Sunday, October 31, 2010

Prologue in queries?

Query Shark deals with a submitter who sends five pages, all prologue. She says that none of the characters mentioned in the query show up in the prologue, so it seems like another book. And she says, "That's one of the (many) problems with prologues. When you query with pages, start with chapter one, page one. Leave OUT the prologue."

What do you all think? I mean, of course, if you query her, follow her rules. But is this a good general rule? Her point is that a prologue usually only makes sense when you read the rest of the book, and so isn't necessarily a good "opening" if you're only supposed to send 5 pages or 10 pages. I tend to agree, but what do you all think would work?

Those of you who write prologues, how do you handle this?

Also, how do you handle it in the synopsis? Do you have the events of the prologue listed as the prologue in the synopsis? Or??

And if you write prologues, do you ever feel totally besieged by negativity from others? Everyone keeps saying, "Prologues=no!"



Yvonne Osborne said...

I have a prologue but the two main characters are front and center, in the heat of the moment, so I don't see the problem. But I always give an agent exactly what they want. Who needs any additional obstacles?

Peter said...

I love prologues and epilogues but have been told repeatedly with the prologues to try to work whatever information you're trying to impart in the prologue into the body of the book (either through scenes/dialogue or the occasional short flashback). With the first draft I just finished there were three very short scenes that I had as a prologue which deal with events fifteen years prior to the story. They were action packed and everything but I wrote them as prologue and then inserted them into the book itself as flashbacks just to avoid people saying 'don't use prologues.'

Personally, I'd rather use a prologue :)

Edittorrent said...

Peter, I hate flashbacks far worse than I hate prologues, so I'm with you-- prologues rule!

Yvonne, is a prologue conventional with your genre? For example, it seems like prologues are pretty accepted with suspense and horror novels. I wonder if that helps the acceptability, but also in those cases you can count on the reader understanding what the prologue is doing, right?

Ian said...

I have written one book with a prologue, and the only reason for that was that the rest of the book is in one character's POV but the prologue, which introduces the primary antagonist, must necessarily be in another character's POV. The prologue narrator becomes a secondary character in the rest of the book, so it's not like the prologue is unrelated to the story. But because the rest of the book is from a separate character's POV, I couldn't see making the prologue chapter 1 instead. At least I have plenty happening in that prologue!

Jenny Maloney said...

Isn't it important to read the book where the reader would actually start? The query does it's job by telling what the overall arc, when querying a novel, isn't it a given that after the prologue there will be another 200-300 pages? The prologue shouldn't read like a foreign piece if it's done well--and it's implications should be pretty obvious within the context that the query letter provided.

But, as we all know, it's best to follow whatever the agent's rules and to write great stuff regardless of what is handed in!

Julie Harrington said...

The "No Prologue!" movement continues to grow. You see this piece of advice from tons of editors these days. It's odd because this is, imo, how "The Rules" get started that authors cling to so religiously and follow, often (later), leaving editors scratching their heads wondering where The Rules came from. LOL.

It seems the main Prologue issue stems from the incorrect use of them more than anything, which creates a boring beginning, which then sinks the whole point of your opening and opening hook.

I don't mind Prologues, but I think they should be short and show something important that then frames the point of the current story.

You don't see them a lot in Romance, but I'm reading a book where there is one (Lori Wilde's "The First Love Cookie Club"), where the heroine is a young teen and her soul mate gets married to another woman. Sets the ground work for the entire novel and is definitely a defining moment for the heroine. It also has everything to do with the rest of the book. No Epilogue.

But if you're using them right and they add to the landscape of the overall book... then leave it in. When submitting, I think I'd leave the prologue info out. It should tie into the main REAL story anyway so it can be summed up a line or two (most likely connected to the character's conflict, be that internal or external). When submitting pages, I'd do the Prologue AND the first chapter unless directed to send the first 3. Then I'd send Prologue plus 1 -3.

It's not like the editor or agent won't say "I like your book but leave this out."


Edittorrent said...

It's just that we see so many awful prologues. Really, really awful prologues. Makes you want to scream at the heavens, "Spare me from reading any more prologues!"

But that said, Lila Dubois has a prologue in Kitsune -- this makes the second time this week I've used this book as an example -- that worked beautifully. And we published it with the prologue, but we didn't label it as such.

So it's possible, but not typical.


Gayle Carline said...

I'm not a big fan of prologues, but I have one in my debut novel (Freezer Burn). I wanted it to be the first chapter, but it was only a page long, so my (in-house) editor made it a prologue. She made me get rid of all my one-page chapters. I thought they were cool, hit-and-run scenes, but what do I know.

Maree Anderson said...

I love prologues! Maybe because I teethed on high fantasy stories that usually had pages and pages of prologue... Who knows. But that's probably why I inevitably write a prologue in my stories -- even novellas *winces and ducks*.

I wrote a prologue in one of my novellas because it featured a secondary character from a previous novella, who I felt set up the whole premise for the story. (Or to be brutally honest, maybe I just loved that character so much I didn't want to let him go!) The result? I had one reviewer essentially advise readers to, "Skip the prologue and get to the good stuff" while another said she really loved the prologue and couldn't stop reading.

So as a reader, I like them if they're well written.

As a writer, I'm willing to be convinced either way.

As a writer querying manuscripts and reading on the agents or editor's blog that they don't like prologues, my prologue becomes Chapter 1. Or, if it's short enough, perhaps even the preliminary scene(s), delineated by those useful little ***

Er, I guess that doesn't really help much, huh? Sorry....

Sari Webb said...

Hmm.. the prolgue question. Personally I love them, if they're done well.

As a reader, I start from page one, regardless of if it's a prologue or not, and if I get bored I put the book down and probably don't pick it up again.

As a writer I do have a prologue in my current WIP, and I can't imagine my WIP without it. The prologue is around 400 words, centres on the MC and is crucial to the whole story. The reason I've made it a prologue is because of it's length and because it takes place eighteen years before the rest of the story.

So yes, as a reader and writer, I do like a good prologue, but a bad one will stop me reading any day.

Nan said...

I hate all the damn rules/opinions/edicts about writing! If a story needs a prologue, write it...if you want to start with action, do that. And if you know your readers will read the last page of the last chapter and say, "What happened next?", then give them a few pages of epilogue. What's wrong with that? Write with your voice, tell your story in an interesting and understandable way...won't that do it?

Oh, I will add that I do like grammar and spelling rules...those are important! ;)

Miss Sharp said...

I'm a prologue skipper. I skip everything, the author notes, editor introductions, prefaces, all of that.

I just want the STORY and that (imo) begins with Chapter 1, Page 1. I enjoy the challenge of piecing together whatever information I might have skipped.

Needless to say I never write them, either! I deliberately structure the story so that it won't need one.

Amy said...

I would not dream of leaving out my WIP's prologue. It's all of 350 words long, it introduces the protagonist (just several years before the novel's actual events), and it contains the novel's main hook. Without it, the opening simply wouldn't work. And I know it's a good opening because it's been winning contests and getting full manuscript requests from editors.

Edittorrent said...

Miss Sharp, yes, that's something we tend to forget as we're writing, that this is all about the reader! And you're right to focus on that-- the reader wants the story, and maybe wants to piece things together.

Sometimes I do think that the prologue is just a fancy way of inserting backstory. :)

Kayelle Allen said...

I've had negative and positive comments on prologues with my books. Enough controversy exists regarding the issue that I've decided to avoid them if at all possible. In a series, that might be necessary.

What about fantasy series where authors include a map, or a family tree showing who's related to whom? Is that considered a no-no as well?

Edittorrent said...

Kayelle, I love maps and family trees and all that. Go figure. I think they're exotic enough to intrigue. But I'm not all readers. Love the maps though. I like the way they give hints about how the setting works with the story.