Sunday, July 5, 2009

Back to Front

When an agent/editor asks for the first three chapters of your fiction manuscript, does that include the prologue (prologue, chapter one, chapter two) or is the prologue optional?
If your prologue is optional to the story, then you can leave it out of your submission.
But then if your prologue is optional to the story, I'd recommend you leave it out of the book.

I get a little itchy when faced with a prologue; experience says most prologues will be better as chapter 1, or worked piecemeal into the main story, or left out entirely.

The place for backstory is not the front of your story.


Tricia J. O'Brien said...

For such a concise response, there are two superb lines that all writers should note:
"if your prologue is optional to the story, I'd recommend you leave it out of the book" and "the place for backstory is not the front of your story."
Not only spot-on, it made me chuckle. Thanks.

AnneR said...

There are cases where the prologue is essential - Coram Boy is one. It bears no relation to the narrative whatsoever,yet leaving it out would have made a poorer story....

Editorial Anonymous said...

Agreed-- some prologues are good for the story. But I'm generally of the opinion that if it can be left out, it should be.

ClothDragon said...

What about prologues that are important to the story, but don't fit into the main narrative. From a different POV or something. Do you send it in?

Editorial Anonymous said...

If you need the prologue to understand the first two chapters, then include it.

Livia Blackburne said...

Hehe, yeah, prologues are tricky, but there are some good ones. I just wrote a blog entry analyzing one that I thought was done particularly well.

Livia Blackburne said...

Ack, sorry, link was broken. It should be here .

Ebony McKenna. said...

Thank you for yet another concise post.

I like reading a book where the story starts at the front too. Most prologues I've read could have just as easily been sprinkled through the story, or left out entirely.

"I try to leave out the parts that people skip" - Elmore Leonard.

Anonymous said...

I've never read a prologue in my entire life and never plan to.

ABH said...

I'm the one who a couple of weeks ago suggested to a first page author that he put his back story into a prologue. I can't say this device has ever bothered me. Maybe I just haven't seen it done badly enough? Clearly some editors think it's OK, or I'd never see it, right?

I especially don't understand how a chapter could be bad when called a prologue, but good if it were called Chapter 1. Seriously. I'm not just being difficult.

Anonymous said...

The time for a prologue is when the action occuirs centuries before the main story. Like

1678, Madrid

Chapter 1
Present Day Los Angeles

Vacuum Queen said...

I HATE sitting down to a good book, opening it, and finding a prologue staring at me.

It's not like it will take me hours to read it, but I just want to dig into chapter one. So, I usually skip the prologue, but then I have a continual nagging that I'm missing out on some important info from it. Then I'm just perturbed during my reading.

Just start with chapter 1.

none said...

I don't much like prologues, but I suspect the principal reason is that I always hear 'prologue' in a Frankie Howerd voice ("the pro-logue").

But if I start with a prologue and get to know some characters and a setting and then it's ch1 and I have to start again with new characters and a new setting...not happy sqrl.

Sarahlynn said...

Eh, there are lots of different types of prologues. There are the backstory dumps. There are the snippets of action that take place way before (or after) the timeline of the main piece of the story. There are thrillers where the prologue is in the serial killer's voice.

When I start submitting my current WIP this fall, I don't intend to include my prologue - which isn't called such, but is an unnamed section in a different font before Chapter 1. Similar sections occur between chapters and the formatting might be quite different before (if) the book ever makes it to print.

My story takes place partially in an online gaming environment, and the in-game sequences are connected to - and build the tension in - the main story arc. But the book makes sense without them, too, and if I only have 50 pages to intrigue an agent, I'm leaning toward focusing on the main character starting with Chapter 1.

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