Writing

UPDATE! And prologues

Hey! I’m alive. I actually am. Wow. The past five weeks has been crazy beyond belief. Good news? No more broken wrist! Bad news? I didn’t get anything out of Pitch Wars (though I did out of Pit Mad) and my computer totally crashed! It’s alive again, and I saved my files. Somehow.

I’m going to make an effort to start blogging again. It won’t be easy for me, but I’m going to do my best, and I’m going to definitely do those world building posts.

But today, I’m going to talk about something super controversial in writing:

How-to-Write-a-Prologue-for-a-Novel

In my quest to query, both to agents and to publishers, I’ve found something very odd. Many of them say they aren’t a fan of prologues. Even in Pitch Wars, if you had a prologue you weren’t allowed to send it out. Only your first chapter, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why. A prologue is a tool. A very, very important and useful tool.

Now, after some research I’ve discovered more about why. People misuse the prologue all the time. Especially in fantasy, it’s almost a social requirement to have a prologue, even if the story doesn’t need one. And see, that’s key. Not all stories need a prologue.

But first, let’s look at what a prologue actually is. According to Google definitions, a prologue is “a separate introductory section of a literary or musical work.”

There are a few words in there that are key. The first one being separate. It’s different, it does not connect in an obvious way. It’s like separating the parts of a salad before mixing them together. The lettuce is the main body of the story, the carrots, tomatoes, eggs, cucumbers, or whatever else you want to add (chicken maybe), are the bits of the plot that are exciting. Character development maybe, or the inciting incident, or foreshadowing. Then there’s the salad dressing. That is the prologue of a salad. It’s that extra taste that can either add millions, add nothing, or take away. There has to be just enough not to drown out the deliciousness that is rabbit food.

Then there’s the word introductory. The prologue needs to introduce the story. Not the main plot, as it’s still separate, but something about the novel. A theme, maybe. A sense of mystery, or magic. A part of the world you might not get to see in the main novel, but it’s something you’ve found to be important to the story.

So, what exactly is a prologue? It’s a part of the story that’s pulled to the front and separated for a reason. A good example of a prologue would be one that takes place long before the story starts. In a different world, maybe. In a fantasy novel, it might be the part that shows magic in a world where you don’t find magic otherwise. It might create a tone you wish to thread throughout, but can’t get across in the first chapter due to the plot. Maybe it introduces a character you’ll need later, but instead of telling the author about this thing that happened to them, you show it.

Now, some may argue that no book at all needs a prologue, and I will always disagree. Not all books need a prologue. My dragon stories don’t need prologues. Elephant doesn’t need a prologue. Onto published literary works, we can look at Eragon. This book has a prologue but do we need it? It shows how the egg came to be where Eragon is hunting. But when I read the book for the first time I didn’t even read the prologue (I accidentally skipped it) and I still understood exactly what the story was going to be about. I didn’t need all those pages describing this enemy and this woman fighting. It was unnecessary.

But then let’s look at Harry Potter. Now, there is no prologue in The Sorcerer’s Stone. Or… is there? We start with chapter one, “The Boy Who Lived,” and what do we get? It takes place before the start of the story. It shows us a world of magic hidden within the world of the normal. It tells us who the Dursleys were before Harry, and that adds so much to chapter 2! I can’t imagine The Sorcerer’s Stone without reading about Number 4 Privet Drive, and Dudley being a brat, while Vernon walks the streets and wonders why he hears his nephew’s name from people dressed funny. It shows us why the Dursleys are so cold toward Harry. He literally came and changed their lives forever. It shows us why we’re reading a book about Harry Potter and not Neville Longbottom. It gives us a sense that magic is very real, but not accepted by the mass of the world.

So what would happen if instead of calling it chapter one, we called it a prologue? Would people say she didn’t need to add it in? Would they say there’s no reason for it and she might as well just cut it? I’m guessing they would, because the connotation of a prologue has become so negative, especially with the rise of self publication and lack of editing. Some people even say you shouldn’t call it a prologue. You can keep it, but just title it chapter 1.

Only, a prologue cannot be chapter one. It’s a different part of the story. Even in The Sorcerer’s Stone, the writing is very different. It’s more omniscient than the rest of the novel. It’s different. It’s separate, and I think it shouldn’t be taboo to use a prologue. I tell people my story has a prologue and they roll their eyes. They tell me I don’t need it. But I’ve proved I have. With The First Nine, I wasn’t allowed to send out my prologue, and I got a lot of people saying it doesn’t feel like a beginning.

There’s a reason for that. It’s not. It’s the beginning of Mia’s story, but not of the entire story itself, and without that introduction so much is lost.

Now, that’s not to say all stories can utilize the prologue. Many can’t, as in the case of Eragon. Even in a book I beta’d, I found the prologue useless. It added absolutely nothing to the story and if I’d skipped it I still would have felt more drawn in by the first chapter. It gave me nothing. It didn’t hook me. It was just… there. That’s not how to utilize a prologue, and people need to learn which is which.

Like everything in writing, a prologue is a tool. Use it correctly and it adds wonders. Use it incorrectly and it can take away. But not all prologues take away, and I want this to be a mentality that changes in the world of publishing.

Anyone have any comments? How do you feel about prologues?

Hope you enjoyed the post! Have a wonderful day!

~Linnea

(P.S. I’m doing a million word challenge. I’ll talk about it in the next post. But I’m doing great so far!)

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4 thoughts on “UPDATE! And prologues

  1. I have a prologue that I may be forced to move. It’s only one page, a snippet, a mood setter. If I shot this novel as a movie, it would be the opening, creepy scene. We’ll see if I can repurpose it for a later chapter.

    1. For me, if you can remove the prologue and not lose anything in the story, it doesn’t need to be there. Books and movies are written differently. Sometimes the techniques overlap, but how you open a book and how you open a movie isn’t really one of those. It can be, but because movies are almost entirely visual there are different things you can do.

      Thanks for the comment!

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