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Prologue Poll

[poll id="143"]

I’ve often wondered why there is a prologue in a story. Why isn’t it Chapter One? In The Boss’s Christmas Proposal, the story opens with a prologue of the character confronting her parents and asking for a job in the corporation. Chapter One sees her starting her new job. What’s the point? I can see if a prologue features something that takes place very early on in one’s life (I think Lord of Scoundrels used this effectively by telling the backstory of Dain’s troubled childhood) but mostly I think prologues are overused.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

20 Comments

  1. Kerry Blaisdell
    Jan 22, 2009 @ 08:16:14

    I think it was Jennifer Crusie who pointed out that a prologue is something that takes place outside of or long before the main story. Ergo, if it’s not part of the story, it shouldn’t be included. OTOH, in RS especially, sometimes a prologue is a quick way to give the setup, before launching into the H/H’s actual story. So most of the time, I think they s/b axed, unless they truly provide useful story information that doesn’t fit elsewhere in the book. Just IMHO.

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  2. ms bookjunkie
    Jan 22, 2009 @ 09:03:22

    I don’t really mind a prologue that happens (centuries, decades, years, months, weeks, days or hours, even minutes or seconds) before the actual story begins. I do, however, hate it when my introduction to a story is in the now and the author gets me interested, only to cut off at a crucial point to go back to tell the story from the beginning. Arrgh! It can totally postpone the reading of a book -indefinitely, even- until I distance myself and forget the impact of that infuriating first taste. Sherry Thomas and Nora Roberts come to mind as fantastic authors whose books have taken a timeout before I’ve finally completed my reading.

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  3. Kathleen MacIver
    Jan 22, 2009 @ 09:12:17

    I’d rather have chosen an “it depends on the prologue” answer. I don’t think I’ve ever found myself wishing one had totally been left out, but there have been times, like your example, where I thought it should have just been chapter one.

    I like them when they’re used to:

    … give some clue or insight to the story that changes the reader’s viewpoint from what it would be otherwise… something that happens earlier, but which won’t connect to the story in obvious way until later on (although plot-wise, it’s still necessary for the beginning sections).

    … show something important through the POV of a character who does not figure majorly in the story, or whose POV isn’t used at any other time.

    …’ground’ a story in some way which the epilogue will refer back to. ie: if the story is a small portion of a huge whole, then I like for the prologue to set the stage, and an epilogue to close the stage.

    There might be other instances, but these are all I can think of.

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  4. Kalen Hughes
    Jan 22, 2009 @ 09:16:17

    I'd rather have chosen an “it depends on the prologue” answer.

    Me too. Same for Epilogues. Sometimes you need ‘em, sometimes you don’t.

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  5. Joan/SarahF
    Jan 22, 2009 @ 09:44:03

    I think Suzanne Brockmann (god, I sound like a broken record) uses them very effectively to show us the character of the hero/heroine. It shows us them outside the story, but still inside their character, acting “normally” when not distracted by heroine/hero. I like those ones. That’s how Chase uses the Prologue in Lord of Scoundrels, I think.

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  6. theo
    Jan 22, 2009 @ 10:13:58

    I'd rather have chosen an “it depends on the prologue” answer.

    Me “three”? :)

    Sometimes they’re great to have. One can read what would ordinarily be an info dump in real time instead, then in the first chapter one is not left scratching their head waiting until the author can bring one up to speed.

    I have though, read prologues that had little if anything to do with the story at hand. Those are useless and take up pages that could have been better spent on character or story development.

    Same with the epilogue. If it rounds out the story and gives the ultimate satisfying read then great. If it’s an add on, as if an editor told the author to throw it on the end? Hate it! Same thing with the ones that hint at another story to come in the series and then the story is never written. grrrrrrr

    (sorry about the edit. Hard to type with a finger splint :x )

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  7. Cinde
    Jan 22, 2009 @ 10:17:28

    I don’t mind them as long as they are short and somewhere along the pages I an think“ah, that’s why they did that”. I read one last year that was four friggin’ pages, and like you, wondered, why isn’t it just chapter one?

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  8. Kristi
    Jan 22, 2009 @ 10:18:19

    Prologs can be used effectively. Frequently, they show an alternative point of view (like the villian’s, or a victim of the villian). People get upset when authors include more than one or two points of view in a book, but sometimes the reader won’t get the full story without a few outside glimpses. And sometimes, there’s a huge time leap between that first scene/prolog/chapter and the bulk of the action.

    Authors are told to show, not tell, especially when it comes to “backstory”. Sometimes that “backstory” isn’t backstory at all–its part of the story, just a part that happened before the rest of the plot. So, if they can’t show it in a prolog, they can’t tell it, and the readers dont’ like huge jumps in the chronology of a book, how on earth do they provide the entire story?

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  9. Jorrie Spencer
    Jan 22, 2009 @ 10:32:26

    I can like prologues, if they’re in a different time or place or from a different point of view. If something takes place a couple of years before the main story, I’d rather it was in a prologue than a Chapter One because I’ll wonder about the leap of time otherwise.
    Otoh, if it happened last week, I’m puzzled that it is a prologue.

    So, depends :) But in general I’m happy to have prologues (and epilogues) if the story needs it. I realize that’s subjective. I think what I can like about them is they give more of a sense of the story’s existence. That stuff went on before the story started and stuff will continue afterwards, and I kinda like that.

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  10. Rebyj
    Jan 22, 2009 @ 11:04:17

    If it sets the stage and eliminates the filler dialouge that is in some books that have a main character talking to some secondary that you never see again saying 100 times “you remember .”
    I’d much rather read that background and stage setting info in a coherent prologue.

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  11. Moth
    Jan 22, 2009 @ 11:23:15

    I voted:

    Ordinarily I think they could be eliminated

    which just goes to show what a hypocrite I am as I cling to the prologue in my MS with a white knuckled grip. ;)

    I will say, though, it really depends on the book. Some authors pull it off just fine.

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  12. Lori
    Jan 22, 2009 @ 11:42:08

    Usually prologues work for me because oftentimes they’re used appropriately. And they provide the glimpse into the past in an effective way to set-up the story.

    Epilogues showing the heroine pregnant with the couple’s 17th child as a way to show an HEA makes me want to rip my eyebrows out.

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  13. Angie
    Jan 22, 2009 @ 15:15:01

    To me, an appropriate prologue is significantly separated from the main body of the story, in time or place, POV, style or mood, anything that makes the prologue feel separate. If the body of the story takes place over three days in 2009, but the prologue describes what happens over five years in 1971, then that’s a legitimate use of prologue. (Making a five-year narrative catch the reader’s attention is an exercise left for the writer.) If the body of the story is from the POV of Jane the protag, but the prologue shows the reader some key set-up or information from deep within the POV of Joe the antag, then that’s legit. I’ve seen fantasy and SF books where the prologue showed what happened a few centuries or millenia ago, which set up the situation the protag is going to be dealing with in the main plotline; that’s legit.

    It’s a matter of making the prologue feel like a prologue. If it feels like just another chapter with a weird header, then the writer probably did it wrong. That’s not a reason to dislike prologues in general, though.

    Angie

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  14. joanne
    Jan 22, 2009 @ 15:21:45

    Are we at me-four? I would say

    I'd rather have chosen an “it depends on the prologue” answer.

    Sometimes a good prologue will keep me reading a book that is slow to start. If I have some initial information or tension already then it may be just enough to keep me interested.

    Lora Leigh, who has numerous books in her paranormal series, uses it to give a synopsis of her Breed world. If you’re picking up your first book in this series it gives you a general idea of what type of characters will be featured. It’s helpful to a new reader but once you’ve read it there’s no reason to re-read it.

    I’m also a self-confessed Epilogue junkie… sappy, happy, twinkling, baby-bouncing, sweet-talking, mushy epilogue? Love it.
    (my head is hung in shame but every once in a while I do so love a H/h who burp rainbows)

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  15. GrowlyCub
    Jan 22, 2009 @ 16:00:13

    I vote ‘it depends’. Usually I find them interesting and they offer a different perspective to the main story line and I absolutely prefer the backstory set up in a prologue to the ‘as you remember, Bob’ implementation which is always clunky.

    However, I just almost didn’t read a book (E. Walker’s ‘The Loving Seasons’) because the prologue was really depressing and sounded very saga-ish. Moreover, the whole page and a half thing showed up verbatim towards the end of the book. I’m glad I persevered, because not only was the book not saga-ish, it was great, but that prologue was completely useless to actively detrimental.

    I’m also very much annoyed by time-hopping back and forth, even though I did enjoy Thomas’ ‘Private Arrangements’ which says something about her writing skills, because the whole story setup is one that I absolutely want nothing to do with. :) Have I mentioned that I cannot *wait* for the May book. Is it finished yet, Sherry? :)

    The less said about Brockmann, the better. Her hopping around drives me nuts and I end up skipping around trying to figure out am I fast forward or backward in time when the next bit starts.

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  16. BevBB
    Jan 22, 2009 @ 16:54:59

    Yeah, “it depends” definitely. It’s all in how an author uses the prologue that determines how I react.

    There are some that are distant in time from the actual story that completely throw me while some seem to make complete sense. By contrast, there are others, that are seemingly only “seconds” away from the start of the story and yet fit completely.

    I don’t think it’s in reality it’s a time component, or at least solely one, as it’s a mood/setting thing, if that makes sense. It’s a set-up device. Used correctly, it’s wonderful and makes the reader settle into the chair. Used incorrectly, it’s not so much horrible as makes one go “What?!?”

    Not good.

    I will say this, though. In romances there does seem to be a tendency to overuse epilogues by a long shot and if anything, epilogues bother me a lot more than prologues do with regards to romances for that very reason. Not every single blasted romance requires an epilogue. Sometimes they can simply end where they end, ya know. ;)

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  17. Keishon
    Jan 22, 2009 @ 16:59:22

    Couldn’t vote because I am neutral to the idea and usefulness of Prologues. ETA, when used appropriately, they are fine.

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  18. Ann Bruce
    Jan 22, 2009 @ 17:14:49

    It depends. The only time I really, truly hate a prologue is if chapter one takes place BEFORE the prologue. It’s just cruel and unusual to give a reader a glimpse of the action, then force them to slog through several chapters of back story to get back to the present.

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  19. Nonny
    Jan 22, 2009 @ 18:29:04

    I voted “Ordinarily, could be eliminated”, but it depends.

    Sometimes, prologues show events that the main characters couldn’t know about yet but is necessary so as to not confuse the reader. Other times, they show a different point in a character’s life that’s also important but wouldn’t hold the same weight if told just as exposition within the actual story.

    It depends on the situation and the skill of the author. :)

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  20. willaful
    Jan 22, 2009 @ 19:30:29

    I voted agin ‘em but really am only bothered by the kind mentioned, the ones where “chapter one” begins right after the prologue and there’s no reason at all for it not to have been chapter one. Otherwise they’re fine.

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