Oh just stop with the prologues already

I've been just punching the "read" and "surprise me" options, and so so many of the stories here have prologues.


90% the sign of a writer who hasn't learned that a LOT of what the author needs to know and write and explore is stuff the reader never needs to see. It's the classic trap of exposition info dump and though I do start reading them - generally they are terrible.

<shaking fist>

Re: Oh just stop with the prologues already

Hm, good debate topic!
Personally I love prologues, and it is a chapter that I evaluate to decide whether I will get What I want from the whole story.
But then, I do agree that some prologues are really bad. 
The recent one I dislike is from The Atlas Six, the prologue sound plot intensive but the whole story is kinda character focus.
A bad prologue can be pretty annoying, it makes the reader feel cheated. 
But then, it is the most useful chapter to help reader understand better what the story is all about.
I still write prologues in my story. Not in an info-dumping way, but more like a "warning" for the readers.

Re: Oh just stop with the prologues already

This may sound harsh, but coming from someone who used to love writing prologues, 90% of prologues out there are the authors writing fanservice to themselves. It's their "cheat" chapter. It's putting the cart before the horse. It's like the first episode of Breaking Bad going "ah yes, here is the Salamanca cartel empire, and here is Gus, who will be an awesome villain later on, hiding in plain sight in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and here is his right-hand man, Mike, and there's a famous sleazy attorney named Saul Goodman who--" yeah these are all cool characters, but why do I CARE? Half the prologues I read don't even feature the main characters we'll be following in the actual story.

A prologue is like a chef preparing a seven-course meal and bringing out the entree first and saying, "Looks pretty good, right?" It throws off the whole rhythm of the story. It's not needed. Oftentimes, it actively makes the story worse.

Re: Oh just stop with the prologues already

I never read prologues.

I always skip to the first chapter and read from there. If there was important information in the prologue, I won't know it, however I've found that skipping them never impacts my enjoyment of the story.

The thing is, I've been burned by bad, long-winded and expository prologyes too many times to have any trust in them. I agree that they are not needed, and can actually turn off prospective readers before they even get to the first chapter.

Re: Oh just stop with the prologues already

Although I agree that most stories should skip the prologue, I also have to say that one of my absolute favorite books of all time opens with not one but two prologue chapters. A prologue should be a story hook, not an infodump. By putting the hook before the 'introduction chapter', an author can get away with making the intro chapters longer if that's what they need to set up the story, and that's worth considering, especially in mystery novels and the like. Which is why so many murder mysteries, be they novels or tv show episodes, start not with the detective arriving on the scene, but with the murder. 

Re: Oh just stop with the prologues already

Don't get - and never will - the prologue hate.
A bad/unnecessary prologue is a bad/unnecessary prologue, but it doesn't mean we should dispense of them entirely. Like all other writing techniques, they have their place, and whether or not they're executed properly doesn't affect the validity of the premise itself.
It would help if people understood what they were used for before they wrote one though...

Re: Oh just stop with the prologues already

Prologues have their use. People just tend to misuse them. Or write them poorly.  Going by the book On Writing and Worldbuilding by Timothy Hickson, prologues are useful for the following things:

1. Creating another plot hook. Though in this case, the plot hook of the prologue chapter is recommended to be different to that of the first chapter, fundamental to the reader's expectations and experience of the story. It is useful because it allows you to communicate a hook that would be otherwise hard to explain through the experiences of the main characters. Ex: See harry potter. Harry doesn't know what his scar does, he doesn't know who Voldemort is and it isn't important for most of the first few books. But it allows for a big nebulous bad to be set up whose influence we will see over the whole book, as well as the special nature of Harry himself.

2. A prologue must be necessary. Backstory-prologues are generally better if they only provide backstory insofar as it helps the reader understand the very first chapter. If your story revolves around two nations at war and you write a prologue about a third nation on the other side of the world with no connection to the former two, you might have written a good chapter, just not a necessary one.

3. Avoid prologue exposition dumps. You don't need to drop your entire worldhistory on people and they won't like it if you do. Often enough, a story is carried by its plot and characters far enough that you can sneak in as much backstory as you could reasonably want over the course of it.

4. They can communicate a unique tone/mood/theme that cannot be explored in the first chapter. You see this very often actually, especially in horror fiction. The prologue is often distanced from the first chapter, as it shows the villain, or the crime or some sort of horror you are to expect throughout the book while the first chapter starts off on a lighter tone, in a world that is yet to be beset by the aforementioned horrors.

5. Uhhh, the book just says "do not include a Prologue unless it is necessary and you can do it well. However, at the same time, write the story you want to tell. That is our only responsibility as writers.

So yeah. That's what I got from this book. It was pretty helpful for me, and so I share my knowledge here. DrakanWine

Re: Oh just stop with the prologues already

I will say that so far in my "reading career" the only prologues I found readable/fun/useful were the ones done in the Belgariad. They were basically mythological stories, not too long, well written and only became relevant about two or three books after they were "told".

Basically a "once upon a time" story that was cool, short and interesting, but didn't preach, info dump or overtly "describe the world" other than the most general way.

Re: Oh just stop with the prologues already

bokhi Wrote: Nothing wrong with a well done prologue

I'm many decades old, and I have only ever seriously literally been NOT completely annoyed by the prologues of the Belgariad. Well, I suppose the ones for Pern were so short they were like blurbs and only existed to make sure that the reader could tell it was Sci-Fi and not just fantasy.

I suppose that's my gauntlet - I dare anyone to find or suggest or create a prologue that I could like or respect. If it could be counted as chapter one - it doesn't count.

Re: Oh just stop with the prologues already

It's usually just backstory of the MC. Occasionally backstory of the universe, story, world, whatever. They're almost always shorter than most chapters or the author chose to call their first chapter a prologue instead of chapter one... artistic license on behalf of the writers. I don't get what's so bad about it.
I mean I get they can be done badly but they can also be done well or used as a tool by the author.
It can be used in different ways such as the 'Lord of the Rings' prologue telling a bit about hobbits, their culture, where their from, and the important event of Bilbo finding the ring. An important bit of info to explain why a nobody hobbit had such an important trinket.
In 'A Game of Thrones' it introduces the big bad in a very vague way.
Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy, it sets the tone of the story before the characters are introduced.
2001: A space Odyssey it sets tone and a bit of the inspiration for said odyssey.
Jurassic park it introduces the antagonists vaguely and as you read onward you realize the prologue was the first hint at the true morality and competency of Ingen and John Hammond. (Hammond in the book was way different than the movies). So an easter egg you were never looking for.

I can go on but the point is, a lot of great works of fiction use prologues effectively. It's not necessarily the fact it's a prologue that makes it bad, it's how the writer is using it. 
For example. My prologues establish the base backstory of the main characters. In Fateful it explains why he has memories of earth and in Arcane Gunslinger it explains that he was a space marine that switched bodies with another person in a different part of the multiverse.
It also establishes the multiverse and how the stories are interconnected. Both pieces of information aren't of import to the stories at the moment but that may change. Point being, the prologue gives me a chance to establish that without bogging down the story itself.

Re: Oh just stop with the prologues already

Quote:newtinmpls wrote:

(or in my case - skip it and go to chapter one)

I'm glad I'm not the only person that does this. 

I see a lot of people debating whether prologues are good or bad, but my hangup with them has more to do with the fact that they are unnecessary. Since I have made a habit of not reading them, I can't really judge them on any technical merits. How can I find fault with something I haven't read?

However, the fact that I can perfectly follow a story without having read the prologue means that there wasn't anything truly important there. One of the best pieces of advice I've ever heard for writing is to cut out everything that doesn't move the story forward. In that respect, I would say just cut prologues and sprinkle that information through the story proper (if it's actually relevant).

Re: Oh just stop with the prologues already

I think like all things in writing a prologue properly working is down to the execution. Prologues are often used in long series to give a promise to the audience about the future tone of the story. The Wheel of Time is a excellent example of how to properly use a prologue it both hooks the reader by leaving a plethora of questions and sets what the future tone of the story will be like. 

Re: Oh just stop with the prologues already

The secret to a good prologue is to make it eight chapters and 160 pages long.
That way it's just like another novella before the main book, and it should hold its own as an interesting story, introducing characters, building personalities, doing a lot of worldbuilding, etc.
That way you can move on to the real plot with a 15 year timeskip and not have to constantly explain why the Half-Orc protagonist hates slavery, why his girlfriend is a dwarf, and why he carries a goblin sword named slashypointy the excavationer. Think of the child part of Conan the Barbarian.
Without a good novella prologue, you wind up explaining the same crap over and over throughout the book.