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Welcome to my self-indulgent location for the stories (good and bad) that I can't prevent myself from writing. All comments and criticisms welcome. I post on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

To Prologue or Not To Prologue?

*sigh*

I recently joined an online critique group, and gave them my latest rewrite of the first 4 pages of WiP #1.  The latest rewrite has seen me scrapping the first 3 chapters, and starting at the height of the initial action.  But there was one catch.

What's going on?  Where does this take place?  Is this our world or another one?

Yeowch!  Too many questions are left outstanding, but need to be answered earlier.

I don't want to reintroduce three chapters (approx. 10K words) of backtory.  So, the question is, what do I do to make things clear early enough in the story while still avoiding large paragraphs of exposition?

Here was my thought, and I don't know how much I like it.  A prologue.  Now, everyone and their agent's mother says not to prologue, so I'm torn.  At the moment I have 1 page of prologue, approx. 260 words, introducing one key historical moment of background, still trying to capture the reader's attention.

One potential problem is that the prologue has to be told through a 3rd person omniscient narrator.  The rest of the story is (currently) 1st person.  I recently read a book that did this, and it didn't feel problematic to me, but my hubby (the lit PhD) was concerned about the transition.

Of course, the other problem seems to be that prologues are loathed and, by some, seem to be considered a sign of bad writing.  I don't exactly want to introduce myself that way, that's for sure.  I'm just not sure what else to do. 

So, folks, what do you think?  Do you prologue?  Do you hate prologues?  How do you feel about the narrator transition from one to the other?  Am I committing a mortal literary sin here?

12 comments:

Ted Cross said...

I love prologues, but they do need to be done right. Apparently it is no longer acceptable, for the most part, to do an info dump in a prologue. It sounds as if that is what you intend to do. Prologues have evolved these days into story driven pieces that simply don't fit into the rest of the book but do provide something necessary to the story. For instance, it could be a different POV than the rest of the book, or be set at a different time period.

The Alliterative Allomorph said...

There's nothing wrong with letting the reader WONDER what the hell happened in the past for the present to be the way it is. It'll create intrigue. I say spinkle the back story in here and there and sod the prologue. Just my opinion, though :o)

Are you a writer? Then you MUST enter this CONTEST!

Summer Ross said...

you could also just state the time place ect...right before the first chapter starts like some books do: ex: London, 7:26 am....

RosieC said...

Ted, I'm desperately trying to avoid the information dump. Actually, it's a small, self-contained story that doesn't fit into the rest of the story due to its different time period and PoV. The question is if it's plot driven, and while *I* think it is, I may not be right. Argh.

AA, I think the biggest concern is that the reality of the story is a little too close to our reality, and I don't know how long the reader will wait for plausible (or implausible :) explanations.

Summer, unfortunately doing that wouldn't help, since it would just say "Chicago, June 17th". Without the prologue, I think it would cause more confusion and irritation (re: what I wrote to AA above).

Charity Bradford said...

This is always a hard question. Originally, I introduced one character in chapter 1. The problem was, he was not the MC and the scene happened 300 years before my MC's time. Through magic and technology/wonders of space travel, he is present during my MC's time.

I moved the chapter to chapter 2 so I could intro my MC first (with another no-no dream sequence). I think it would work best as a prologue because I like things to be orderly.

We're both doomed Rosie! :) Good luck, I hope you find a way to make it work so that you are happy with it. Your word count sounds good for it, and a short snip like that would not throw me off reading wise.

sorry to ramble!

Heidi said...

You're right; prologues are absolutely despised in this business.

I was told that you need a very good reason to use one, and they have to raise the level of suspense for the reader immediately or else skip them entirely.

RosieC said...

Charity, you're not rambling :) It sounds like a good idea to move your backstory to chap two and open with your MC. I don't know about the dream sequence part--I generally avoid those if I can--but good to get your MC up front.

Heidi, okay. I think this is the point I've been needing to hear. While it seems important to the story, etc., it does *not* raise the tension. It's just important info. Slash and burn, baby! Here I come. Thank you!

LTM said...

I'm not really *anti* prologue, but I like them to contribute. I had a prologue on my DN, but then I went and ditched it... Still, I think if they're done right (I think Mr. Bransford has a post about this...) they can be very good! Helpful?

didn't think so... :D

RosieC said...

LTM, don't sell yourself short on the help-factor. They do have to be done right. I don't think I knew that NB had a post on it. I'll be running over there right now to check it out. Thanks!

Erica said...

Why follow the rules when you can break em? I'm using a prologue in my WIP (though it's not the past, it's a flash forward to a scene 1 month ahead). You could post it and see what people think : ) I'm curious..

Hart Johnson said...

I am also in the band that loves prologues, but I think they hurt your chances of publishing, so on THIS, book 1, I would forget it. It SOUNDS though, like if it is a small, contained story, that in the early chapters it might be 'told as a story'--do you have any characters who are YOUNG or might be unfamiliar with the history (or perhaps a ceremonial dedication of something--giving an award, or a news program where someone involved DIES)--I think you can come up with a reasonable context to TELL the story as a story.

Short of that, I would sprinkle the info, as Jessica suggested.

Robert Guthrie said...

250 words seems okay. My preference is that they be the same voice as the novel. If not, I tend to tune out, knowing I don't really have to pay attention until the real story gets started. That's just me.

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