Prologue: What does it mean to your story?
I’ve been thinking a lot about the prologue; as if it were a houseguest I’ve booted and now feel terribly about the fact that it’s raining out.
I’ve written three novels and have published two, and each of them —at one point or another—has contained a prologue. In ERAMANE, the prologue ended up being chapter one, with two parts. That’s one heck of a prologue. But the information—although out of sequence with the timeline for my main character—was absolutely pertinent. Under the advice of my editor, I reworked that prologue and formatted it into the two-part chapter, adding a blank page between it and the rest of the book. There is, however, a little sentence on the page that notates a passage of time. It works well no matter how crappy I’m spelling it out here.
In Blood Soaked Ashes, I begin with a short dream sequence that Eramane is remembering, not actually dreaming. It’s not so much a prologue as it is an emotional slap-in-the-face welcome to book two. But when I started drafting book two, it was a prologue.
In my third book, a sci-fi project that I’m querying, I have a combination introduction. During the drafting stages, I had a one page prologue that gave a bit of info about Earth’s history and what happened to my MC’s parents. Then chapter one begins two years prior to the rest of the book. But this didn’t set well with me as I entered the revision stages. It wasn’t pleasing to the eye and it certainly didn’t appeal to me as a reader. I asked advice from an author friend, who also critiqued the MS. Her opinion was this: scrap that prologue. She suggested that I find a way to incorporate the info into the storyline.
But I didn’t want to scrap it and incorporating it would be sooooooooo time consuming! UGGH! Can’t I just leave it and pray that agents will love my words anyway?
That’s a big NO!
Prologues aren’t meant for info dumps because you can’t find a way to layer your story with its purpose. I’m not going to tell you that you should never use a prologue; they obviously serve a purpose and are used by many authors. But do consider the Why and if it’s justified, roll with it.
Something to consider is a quote. At least this was the direction I took. I was staring at my screen and thinking how in the world do I say all this inside of the story? Part of the prologue was absolutely scrap worthy, so I deleted it immediately. But even after that I was left with nearly four lengthy paragraphs that were integral to the story. Or so I thought. I read those paragraphs over and over until it was memorized. I thought about the words and their meaning to my story and that’s when it hit me. I remembered hearing a quote from a person who is renowned for their science brain and since my story is sci-fi it made this connection. So I used the quote instead of the prologue, because that short sentence lent more relevant content to my story than the four paragraphs I thought were so necessary. No, the quote didn’t tell the backstory to what happened to Earth. That part I did incorporate because a good author will take time to shape their story, even if it means doing a week’s worth of rewrites for just that one component.
I read once where an author said something in the way of If you have a long prologue that is needed to convey the story, maybe you should consider starting your story earlier and build it up from there. Not the exact words and I can’t remember who said this, but it has stuck with me. So, thanks to you, whoever you are.
There are all sorts of opinions on prologues and tips and tricks for writing them. But doesn’t every story begin with a prologue? Even if it’s just one you brainstorm all to yourself?