Thursday, October 9, 2008

Thinking about prologues...

A word about prologues.

I bring this up because the book I started reading at 4:50 this morning has one. Now, there's a bit of debate over To Prologue or Not to Prologue. Many times I've heard agents say, "I hate prologues." I've even been given the impression that they will reject a novel outright because it has a prologue. I think that's a bit silly, and maybe I don't want an agent who would reject a work for a goofy reason like that. To be fair, maybe the agents in question were just being melodramatic. But it has made me think about prologues.

I have to confess [flushes guiltily] that I have skipped prologues. Why? Because so often they are too long and dull. If a prologue just gives me a bunch of world history and background info, well that's boring. Why hasn't the author skillfully worked that stuff into the story itself if it's so important? The book I began this morning has such a prologue. 

The whole time I was reading it I was thinking, "This had all better be crucial information." It was about five pages long, and that's a lot of energy to invest in something that is kind of boring. If it isn't crucial I will resent being treated so disrespectfully by the author. 

Sometimes a prologue is the right way to impart critical information to the reader. If it's an event that takes place prior to the time period of the story but is somehow a catalyst for the events of the story. Or if it involves characters that may or may not appear in the main story. Or when said event needs to be from the point of view of a character who will not otherwise be a POV character. Those are some case where a prologue is a great tool. But for me as a reader I want it to be short and I want it to be intriguing. I have been known to skip prologues that go on and on. I read a book years ago, I can't remember which book it was, but its prologue went on for about 14 pages and I was so confused

[Growls in frustration because this is the point where the internet shuts down, and everything typed after this point is lost so it must be typed again... Grrrr]

...that I stopped reading after just a few pages. See, without any grounding in the story none of the places and names mentioned in the prologue made any sense.

An example of a prologue I liked is in The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie.

It is 1915 and the Lusitania is sinking. A man approaches a young lady and asks her to take charge of a packet of important papers, "because of 'women and children first'. He gives her a few instructions and that's it. It takes about a page and a half. That is the inciting incident for the rest of the story. When the story opens it is several years later, and the reader meets the protagonists, but continues to wonder what happened to the girl and the papers and why they are significant. 

That's a prologue that really works for me because it is intriguing and it's short! I figure I shouldn't refuse to write a prologue because some people "don't like prologues." If it's the best thing for the story, then I will go for it. At the moment my second book has a prologue which I quite like, but I revisit it when I return to that book for revision. 

My original ending for this post was way better, but I can't remember what it was. Ah well.

Boy, it's really easy to make these posts very long, isn't it? (sort of like some prologues). I'll have to watch that.

1 comment:

rwodaski said...

Short and snappy is also how I prefer my prologues.

In my case, I'm using a prologue because the story develops slowly from an action standpoint, and I want to show the reader that there is some exciting stuff coming later.

"Develops slowly" in this case means [interesting!!!] character development.

So you could say that in my case the prologue is intended as a tease.