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Prologues: Yea or Nay?

–Previously published on my personal blog–

Warning: This blog is being written in the No Edits Zone. Grammar and Spelling Nazis, proceed at your own risk!

After months spent fine-tuning the SFR (a cautionary tale in and of itself), I’m finally back to my Merlin Series. Gotta say, making the transition has been difficult. Worse, despite the multiple GH nods the first two Merlin manuscripts received, looking at them now makes me wince.

Why? Good question. I can’t put my finger on it, but I’m not a happy girl.

Part of it could be my writing style. I write without plan–a mode of operation commonly known as pantsing and not recommended to anyone unwilling to part with his or her sanity–and hammer blithely away, often following characters down strange paths or mysterious rabbit holes with no idea where they lead. It’s fun, exciting, and often wonderfully liberating, putting things in place that I don’t even know I’ll need until I get to the place where I do.

The perfect example is in TS&TS. Cal receives a box containing a book and a map. The book is unimportant to this story, and we had no idea what it was or why it showed up. Still, something said keep it, so it’s in there. Starting on book two, it hit me EXACTLY what it was, where it came from, and why it’s important. Love it when that happens.

Those moments are rare, however. What isn’t rare is the major pain in the gluteous maximus most people call editing. I wrote the book. I know the story. I want to move on and write the next one. But no. To publish, one must edit. And that’s where I am at the moment with The Seer, Book 1 of the Merlin’s Prophesy series.

Here’s the thing: There’s a fantasy element to the story (considering the series’ name, that should come as a shock to no one), and that element is revealed in small ways throughout. I’m not writing Swords and Sorcerers. I’m writing men and women caught in a web spun nearly a thousand years past.

Which brings us to the title of this post.

I’m thinking I need a prologue, else those elements would just stand out as odd rather than pertinent or revealing. My original idea was an epilogue with Merlin discussing what was yet to come, but my CP nixed that, claiming she’d found the inferences in the story distracting without a frame of reference.

Prologues have become unfashionable over the years, and if the characters knew of the prophesy, it wouldn’t be an issue, but they don’t. They are pawns in a game they don’t even know is being played. That leaves a prologue or scenes with Merlin observing and making comment. Not keen on the whole hovering specter/disembodied commentator idea, though, especially considering what needs be revealed. To my thinking, the action will come to a screeching halt for a bit of explanatory rumination.

Doesn’t sound like a good solution to me.

What do you think? I know I’ve provided few details, but the story is still in the–*groan*–editing/refining stages so things could change rather drastically between now and publication. Dashing reader expectations makes friends for no author.

How do you feel about prologues? Do you think they have a place? Or do they turn you off before you read page one?

27 responses to “Prologues: Yea or Nay?”

  1. jbrayweber says:

    See…as a reader, I don’t care if a prologue is “unfashionable”. Who decides that, anyway? Some uptight literary snob? Seriously. When done right and with purpose, a prologue can be as much an essential tool for a story as the ending.

    Jenn!

    3+
    • June Love says:

      Jenn, that’s supposed to be a thumb’s up because I actually liked your comment. Don’t know what I did. But, I do like your comment. 🙂

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      • Elisa Beatty says:

        June, don’t worry–it shows up as a thumbs up to other people. Don’t know why we see the thumbs down on our own screens, but that’s how the site is working these days.

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    • Gwyn says:

      Thanks, Jenn. I’m having a terrible time with it. The millennium between the inciting incident and actual events makes quite the hop. Add the undercurrents between Merlin and Morgan (which will play out across all three books), and I’ve really set myself up for a fall if I do it wrong.

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  2. June Love says:

    I’ve never had a problem with prologues. I echo what Jenn said above. As long as they are done correctly, they do become an important part of the story.

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    • Thanks, June. Long ago, the second book, The Dreamer (aka Forfeit’s Lady, my 2009 GH mss), had a prologue. A dear friend and NYT bestselling author loved the premise but said the prologue had to go, so it went. In fairness, that prologue didn’t include the Merlin element, so her advice may have been spot-on for what I had, but not what I have.

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  3. Kate Parker says:

    I’m generally willing to go where the author leads me in a book. If the author thinks the book will be better with a prologue, I’ll read it and think nothing of whether it’s fashionable.

    That said, I’ve never written a story that required a prologue. I may have to try it some time.

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  4. Tamara Hogan says:

    As is the case with most “Yea or Nay?” questions, my answer is, “It depends.” 😉

    A great reason to use a prologue, in my mind, is when the reader would benefit from knowing something that happened outside the story’s main timeline that influences the plot. As an example, in my first book, TASTE ME, I use a prologue to have my villain commit the crime that catalyzes the action, that brings my hero and heroine together after a long time apart. Craft-wise, I also didn’t want to open Chapter One of a romance novel in the villain’s POV. Using a prologue allowed me to accomplish both goals.

    TASTE ME was acquired by a traditional publisher, and published with the prologue intact.

    I say screw “the rules,” or this year’s literary/editorial opinion or fashion. If the story needs a prologue, use one.

    2+
    • And there you have it, Tammy. The reader would benefit. Until Laurie said something, I had no idea a reader would be confused by the hints I put in the mss, but I’m often guilty of knowing my stories too well and forgetting the reader doesn’t. I originally posted The Beginning & The Legend to my website, hoping that would cover, but what reader wants to visit a web page in order to grasp a book’s concept?

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  5. I also have no problem with prologues when they’re necessary. My book A Little Bit of Deja Vu was a finalist in dozens of contests but never received better than third place until AFTER I added the prologue. Readers considered the estranged hero’s and heroine’s kids meeting and falling in love way too coincidental without an explanation of WHY the kids ever met each other. As soon as I added the prologue, it won the PNWA Zola award AND the Golden Heart.

    I have a big HOWEVER to add to my thumbs up of prologues. I believe they only work if they are truly compelling. They can’t just be backstory. They have to suck the reader in and leave them screaming to know more. Like any other well-written scene, a good prologue needs GMC and a ACTION>REACTION>DECISION sequence that will drive the next/first scene in the book, OR give vital insight to one of the characters.

    Usually that character insight is better revealed as backstory during the course of the plot. But sometimes, such as in a romantic suspense (or in your case), the reader needs info about someone other than the hero or heroine–like the villain or a secondary character who has a major impact on the plot–to understand why and what is happening in the story.

    So I say add your prologue but just be certain it ends with a dynamic hook that will compel the reader to want to know more. And you should present a strong connection to whatever you introduce in the prologue in the very first scene so the material doesn’t seem like it came out of left field and has no relation to the story itself.

    2+
  6. One of my books has a prologue – mainly because the suspense element (I write RS) didn’t come into play right away in that story and I needed to show the villain’s POV so that readers would get the sense that “something’s about to happen.” Building the suspense is key in my books, so having a prologue was an important part of that story.

    So yes, as others have said, I believe it depends on the story. But I definitely keep it short and sweet (well, in this case it wasn’t so sweet *grin*) if I have one.

    1+
    • Short and sweet. Sounds easy. Isn’t. The Merlin/Morgan relationship is, in and of itself, a story. Confining it to the prologue and epilogue of each book will prove interesting enough. Add keeping it short and sweet, and it becomes even more so.

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  7. I like prologues. They usually draw me into the story more quickly as I’m curious about how it all ties in.

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  8. Elisa Beatty says:

    I’m a prologue fan, and have never really understood why they became taboo in romance traditional publishing for a few years there.

    I guess the worry was that they kept the “real story” from starting quickly, and editors worried readers were just too impatient to wait. Maybe that’s true of some readers, but I’ve always enjoyed prologues, especially if (as Laurie suggests) they’re compelling as little stories on their own.

    I don’t know if you’re a Game of Thrones reader, but ALL the books in that uber-popular series start with prologues featuring unknown characters who actually DIE by the end of the prologue. And nobody complains. They’re intriguing and ultimately teach us things that become important in the larger story.

    Anyhow, this is one of the beauty parts of self-publishing: you’re not beholden to the publishing worlds “arbitrary rule of the day.” You can tell your story as you feel it needs to be told, and let readers decide for themselves if it works.

    1+
    • Gwyn says:

      It IS one of the beauty parts, Elisa. It’s also one of the biggest pitfalls. (TS&TS wasn’t truly ready when I put it out, but I had some mitigating circumstances–my guidance was moving 1200 miles away! Which is why I called it a cautionary tale.) The lack of framework or guidance has made some writers lazy. Others just don’t know any better. Thus, stuff that, in another time, would have found repose under the bed or in a drawer is available for purchase. That said, one hopes cream will continue to do as cream does and rise to the top.

      I read the first four GoT books, but forgot about the prologues. Thanks for the reminder.

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  9. Rita Henuber says:

    Reading through the comments I like “screw the rules” and “I’m willing to go where the author takes me”.
    The opening crawl for Star Wars is a prologue. It is absolutely necessary? Don’t think so, but man is it good.
    Give me a good story and I don’t give a flying patoot if there is a prologue or not.

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  10. Gwyn says:

    I’m with you, Rita. No flying patoots, please. 😉

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  11. Diana Layne says:

    After being told by a couple of readers that they skip prologues (which makes no sense, prologues are usually there for a reason!), I started changing mine to Chapter 1. And then with Chapter 2, I might have a timeline: Five years later. That way I make sure they get the info they need, lol.

    1+
    • Gwyn says:

      Hadn’t thought of this, Diana. However, I’m not sure readers attend things like 930 years later or dates preceding the actual work. Something worth considering. Thanks.

      1+
  12. Vivi Andrews says:

    I don’t have a problem with prologues at all. I do feel like it’s less a question of whether you do them and more a question of execution. A good prologue sets the tone for the whole world, but a bad one can make you put down the book before you even get to the cash register.

    I suppose my only advice is to trust your story and to trust your reader. If you’re worried they won’t “get it” – do you think you aren’t giving them enough credit? Or does the prologue set the stage for everything that comes?

    And hey, prologues can’t be all bad. Shakespeare did ’em. “Two houses, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona where we lay our scene…” 😉

    1+
    • Gwyn says:

      All good points, Vivi. In this instance, what brings these stories into being happened nearly a millennium prior to their onset and involves characters who, while making brief appearances to guide events, do so in different guises. The only constant defining thing, in Morgan’s case, is her lavender eyes. I’m thinking it would serve for the reader to know whose eyes they are.

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  13. […] an earlier blog, I mentioned fine-tuning my SFR and how it became a cautionary tale in and of itself. Here’s […]

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