Wednesday, September 14, 2011

On Prologues

You know, I don't think that prologues are all that bad.

There are a lot of prologue-hating authors out there, and they make a lot of very good points about the deficiencies of including a prologue in a story. It's often an unreasonable delay to the story, many prologues don't tend to add anything to the plot, character development or mystery of a story, and there are many prologues which signal instantly to the reader that they should turn their brains off and coast for as long as the prologue lasts, if only to be able to enjoy the story that follows. A lot of this comes from prologues that tend to exist only to "tell the reader what they need to know" or explain some obscure part of the backstory that doesn't show up again until much later on in the book. These prologues can break a story before its even begun.

Yet I've noticed lately that a lot of these arguments only really target poorly-done prologues rather than the concept of a prologue in general. There are a lot of well done prologues, including those written by Brandon Sanderson and other fantasy writers, that add a lot to the flavor of the story. I'd say that as long as a prologue helps the reader get a feel for the world and the main characters, it can actually do a lot of good. One example of that is the prologue to Mistborn or Elantris. They not only provide some small setting details and character traits, but also set the tone and flavor of the tale that follows, allowing the reader to immerse themselves in the story.

Another example comes from my own work. There is a certain series of stories about a certain steampunk investigator who gives a short prologue before each of his books. While some setting details are revealed, the main function is to allow the reader to get a feel for Mr. Kingsley and his view of life. I'd say that without that short 600 word prologue, the rest of the story would not go nearly as well. In fact, it would pretty much break the book.

My evidence for that comes from the sequel. When I started the newest iteration of the series, I had to labor over the prologue a while before I got it right. The first version was so bad it had to be thrown out completely. It set the tone entirely wrong, and I actually couldn't convince myself to continue writing because the story just felt wrong. But the second...

Let's just say that it tastes like victory. Mwahahaha!

So let's all be nice to prologues, alright? They do have some good points, and you never know. Someday, you might end up writing one yourself... and even worse, you might like it.

In any case, I hope that your lives are going well, and I'll see you around!

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