On writing

The ubiquitous prologue

Hmm. Looks like we’re going to start with a prologue on this novel.

I’m not a fan of prologues.

Some writers, particularly beginning writers, seem to think that because they’re writing a fantasy their novel absolutely, positively must have a prologue, whether it needs one or not.

A common mistake is writing a prologue that really is the first chapter of the novel. If the prologue uses protagonists from the main novel (particularly point-of-view characters), and covers a period of time shortly before the rest of the novel starts then this is not a prologue, it’s part of the main story and should be treated as such.

If a prologue is used to denote a time break, then that break should be a long one, again particularly if the protagonist is a main point-of-view character.

Personally, I like the way they do in the movies in this case. Start with the beginning of the story, then pop up a line—”Four years later”—at the start of the next chapter and keep going.

Another common mistake is the “This is a fantasy. I must have a prologue” type prologue.

This one has absolutely no reason to be in the story whatsoever. You could cut it out and no-one would even know it had gone.

A prologue has to be there for a reason.

David Eddings‘ prologue at the start of THE BELGARIAD series is one that works. You must read the prologue to fully understand what the story is about. It deals with matters that happened to secondary characters hundreds of years prior. Things that were written about in another series. What happens in The Belgariad is a direct result of events triggered in the prologue. (Some people might argue that Belgarath and Polgara were not secondary characters, but I say they were. The story is Garion’s, start to finish.)

A real problem with prologues is that not everyone reads them. I know I don’t.

How many times have you started to read a prologue, and then skipped the end because you want to get to the real story? Or not started it at all? If the story is confusing, full of ‘Huh?’ moments, you then go back and read the prologue to see if it starts to make more sense (and if it still doesn’t, you stop reading the book altogether).

Worse are those little paragraphs at the top of each chapter. Who reads them? If the story’s a page turner I hardly even notice they exist, I’m so busy getting on with the main story.

Alas, we did this with POTION, and we put two vital pieces of information in those heading paragraphs. One of them is important because it allows the good guys to win at the end. If you haven’t read those paragraphs at the start of each chapter, then suddenly, out of the blue, our heroes have a way to win the final battle. Deus ex machina?

It’s something that has been worrying us for a while now. We may end up turning all those paragraphs into a prologue, just so the reader doesn’t feel cheated by the ending.

Back to BARRAIN.

Our logic for making this first part a prologue is that it happens three years prior to the main story. It deals specifically with Caid, who is not the point-of-view character. The prologue isn’t even from Caid’s point-of-view, it just shows what happens to him. It also shows how he came to our world, and consequently leads in to how they (Scott (POV) and Caid) use the same type of transport to get back to Barrain.

It’s not set in concrete, of course. If we can find a way to weave this information into the story, well and good. We’ll then ditch the prologue.

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