readers tend to avoid them. The answer is not just to avoid prologues. The answer is to know why you're using one and to use it for the right reason and in the right way.

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50 minutes ago, Johne said:

...unless you have a situation like mine where the 1st Person POV character may not be alive at the very end, in which case a Prologue / Epilogue told in the 3rd Person acts as a valuable framing device.

 

I did use an epilogue in a story written in first-person (a fictional memoir). The epilogue was written by the MC's literary agent, as the MC died shortly after completing his memoir. It gave some key closure to events that the MC wrote about.

 

So, yes, in some cases an epilogue can be used effectively.

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Just me, whenever I open a book and see a prologue, I think, "Oh boy, some background I have to slug through to get to the good stuff." Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad prologues out there. I would skip it if you can.

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Posted (edited)

Thank you so much! All of these comments have really helped. I promise that what was going to be my prologue was not an info-dump lol.  😄 It was not long, and I hope would interest many readers. But, I do think it would have misled them as to who the book was going to primarily be about. I will add to the story as a transcription of sort to be given to the main character. As to the other event, after reading everyone's great advice, I am thinking I will just give the event within the story. Actually, it would add more contention I think, which is always good.

Edited by CelticLady
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