Prologue, Wherefore Art Thou?

[found on writermag.com; by Bharti Kirchner]

“• How do you make a transition from the prologue to the opening chapter? A prologue raises questions and is often imbued with conflict, none of which will be immediately resolved. “I think that bridging is the most challenging aspect of writing a prologue,” Barnes says. “How did you adjust the tension once you’re building the story scene by scene? It’s not very often that readers can tolerate the intensity of presentation and emotion found in some prologues for the next 300 pages. The transition is the most difficult, and I often polish and tweak the few pages of a prologue more than I do any other set of pages in the book.”

• Should you use a prologue or not? “The most common mistake I see when writers try to use prologues is that they’re simply writing Chapter 1 and calling it a prologue,” Shortridge says. “If the text actually begins the story in place and time, if it is followed by the same story it begins, then it’s not a prologue and shouldn’t be treated as such.

“I think some early writers feel that prologues have a certain cachet, a sense of sophistication, when in fact they are simply a tool we get to use to introduce disparate elements into the beginning of a story. Not all stories should have prologues, and in fact, probably very few of them are served well by them.”

• Alternatives to prologues. Although a prologue has benefits, some readers skip them, deeming them optional, and plunge straightaway into the first chapter. Some industry professionals, too, frown upon prologues.

“Basically editors and most agents hate prologues,” says agent Andrea Brown, president of Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Inc. “They are sorely overused and seem like a cheap device. Much better for authors to be creative—come up with ways around them and start the novel with a great first chapter.”

What are your options then? Well, you can incorporate a past incident that was highlighted in the prologue into the main story line. You can dole out the data presented in the prologue a little at a time throughout the book without overburdening any single passage. “A skilled historical novelist won’t need to lay out a solid chunk of history [in a prologue] because the necessary historical details will be woven seamlessly through the story,” Donsbach says. This suggestion can work with any genre.

In the final analysis, use a prologue if it can enhance your narrative. When in doubt, leave it out.”

To read the complete article on prologues, or to read more excellent articles from writermag.com, click here.

[found on http://www.writermag.com/2012/05/07/the-pleasures-and-perils-of-prologues]
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