Monday, November 15, 2010

PRO-logue or CON-logue

I write and read fantasy but not exclusively. I love thrillers and mysteries and will delve into a good romance now and then. But the first section of the book store I head to is always the fantasy/science fiction shelves. Like many of you, I usually open the book and read a few pages before I buy it especially if it’s an author new to me. In a fantasy novel I’m very likely to encounter the controversial prologue.

A prologue is usually like a preliminary act to a play. It can be a teaser, a foreshadowing or even a historical event that sets the stage for the main action. It tantalizes with tidbits of mystery and is often set in a different time or place. The characters might be different from the main characters in the novel or perhaps be from another period in their lives.
Speak to an editor or an agent and they will likely show their disdain at the hated pages many authors use at the beginning of their novels. Some will call it lazy writing, wasting pages to explain things better sprinkled throughout the novel.
In fantasy and science fiction, the prologue gives a view into the created world and culture. In any type of novel it may help set the mood of the story. Is it light-hearted, dark and edgy, or action on top of action? I use a prologue in all the novels in my Solonian Series.  I don't call them prologues though.  I label treat them as pages taken from a historical log as you can read here.  They set the tone of courage and personal sacrifice that run as threads through the series.  Thrillers and mysteries may start with a crime in progress that may not involve the main characters but will somehow be tied to them.
I like prologues and they will often sell me a book. But back to the attitude of agents and editors. Should you use a prologue and if you do how long should it be?
Mine are usually five to seven pages long though they can be as short as one page and still grab the reader’s interest. But should there be one at all? Ask some questions of yourself. Could the prologue actually be the first chapter? Does it enhance the story or would the information in it be better incorporated elsewhere in the novel?
I’m interested in the feelings of readers and authors on the much debated topic. Do you like them or hate them as a reader? Do you use them as an author? Have you been asked the cut them by an editor?

15 comments:

Jemi Fraser said...

Good topic and great questions Susan. I know lots of people don't like prologues, but I've never had a problem with them. There are some authors who use them regularly and use them well. One author I enjoy always has a prologue written from the villain's pov. It's great. Gets me right into the crime and the evil pov. When we meet the MC, we're already worried about him/her.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I like prologues from the antagonist view point too. Brandon Sanderson had a great one in his recent release, The Way of Kings.

windwarning said...

I think it depends on the mood of the prologues, I usually like them. I always read them, at least the first time I read a book. I reread favorites and will skip it occasionally to get to the good parts. I do feel like a lot of good books could use an epilogue.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Prologues are just part of the story for me. I didn't write one, but my publisher suggested one that would start my book off with a bang, an action scene that was more than just an information dump.

Haleine said...

I am personally pro-prologue and use them in my fantasy series. I think they can be very useful tools in story telling.

I know agents/publishers/editors aren't always a fan but the presence of a prologue doesn't change my mind about a book.

Ava Quinn said...

I don't mind prologues at all. (Though I have heard of the agent/editor aversion.) I haven't used one in any of my manuscripts yet, but I'm not adverse to them.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I know a few books I wish had epilogues, Windwarning. I'm doing a post on epilogues next month and I hope you'll return with your take on them.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Cheers for your publisher, Alex. Can't wait to read it while knowing you added it during the editing process.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I'm with you, Haleine. I usually pick up a fantasy book expecting to read a prologue.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Thanks for the visit, Ava. I miss talking to you.

Ava Quinn said...

I miss talking to you too, Sue. Now that I'm the new reigning 'Possum Queen of my county, I have lots of new duties to keep up with. And let's face it, the fame (and all the free processed 'possum I can eat) is really going to my head.

Though the urchins being constantly ill probably has more to do with me being out of the internet realm.

Loved the post!

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Ava, or should I say your highness, hope the royal offspring feel better soon.

Stephen Tremp said...

I have a sort of prologue in my book. Its a stand-alone mini adventure that takes place in Las Vegas. Kind of like an Indian Jones adventure. Then chapter two begins the story. There are a few transitional paragraphs that tie chapter one to chapter two.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I was checking out your book a few hours ago at Borders, Stephen. Is it going to be available in ebook? I'm getting an ereader for Christmas and I want to buy all my future 'keeper' books in that format.

Ellie said...

An interesting topic. As a reader I don't mind them at all but as a writer I worry about the negativity surrounding them. I have an idea for a novel which has a prologue, but do I include it? Will it lessen my chances with a publisher?