Re: Quick Q about Prologues


LAG Wrote: I don't care either way. If a story is good, it doesn't matter how the sections are named.

That's basically my attitude. I have read thousands of novels. I have never developed the habit of saying to myself, as I began a new book: "Ouch. The first fifteen pages are a Prologue. That means I must skip past them and start reading Chapter One right away!" 

From previous threads about Prologues, on this forum and elsewhere, I have gathered that some readers have exactly that rule programmed into their heads -- as if it were some sort of Sacred Law about the "correct" way to read any novel that comes along? ("Thou shalt never read the prologue, or else thou shalt suffer greatly for thy transgression.") To me, that's silly. It seems to imply that if exactly the same material had been provided as the first fifteen pages of the book, but it began under the heading of "Chapter One" instead of the heading "Prologue," then those readers would have gone right ahead and read it. It was only the eight-letter word "Prologue" that made them decide it couldn't possibly be worth the trouble of reading those fifteen pages?

I generally give an author the benefit of the doubt. I assume that the first several pages of the book contain something which the author thinks I should know about right away, before I read whatever comes next, and so forth. I don't much care whether the first page of narrative text begins with the word "Prologue," or with "Chapter One," or with some other word or phrase. I only care about whether the storytelling is providing me with an entertaining experience that makes me want to keep pressing forward. 

With that said, I should admit that I formed my reading habits before anyone had ever heard of "Kindle e-books." In other words, the teenage me was reading lots of novels (usually library books) which had been professionally published. "Professionally" meant that honest-to-goodness trained editors at a publishing house had gone through those manuscripts and made lots of notes on things that might stand improvement. Such as looking at a fifteen-page explanation of something in the rough draft, and suggesting to the author that this huge chunk of exposition needed to be boiled down to less pages, and/or to be inserted as an "Appendix" at the end of the book, or modified in some other way. Things published on this website, and a lot of other stuff that ends up as e-books available via Amazon, have never had the fine-tuning that comes from having a good copy editor go over the whole thing with a fine-toothed comb before the rest of the world is ever allowed to see the finished product. 

So when I think about it, I can understand some of the skepticism that many modern readers may feel about Prologues within a different context. Such as when the Prologue in question is at the start of a "self-published" e-book or webnovel which no experienced editor has ever seen. In that case, we all know that the Prologue is only there because an inexperienced author felt like putting it there, and no one else was invited to offer any second opinions on whether that Prologue really served any necessary function! 

Re: Quick Q about Prologues

That "rule" that we have in our brains didn't appear randomly. It's been taught to us by all the shitty, boring, long-winded, pointless Prologues we read through over the years. At some point you just say "Fuck it, the last 10 ones I read were a waste of time, let's just cut to the chase." And once you skip one, you probably never go back to reading them. (I skim them, and decide to read/skip them depending on how interesting it is, and weather it actually has something to do with the MC.) A scene of "this is how the Gods made Magic, two thousands years ago!" is an instant skip for example. 

Re: Quick Q about Prologues

It depends on how the prologue is utilized. As other readers have pointed out, using the prologue as an info-dump is pretty terrible. I do think there are good ways to utilize one, though--I disagree with some who have answered here when they say they dislike the usage of the prologue as a hook. One very effective way to do this is to start a story in media res in the middle of the action. Provided you reach the scene in the prologue in an interesting way, I think it's fine. I don't think it's bad to have spoilers in the prologue provided that the spoiler is used to good effect, either. The other way to use a prologue would be to pair it with an epilogue to give your story some structure within a timeline. Keep in mind, this should be done so that it's natural and interesting. The risk with this usage is that some authors go in the info-dump direction, and that's always a big snore.