In Praise of Prologues

MjpcatsilhouetteBy Mary Jo

I planned on  blogging about how books keep expanding until they take over your house, but Loretta did such a fine job on clutter in general that I decided to put that idea back on the shelf for now.

Instead, I want to talk about prologues.  I’m on a little writer looplet that includes a couple of mystery writers, and one said that there are mystery readers who despise prologues and wouldn’t read them.  This came as a surprise to me.  People don’t want to read part of the story?  Would they read it if it said “Chapter 1” instead of “Prologue?” 

I know there are people who don’t like first person narratives (though I’m not one of them), but I can understand that since point of view is the angle which takes us into a story, and first and third are quite different.  But fancy taking a hatred to an innocent little prologue that never hurt anyone…!

I suspect that prologues might have a somewhat different function in romance than mystery, since in romance the purpose will often be to reveal character, while in mystery it may be more about plot.  (That’s just a half-cocked theory, not anything I’ve thought deeply about!) 
Uncommonvows
As anyone who has read my books probably knows, I adore prologues.  My one medieval, UNCOMMON  VOWS, had three.  <g>  This affection for prologues is not absentminded, but carefully thought out, even though I don’t usually do a lot of rational analysis when it comes to writing. 

To me, a carefully chosen prologue is a perfect way to give powerful insights into a character in minimal space.  Showing a key moment in a person’s life can illuminate their behavior for the whole rest of the book.  A prologue doesn’t have to be long—it’s probably better short.  But it can save a ton of flashbacks and carefully inserted back story later.  And it can reveals things that add to the narrative tension of the story.

Dearlybeloved_1 Furthermore, since a prologue takes place in real time, it’s far more vivid and less distracting than a flashback later in the book.  When I wrote my first historical, DEARLY BELOVED, back when mastodons roamed the earth, I started with a vivid, jarring prologue that showed the hero being forced into a marriage with shocking consequences.  My agent took the book to market, and an editor at a major house was interested in buying, but she and her boss thought the prologue was too jarring, so she asked for a revision.  It was an easy matter to turn the prologue into a flashback.  It worked, the editor made an offer—but I ended up selling the book, in its original form, to NAL, and part of my reason was because I just plain liked starting where I started.

I’ve been doing prologues merrily ever since.  In my most recent book, THE MARRIAGE SPELL, the Marriagespell_1prologue shows how the hero, Jack Langdon, is sent to a ghastly school that is designed to beat an unsuitable interest in magic out of well-born little boys.  Just a few pages show how this particular society feels about magic and those who practice it.  The prologue also shows how this particular boy feels about magic, and how he and several other boys band together in self-defense, creating bonds that will last a lifetime.   The scene is set for this alternative Regency world quite efficiently.  (Well, at least I thought so. <g>)

Thunderroses In my first Fallen Angel book, THUNDER AND ROSES, the prologue shows the hero, Nicholas, being brought to his aristocratic grandfather by his gypsy mother.  It shows how Nicholas has been shaped by his upbringing and will always be a little different from his peers, and how horrified the grandfather is to learn that his only legitimate heir is half-gypsy.  That affects how the reader will view Nicholas and his story for the rest of the book, and sets up one of the principal conflicts. 

Even I woBurning_pointuldn’t claim that all books require prologues, of course.  Sometimes it just isn’t necessary, or there might not be a vivid, key moment that deserves to be shown.  Two of my three contemporaries don’t have prologues, but the first, THE BURNING POINT, does.  I wanted to show how a little girl is wild to join the family business of controlled demolition, because seeing that explains a whole lot about
the woman she becomes and the choices she makes.      

Often, my prologue shows one of the protagonists as a child to give an idea of what shaped them, but as I went to look at my booklist, I realized that on several books, the prologue was in present time, and a good part of the book tells what happened to lead up to the mChinabrideoment shownBarteredbride in the prologue.  In THE CHINA BRIDE, we see the Chinese-Scottish heroine arriving at an English estate to reveal that the man who was briefly her husband is dead.  The final book in the Bride Trilogy, THE BARTERED BRIDE, had a similar set-up.  (Are the hero or heroine really dead?  “Trust me!” the author cackled evilly.) 

There are many ways to write a story.  Some are better than others, but one can’t say that there is only one Right Way to do it.  I use prologues when I feel they make the story better.  (This is the rule of thumb for everything that happens in a book.)  It’s up to readers to decide what works or doesn’t. 

What do you aBbooktail_1s readers think?  Do you like prologues?  Hate them?  Never thought much one way or the other?  Or do you not care as long as the story grabs you?

Mary Jo, whose next book has a prologue.  *g*  And who is currently in Canada, not home. 

54 thoughts on “In Praise of Prologues”

  1. I like prologues because, as you say, they can give insight into the backstory and setting quickly. And if they’re set quite a while before the main story starts, it’s interesting to see what’s changed. I know some people hate them, though. On one of her blogs Jenny Crusie said ‘The book starts when the conflict starts when the protagonist and antagonist engage. PROLOGUES ARE BAD. There is no excuse for a prologue, EVER. Yeah, I know I wrote one once but it was just the wrong label; it should have been Chapter One. It’s not a prologue.’
    But I quite like a gentle leadup. Being dropped in at the moment when the conflict starts can feel a bit abrupt. The inclusion of a prologue doesn’t feel slow to me: nothing could feel slow compared to the pages and pages of description with which The Return of the Native begins. And that’s not got a prologue.
    I wonder if maybe part of the difference is in the style and settings of the books? Crusie’s are contemporaries and yours are historicals.

    Reply
  2. I like prologues because, as you say, they can give insight into the backstory and setting quickly. And if they’re set quite a while before the main story starts, it’s interesting to see what’s changed. I know some people hate them, though. On one of her blogs Jenny Crusie said ‘The book starts when the conflict starts when the protagonist and antagonist engage. PROLOGUES ARE BAD. There is no excuse for a prologue, EVER. Yeah, I know I wrote one once but it was just the wrong label; it should have been Chapter One. It’s not a prologue.’
    But I quite like a gentle leadup. Being dropped in at the moment when the conflict starts can feel a bit abrupt. The inclusion of a prologue doesn’t feel slow to me: nothing could feel slow compared to the pages and pages of description with which The Return of the Native begins. And that’s not got a prologue.
    I wonder if maybe part of the difference is in the style and settings of the books? Crusie’s are contemporaries and yours are historicals.

    Reply
  3. I like prologues because, as you say, they can give insight into the backstory and setting quickly. And if they’re set quite a while before the main story starts, it’s interesting to see what’s changed. I know some people hate them, though. On one of her blogs Jenny Crusie said ‘The book starts when the conflict starts when the protagonist and antagonist engage. PROLOGUES ARE BAD. There is no excuse for a prologue, EVER. Yeah, I know I wrote one once but it was just the wrong label; it should have been Chapter One. It’s not a prologue.’
    But I quite like a gentle leadup. Being dropped in at the moment when the conflict starts can feel a bit abrupt. The inclusion of a prologue doesn’t feel slow to me: nothing could feel slow compared to the pages and pages of description with which The Return of the Native begins. And that’s not got a prologue.
    I wonder if maybe part of the difference is in the style and settings of the books? Crusie’s are contemporaries and yours are historicals.

    Reply
  4. I see that Laura has already mentioned that prologues are against Crusie’s Rules: well, in this instance, Crusie is WRONG. Sorry, Crusie.
    Rather than a gentle lead-in, I tend to see the prologue as a scene-setter, the overture that plays as one gets settled down and waits for the curtain to rise and the action to begin, with all the anticipation and excitement that goes with that ‘opening’ feeling. The prologue enables the reader to enter the world of the story, to be introduced to one or more characters, and to be in harmony with it by the time that the action begins, informed, interested, and unwilling to leave until the tale has unfolded and run its course.
    By contrast, the currently fashionable plunge into a whirling maelstrom of frenetic action within the first paragraph, full of characters who are complete strangers, is a really major turn-off for me. If the first page is a blinding flurry of action, I am likely to be off making myself a cup of tea and reading the newspaper by the time the second page comes up.
    Of course, as with everything else, excellent writing will reconcile a reader to a device that she may not normally enjoy, but I feel that at the moment, most writers (and editors) are anti-prologue, just as they are anti-description and pro-dialogue, mindlessly rejecting certain traditional devices simply because they have been around a long time. Following arbitrary rules never works in a creative process. If the author feels the need to write a prologue, a prologue is required for that story – and her readers will respond positively.

    Reply
  5. I see that Laura has already mentioned that prologues are against Crusie’s Rules: well, in this instance, Crusie is WRONG. Sorry, Crusie.
    Rather than a gentle lead-in, I tend to see the prologue as a scene-setter, the overture that plays as one gets settled down and waits for the curtain to rise and the action to begin, with all the anticipation and excitement that goes with that ‘opening’ feeling. The prologue enables the reader to enter the world of the story, to be introduced to one or more characters, and to be in harmony with it by the time that the action begins, informed, interested, and unwilling to leave until the tale has unfolded and run its course.
    By contrast, the currently fashionable plunge into a whirling maelstrom of frenetic action within the first paragraph, full of characters who are complete strangers, is a really major turn-off for me. If the first page is a blinding flurry of action, I am likely to be off making myself a cup of tea and reading the newspaper by the time the second page comes up.
    Of course, as with everything else, excellent writing will reconcile a reader to a device that she may not normally enjoy, but I feel that at the moment, most writers (and editors) are anti-prologue, just as they are anti-description and pro-dialogue, mindlessly rejecting certain traditional devices simply because they have been around a long time. Following arbitrary rules never works in a creative process. If the author feels the need to write a prologue, a prologue is required for that story – and her readers will respond positively.

    Reply
  6. I see that Laura has already mentioned that prologues are against Crusie’s Rules: well, in this instance, Crusie is WRONG. Sorry, Crusie.
    Rather than a gentle lead-in, I tend to see the prologue as a scene-setter, the overture that plays as one gets settled down and waits for the curtain to rise and the action to begin, with all the anticipation and excitement that goes with that ‘opening’ feeling. The prologue enables the reader to enter the world of the story, to be introduced to one or more characters, and to be in harmony with it by the time that the action begins, informed, interested, and unwilling to leave until the tale has unfolded and run its course.
    By contrast, the currently fashionable plunge into a whirling maelstrom of frenetic action within the first paragraph, full of characters who are complete strangers, is a really major turn-off for me. If the first page is a blinding flurry of action, I am likely to be off making myself a cup of tea and reading the newspaper by the time the second page comes up.
    Of course, as with everything else, excellent writing will reconcile a reader to a device that she may not normally enjoy, but I feel that at the moment, most writers (and editors) are anti-prologue, just as they are anti-description and pro-dialogue, mindlessly rejecting certain traditional devices simply because they have been around a long time. Following arbitrary rules never works in a creative process. If the author feels the need to write a prologue, a prologue is required for that story – and her readers will respond positively.

    Reply
  7. Forgot to pick up on Laura’s point about historicals and contemporaries. I don’t think it makes any difference. Some stories NEED a prologue, and others don’t; it doesn’t depend on the genre, in my opinion. I could give examples of prologue-less contemporaries that would have been infinitely better had they been provided with an introductory page or two, but I am sure that criticism of other authors’ books on this site would not be appropriate.
    I’ll give you a positive example, then. Jayne Ann Krentz often uses prologues in both her contemporaries and her historicals: take her ‘All Night Long’ (contemporary, 2005), with a prologue set 17 years before the (present-day) action. A gripping few pages in itself, it provides information that makes one eager to read on, and that also makes it unnecessary to use devices to convey background facts later on in the book.
    I LIKE prologues.

    Reply
  8. Forgot to pick up on Laura’s point about historicals and contemporaries. I don’t think it makes any difference. Some stories NEED a prologue, and others don’t; it doesn’t depend on the genre, in my opinion. I could give examples of prologue-less contemporaries that would have been infinitely better had they been provided with an introductory page or two, but I am sure that criticism of other authors’ books on this site would not be appropriate.
    I’ll give you a positive example, then. Jayne Ann Krentz often uses prologues in both her contemporaries and her historicals: take her ‘All Night Long’ (contemporary, 2005), with a prologue set 17 years before the (present-day) action. A gripping few pages in itself, it provides information that makes one eager to read on, and that also makes it unnecessary to use devices to convey background facts later on in the book.
    I LIKE prologues.

    Reply
  9. Forgot to pick up on Laura’s point about historicals and contemporaries. I don’t think it makes any difference. Some stories NEED a prologue, and others don’t; it doesn’t depend on the genre, in my opinion. I could give examples of prologue-less contemporaries that would have been infinitely better had they been provided with an introductory page or two, but I am sure that criticism of other authors’ books on this site would not be appropriate.
    I’ll give you a positive example, then. Jayne Ann Krentz often uses prologues in both her contemporaries and her historicals: take her ‘All Night Long’ (contemporary, 2005), with a prologue set 17 years before the (present-day) action. A gripping few pages in itself, it provides information that makes one eager to read on, and that also makes it unnecessary to use devices to convey background facts later on in the book.
    I LIKE prologues.

    Reply
  10. “Forgot to pick up on Laura’s point about historicals and contemporaries. I don’t think it makes any difference.”
    It doesn’t have to, but I wonder if it does affect the reader’s expectations. For example, if a book is set in the Regency, maybe the reader likes Austen and is used to books which don’t ‘plunge into a whirling maelstrom of frenetic action within the first paragraph, full of characters who are complete strangers’. Austen didn’t use prologues (did she? I think not, but I could be having a blank-mind-moment) but books did tend to have a slightly slower pace in the past (again, I’m saying this but I could well be wrong and someone will turn up with a good counter-example).
    I’m just thinking that contemporaries more often have a suspense/adventure element which is foregrounded and which might make the plunging style of beginning seem more appropriate to an author. Whereas in a historical, the history plays an important part, so perhaps establishing setting and getting the reader in the mood for the period is sometimes done through a prologue. Like you say, it’s like the overture to an opera (which is not the most modern of musical forms, even though there are modern operas).
    Hope that makes a bit more sense. I wasn’t very clear last time, and I’m not sure I’ve been very clear this time either 😉

    Reply
  11. “Forgot to pick up on Laura’s point about historicals and contemporaries. I don’t think it makes any difference.”
    It doesn’t have to, but I wonder if it does affect the reader’s expectations. For example, if a book is set in the Regency, maybe the reader likes Austen and is used to books which don’t ‘plunge into a whirling maelstrom of frenetic action within the first paragraph, full of characters who are complete strangers’. Austen didn’t use prologues (did she? I think not, but I could be having a blank-mind-moment) but books did tend to have a slightly slower pace in the past (again, I’m saying this but I could well be wrong and someone will turn up with a good counter-example).
    I’m just thinking that contemporaries more often have a suspense/adventure element which is foregrounded and which might make the plunging style of beginning seem more appropriate to an author. Whereas in a historical, the history plays an important part, so perhaps establishing setting and getting the reader in the mood for the period is sometimes done through a prologue. Like you say, it’s like the overture to an opera (which is not the most modern of musical forms, even though there are modern operas).
    Hope that makes a bit more sense. I wasn’t very clear last time, and I’m not sure I’ve been very clear this time either 😉

    Reply
  12. “Forgot to pick up on Laura’s point about historicals and contemporaries. I don’t think it makes any difference.”
    It doesn’t have to, but I wonder if it does affect the reader’s expectations. For example, if a book is set in the Regency, maybe the reader likes Austen and is used to books which don’t ‘plunge into a whirling maelstrom of frenetic action within the first paragraph, full of characters who are complete strangers’. Austen didn’t use prologues (did she? I think not, but I could be having a blank-mind-moment) but books did tend to have a slightly slower pace in the past (again, I’m saying this but I could well be wrong and someone will turn up with a good counter-example).
    I’m just thinking that contemporaries more often have a suspense/adventure element which is foregrounded and which might make the plunging style of beginning seem more appropriate to an author. Whereas in a historical, the history plays an important part, so perhaps establishing setting and getting the reader in the mood for the period is sometimes done through a prologue. Like you say, it’s like the overture to an opera (which is not the most modern of musical forms, even though there are modern operas).
    Hope that makes a bit more sense. I wasn’t very clear last time, and I’m not sure I’ve been very clear this time either 😉

    Reply
  13. I thought your points were very clear and well expressed. I agree about the greater popularity these days of stories that are full of action rather than contemplative thought, but I still don’t think that the prologue question is affected.
    Although a prologue provides background knowledge and sets the scene for the story, there are dozens of different KINDS of prologue. A prologue (as in the JAK example I gave) may be highly dramatic in itself. It may be set in the present, and Chapter 1 may revert to an earlier time (within the story’s chronology), or it may be set in the past, and Chapter 1 takes us to the present.
    I do think that one significant influence on contemporary novels is TV drama, and the ‘show, don’t tell’ imperative (which I despise and reject), together with the dive-into-the-deep-end beginning are both derived from the current style on TV. This is all very well in performed drama, but books and plays, of any kind, are different media. A performance by actors must play to the viewer’s eyes and ears, so action and dialogue are paramount. A book plays directly into the reader’s MIND. It creates a link between the brain and imagination of the author and that of her reader. It is about a million times more subtle, more flexible, more multi-layered and complex.
    I am not denigrating performed drama, any more than I (who am passionate about the visual arts and who thinks almost entirely in pictures), would denigrate a painting for not being conceived in words. Visual communication has its own rules, and is completely independent of language.
    What annoys me is the belief (whether it is subconscious or actually presented as a theory) that, because a particular style works well in one medium, or even in one genre of the same medium, it will necessarily be ideal in another.
    Some novels get perilously close these days to being scripts or screenplays: dialogue and action, with virtually no description. Again, I can think of examples. If an author feels that that approach suits the story she wants to tell, she is probably right, but to push that approach as ‘better’ than a novel in the 3rd-person omniscient point of view, with passages of visual description and/or authorial musings, seems to me shallow and silly.
    Incidentally, cutting down on description and upping the proportion of dialogue inevitably increases the ‘readability’ score of a text – it is easier, quicker reading, because it has fewer ‘big words’ and shorter, simpler sentences. I do wonder if that is another reason why editors and writing instructors push it so hard.
    A good writer will know how her story needs to be presented, and an intelligent reader will be in harmony with her thinking. Arbitrary rules and passing fads have no place in written fiction.
    😉

    Reply
  14. I thought your points were very clear and well expressed. I agree about the greater popularity these days of stories that are full of action rather than contemplative thought, but I still don’t think that the prologue question is affected.
    Although a prologue provides background knowledge and sets the scene for the story, there are dozens of different KINDS of prologue. A prologue (as in the JAK example I gave) may be highly dramatic in itself. It may be set in the present, and Chapter 1 may revert to an earlier time (within the story’s chronology), or it may be set in the past, and Chapter 1 takes us to the present.
    I do think that one significant influence on contemporary novels is TV drama, and the ‘show, don’t tell’ imperative (which I despise and reject), together with the dive-into-the-deep-end beginning are both derived from the current style on TV. This is all very well in performed drama, but books and plays, of any kind, are different media. A performance by actors must play to the viewer’s eyes and ears, so action and dialogue are paramount. A book plays directly into the reader’s MIND. It creates a link between the brain and imagination of the author and that of her reader. It is about a million times more subtle, more flexible, more multi-layered and complex.
    I am not denigrating performed drama, any more than I (who am passionate about the visual arts and who thinks almost entirely in pictures), would denigrate a painting for not being conceived in words. Visual communication has its own rules, and is completely independent of language.
    What annoys me is the belief (whether it is subconscious or actually presented as a theory) that, because a particular style works well in one medium, or even in one genre of the same medium, it will necessarily be ideal in another.
    Some novels get perilously close these days to being scripts or screenplays: dialogue and action, with virtually no description. Again, I can think of examples. If an author feels that that approach suits the story she wants to tell, she is probably right, but to push that approach as ‘better’ than a novel in the 3rd-person omniscient point of view, with passages of visual description and/or authorial musings, seems to me shallow and silly.
    Incidentally, cutting down on description and upping the proportion of dialogue inevitably increases the ‘readability’ score of a text – it is easier, quicker reading, because it has fewer ‘big words’ and shorter, simpler sentences. I do wonder if that is another reason why editors and writing instructors push it so hard.
    A good writer will know how her story needs to be presented, and an intelligent reader will be in harmony with her thinking. Arbitrary rules and passing fads have no place in written fiction.
    😉

    Reply
  15. I thought your points were very clear and well expressed. I agree about the greater popularity these days of stories that are full of action rather than contemplative thought, but I still don’t think that the prologue question is affected.
    Although a prologue provides background knowledge and sets the scene for the story, there are dozens of different KINDS of prologue. A prologue (as in the JAK example I gave) may be highly dramatic in itself. It may be set in the present, and Chapter 1 may revert to an earlier time (within the story’s chronology), or it may be set in the past, and Chapter 1 takes us to the present.
    I do think that one significant influence on contemporary novels is TV drama, and the ‘show, don’t tell’ imperative (which I despise and reject), together with the dive-into-the-deep-end beginning are both derived from the current style on TV. This is all very well in performed drama, but books and plays, of any kind, are different media. A performance by actors must play to the viewer’s eyes and ears, so action and dialogue are paramount. A book plays directly into the reader’s MIND. It creates a link between the brain and imagination of the author and that of her reader. It is about a million times more subtle, more flexible, more multi-layered and complex.
    I am not denigrating performed drama, any more than I (who am passionate about the visual arts and who thinks almost entirely in pictures), would denigrate a painting for not being conceived in words. Visual communication has its own rules, and is completely independent of language.
    What annoys me is the belief (whether it is subconscious or actually presented as a theory) that, because a particular style works well in one medium, or even in one genre of the same medium, it will necessarily be ideal in another.
    Some novels get perilously close these days to being scripts or screenplays: dialogue and action, with virtually no description. Again, I can think of examples. If an author feels that that approach suits the story she wants to tell, she is probably right, but to push that approach as ‘better’ than a novel in the 3rd-person omniscient point of view, with passages of visual description and/or authorial musings, seems to me shallow and silly.
    Incidentally, cutting down on description and upping the proportion of dialogue inevitably increases the ‘readability’ score of a text – it is easier, quicker reading, because it has fewer ‘big words’ and shorter, simpler sentences. I do wonder if that is another reason why editors and writing instructors push it so hard.
    A good writer will know how her story needs to be presented, and an intelligent reader will be in harmony with her thinking. Arbitrary rules and passing fads have no place in written fiction.
    😉

    Reply
  16. “I do think that one significant influence on contemporary novels is TV drama, and the ‘show, don’t tell’ imperative (which I despise and reject), together with the dive-into-the-deep-end beginning are both derived from the current style on TV.”
    That’s really interesting. I’d never thought of it that way, but it makes sense that TV might be having an influence on fiction. In fact, Crusie’s got an article comparing TV and fiction writing: “Television, or rather film, is the new language of narrative. If you’re under thirty, you probably learned the way story works not from books but from videos.” http://www.jennycrusie.com/essays/writingromancefromtv.php
    I quite like an omniscient narrator, and authorial asides. The authorial comments are one of the things I like so much about Austen.

    Reply
  17. “I do think that one significant influence on contemporary novels is TV drama, and the ‘show, don’t tell’ imperative (which I despise and reject), together with the dive-into-the-deep-end beginning are both derived from the current style on TV.”
    That’s really interesting. I’d never thought of it that way, but it makes sense that TV might be having an influence on fiction. In fact, Crusie’s got an article comparing TV and fiction writing: “Television, or rather film, is the new language of narrative. If you’re under thirty, you probably learned the way story works not from books but from videos.” http://www.jennycrusie.com/essays/writingromancefromtv.php
    I quite like an omniscient narrator, and authorial asides. The authorial comments are one of the things I like so much about Austen.

    Reply
  18. “I do think that one significant influence on contemporary novels is TV drama, and the ‘show, don’t tell’ imperative (which I despise and reject), together with the dive-into-the-deep-end beginning are both derived from the current style on TV.”
    That’s really interesting. I’d never thought of it that way, but it makes sense that TV might be having an influence on fiction. In fact, Crusie’s got an article comparing TV and fiction writing: “Television, or rather film, is the new language of narrative. If you’re under thirty, you probably learned the way story works not from books but from videos.” http://www.jennycrusie.com/essays/writingromancefromtv.php
    I quite like an omniscient narrator, and authorial asides. The authorial comments are one of the things I like so much about Austen.

    Reply
  19. I think Crusie’s *observations* are correct, but she draws a totally false conclusion from them. Her observation that many people now experience story-telling chiefly through TV and films is a plain fact. The conclusion that written fiction should therefore follow some of the TV/film principles, on the other hand, is utter twaddle. Good grief, do we want to retain some variety in life, or do we want everything to become completely homogenised?
    It doesn’t matter how much we are programmed to respond to the wham-bam techniques of 30- or 60-minute TV shows or even 2-hour films, to suggest that that is the right approach to writing a BOOK is completely bonkers.
    Like you, I LIKE an omniscient narrator, authorial asides, ‘infodump’ and so forth. We are definitely not the only ones. It doesn’t even mean that people like us won’t enjoy being told stories by means of films and plays. This would be like saying that, if you enjoy a poetic verbal description of a sublime landscape, you won’t like a painting of it, or vice versa. Each medium has its own standards, its own strengths and weaknesses.
    Although there is considerable cross-fertilisation between creative media in every generation, they remain distinct. The rise of photography did not, as so many people feared, sound the death-knell of painting, because they do different things. Acted drama will always be profoundly different from a novel, because it is evanescent and it is pre-digested and pre-interpreted: the observer sees a written screenplay that has been interpreted by the director, the producer, the set designer, the cameramen, the lights and effects people and by the ACTORS: there are dozens of layers between the original writer and the final consumer.
    In a book, it is you, the reader, who is right there on your own with the author and the characters she has created. Each reader has a different relationship with the book, and different interpretations of all its nuances. The book may ‘mean’ different things to you each time you read it. If ten thousand people see a film or a play, they have all had much the same experience: if ten thousand read a book, there are 10,000 different experiences. Reading a book is an active, creative experience in a way that watching a performance is not. It is a *different medium*. Aaargh!
    Again, I am not running down drama, but it is so very different that direct comparisons are truly invidious, and Crusie should jolly well know better. And this, by the way, is why it is so easy to make an excellent film from a bad novel, or a terrible film from a brilliant book.

    Reply
  20. I think Crusie’s *observations* are correct, but she draws a totally false conclusion from them. Her observation that many people now experience story-telling chiefly through TV and films is a plain fact. The conclusion that written fiction should therefore follow some of the TV/film principles, on the other hand, is utter twaddle. Good grief, do we want to retain some variety in life, or do we want everything to become completely homogenised?
    It doesn’t matter how much we are programmed to respond to the wham-bam techniques of 30- or 60-minute TV shows or even 2-hour films, to suggest that that is the right approach to writing a BOOK is completely bonkers.
    Like you, I LIKE an omniscient narrator, authorial asides, ‘infodump’ and so forth. We are definitely not the only ones. It doesn’t even mean that people like us won’t enjoy being told stories by means of films and plays. This would be like saying that, if you enjoy a poetic verbal description of a sublime landscape, you won’t like a painting of it, or vice versa. Each medium has its own standards, its own strengths and weaknesses.
    Although there is considerable cross-fertilisation between creative media in every generation, they remain distinct. The rise of photography did not, as so many people feared, sound the death-knell of painting, because they do different things. Acted drama will always be profoundly different from a novel, because it is evanescent and it is pre-digested and pre-interpreted: the observer sees a written screenplay that has been interpreted by the director, the producer, the set designer, the cameramen, the lights and effects people and by the ACTORS: there are dozens of layers between the original writer and the final consumer.
    In a book, it is you, the reader, who is right there on your own with the author and the characters she has created. Each reader has a different relationship with the book, and different interpretations of all its nuances. The book may ‘mean’ different things to you each time you read it. If ten thousand people see a film or a play, they have all had much the same experience: if ten thousand read a book, there are 10,000 different experiences. Reading a book is an active, creative experience in a way that watching a performance is not. It is a *different medium*. Aaargh!
    Again, I am not running down drama, but it is so very different that direct comparisons are truly invidious, and Crusie should jolly well know better. And this, by the way, is why it is so easy to make an excellent film from a bad novel, or a terrible film from a brilliant book.

    Reply
  21. I think Crusie’s *observations* are correct, but she draws a totally false conclusion from them. Her observation that many people now experience story-telling chiefly through TV and films is a plain fact. The conclusion that written fiction should therefore follow some of the TV/film principles, on the other hand, is utter twaddle. Good grief, do we want to retain some variety in life, or do we want everything to become completely homogenised?
    It doesn’t matter how much we are programmed to respond to the wham-bam techniques of 30- or 60-minute TV shows or even 2-hour films, to suggest that that is the right approach to writing a BOOK is completely bonkers.
    Like you, I LIKE an omniscient narrator, authorial asides, ‘infodump’ and so forth. We are definitely not the only ones. It doesn’t even mean that people like us won’t enjoy being told stories by means of films and plays. This would be like saying that, if you enjoy a poetic verbal description of a sublime landscape, you won’t like a painting of it, or vice versa. Each medium has its own standards, its own strengths and weaknesses.
    Although there is considerable cross-fertilisation between creative media in every generation, they remain distinct. The rise of photography did not, as so many people feared, sound the death-knell of painting, because they do different things. Acted drama will always be profoundly different from a novel, because it is evanescent and it is pre-digested and pre-interpreted: the observer sees a written screenplay that has been interpreted by the director, the producer, the set designer, the cameramen, the lights and effects people and by the ACTORS: there are dozens of layers between the original writer and the final consumer.
    In a book, it is you, the reader, who is right there on your own with the author and the characters she has created. Each reader has a different relationship with the book, and different interpretations of all its nuances. The book may ‘mean’ different things to you each time you read it. If ten thousand people see a film or a play, they have all had much the same experience: if ten thousand read a book, there are 10,000 different experiences. Reading a book is an active, creative experience in a way that watching a performance is not. It is a *different medium*. Aaargh!
    Again, I am not running down drama, but it is so very different that direct comparisons are truly invidious, and Crusie should jolly well know better. And this, by the way, is why it is so easy to make an excellent film from a bad novel, or a terrible film from a brilliant book.

    Reply
  22. And another thing (sorry everyone, but we in Europe are in another time-zone, so we can slip in before you Americans are busy!).
    The other thing is that the ‘newer’ storytelling techniques of film and TV are, of course, much closer to the ancient techniques used in pre-literate or partially-literate societies.
    Now, why did people ever start writing down all these tales when literacy became more and more widespread? Could it just be because in written form, the stories could do extra things that they could not achieve when simply declaimed or performed, could acquire additional layers and levels of significance, impact and subtle nuance?

    Reply
  23. And another thing (sorry everyone, but we in Europe are in another time-zone, so we can slip in before you Americans are busy!).
    The other thing is that the ‘newer’ storytelling techniques of film and TV are, of course, much closer to the ancient techniques used in pre-literate or partially-literate societies.
    Now, why did people ever start writing down all these tales when literacy became more and more widespread? Could it just be because in written form, the stories could do extra things that they could not achieve when simply declaimed or performed, could acquire additional layers and levels of significance, impact and subtle nuance?

    Reply
  24. And another thing (sorry everyone, but we in Europe are in another time-zone, so we can slip in before you Americans are busy!).
    The other thing is that the ‘newer’ storytelling techniques of film and TV are, of course, much closer to the ancient techniques used in pre-literate or partially-literate societies.
    Now, why did people ever start writing down all these tales when literacy became more and more widespread? Could it just be because in written form, the stories could do extra things that they could not achieve when simply declaimed or performed, could acquire additional layers and levels of significance, impact and subtle nuance?

    Reply
  25. “And this, by the way, is why it is so easy to make an excellent film from a bad novel, or a terrible film from a brilliant book.”
    It also explains how an excellent film can be made into a horrible “novelization.”

    Reply
  26. “And this, by the way, is why it is so easy to make an excellent film from a bad novel, or a terrible film from a brilliant book.”
    It also explains how an excellent film can be made into a horrible “novelization.”

    Reply
  27. “And this, by the way, is why it is so easy to make an excellent film from a bad novel, or a terrible film from a brilliant book.”
    It also explains how an excellent film can be made into a horrible “novelization.”

    Reply
  28. “By contrast, the currently fashionable plunge into a whirling maelstrom of frenetic action within the first paragraph, full of characters who are complete strangers, is a really major turn-off for me.”
    Me too! I love the lazy openings of Heyer’s romances, and I like prologues when they serve a purpose, as in Loretta Chases’ LORD OF SCOUNDRELS (yes, I just read this, and LOVED IT). Yeah, she could have told us how awful his childhood was as he was stomping around acting like an ape, but I really think one of the reasons he could be such an a-hole and we still loved him was that we knew the scared little boy. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been as forgiving if I hadn’t “experienced” his childhood.

    Reply
  29. “By contrast, the currently fashionable plunge into a whirling maelstrom of frenetic action within the first paragraph, full of characters who are complete strangers, is a really major turn-off for me.”
    Me too! I love the lazy openings of Heyer’s romances, and I like prologues when they serve a purpose, as in Loretta Chases’ LORD OF SCOUNDRELS (yes, I just read this, and LOVED IT). Yeah, she could have told us how awful his childhood was as he was stomping around acting like an ape, but I really think one of the reasons he could be such an a-hole and we still loved him was that we knew the scared little boy. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been as forgiving if I hadn’t “experienced” his childhood.

    Reply
  30. “By contrast, the currently fashionable plunge into a whirling maelstrom of frenetic action within the first paragraph, full of characters who are complete strangers, is a really major turn-off for me.”
    Me too! I love the lazy openings of Heyer’s romances, and I like prologues when they serve a purpose, as in Loretta Chases’ LORD OF SCOUNDRELS (yes, I just read this, and LOVED IT). Yeah, she could have told us how awful his childhood was as he was stomping around acting like an ape, but I really think one of the reasons he could be such an a-hole and we still loved him was that we knew the scared little boy. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been as forgiving if I hadn’t “experienced” his childhood.

    Reply
  31. As usual, I don’t have enough time to respond in depth, but we’re having the prologue discussion on a writer’s loop and I now see where the anti-prologue people are coming from.
    Three cheers to the wenchlings for not falling for the box trick! Every story is different and should be treated with respect for what it is. Pffffttt on people who tell us how to write!

    Reply
  32. As usual, I don’t have enough time to respond in depth, but we’re having the prologue discussion on a writer’s loop and I now see where the anti-prologue people are coming from.
    Three cheers to the wenchlings for not falling for the box trick! Every story is different and should be treated with respect for what it is. Pffffttt on people who tell us how to write!

    Reply
  33. As usual, I don’t have enough time to respond in depth, but we’re having the prologue discussion on a writer’s loop and I now see where the anti-prologue people are coming from.
    Three cheers to the wenchlings for not falling for the box trick! Every story is different and should be treated with respect for what it is. Pffffttt on people who tell us how to write!

    Reply
  34. Funny how this same subject came up at Dishing with the Divas or was it Sqwak Radio… But as I mentionned to them (whichever blogsite it was) I really enjoy prologues.
    I CANNOT understand why some readers would chose to skip that most important part of the story. I too wonder if the readers would go straight to chapter 2 if an author made the prologue the first chapter?

    Reply
  35. Funny how this same subject came up at Dishing with the Divas or was it Sqwak Radio… But as I mentionned to them (whichever blogsite it was) I really enjoy prologues.
    I CANNOT understand why some readers would chose to skip that most important part of the story. I too wonder if the readers would go straight to chapter 2 if an author made the prologue the first chapter?

    Reply
  36. Funny how this same subject came up at Dishing with the Divas or was it Sqwak Radio… But as I mentionned to them (whichever blogsite it was) I really enjoy prologues.
    I CANNOT understand why some readers would chose to skip that most important part of the story. I too wonder if the readers would go straight to chapter 2 if an author made the prologue the first chapter?

    Reply
  37. Oh, I forgot to ask Mary Jo… Where are you in Canada? Anywhere near Bracebridge, Ontario? Y’know, I’d gladly drive a couple of hours to go say HI, if you’re here doing any book signing!

    Reply
  38. Oh, I forgot to ask Mary Jo… Where are you in Canada? Anywhere near Bracebridge, Ontario? Y’know, I’d gladly drive a couple of hours to go say HI, if you’re here doing any book signing!

    Reply
  39. Oh, I forgot to ask Mary Jo… Where are you in Canada? Anywhere near Bracebridge, Ontario? Y’know, I’d gladly drive a couple of hours to go say HI, if you’re here doing any book signing!

    Reply
  40. From Sherrie:
    I always read prologues, but in the past few years I’ve begun to like them a little less. It finally occurred to me that the reason is because I view them as something akin to a forward or introduction in nonfiction books. Forwards and introductions always make me feel like I’m treading water until I can get to the story. Prologues have begun to feel the same way to me. If I have to read a prologue first, it’s like I’m not yet officially starting the story.
    I groan mentally when I open a nonfiction book and see a forward, because it’s just another delay before I can settle down and read the book. Sometimes I just skip them because they are long and dry.
    But I do read prologues, though I admit I often skim them. I don’t mind a book that starts out leisurely if it is well written and hooks me, but I prefer books that start off with a bang. I’m a “6 second sound byte” person, and if I have to wade through pages of backstory or a meandering beginning, I’m likely to put the book aside in favor of one that starts where the action begins.
    I don’t think I’ve ever read a story that “started out with a bang” where I didn’t know what was happening right away. The very nature of the beast requires that the author make it clear relatively quickly who the players are and what the situation is.

    Reply
  41. From Sherrie:
    I always read prologues, but in the past few years I’ve begun to like them a little less. It finally occurred to me that the reason is because I view them as something akin to a forward or introduction in nonfiction books. Forwards and introductions always make me feel like I’m treading water until I can get to the story. Prologues have begun to feel the same way to me. If I have to read a prologue first, it’s like I’m not yet officially starting the story.
    I groan mentally when I open a nonfiction book and see a forward, because it’s just another delay before I can settle down and read the book. Sometimes I just skip them because they are long and dry.
    But I do read prologues, though I admit I often skim them. I don’t mind a book that starts out leisurely if it is well written and hooks me, but I prefer books that start off with a bang. I’m a “6 second sound byte” person, and if I have to wade through pages of backstory or a meandering beginning, I’m likely to put the book aside in favor of one that starts where the action begins.
    I don’t think I’ve ever read a story that “started out with a bang” where I didn’t know what was happening right away. The very nature of the beast requires that the author make it clear relatively quickly who the players are and what the situation is.

    Reply
  42. From Sherrie:
    I always read prologues, but in the past few years I’ve begun to like them a little less. It finally occurred to me that the reason is because I view them as something akin to a forward or introduction in nonfiction books. Forwards and introductions always make me feel like I’m treading water until I can get to the story. Prologues have begun to feel the same way to me. If I have to read a prologue first, it’s like I’m not yet officially starting the story.
    I groan mentally when I open a nonfiction book and see a forward, because it’s just another delay before I can settle down and read the book. Sometimes I just skip them because they are long and dry.
    But I do read prologues, though I admit I often skim them. I don’t mind a book that starts out leisurely if it is well written and hooks me, but I prefer books that start off with a bang. I’m a “6 second sound byte” person, and if I have to wade through pages of backstory or a meandering beginning, I’m likely to put the book aside in favor of one that starts where the action begins.
    I don’t think I’ve ever read a story that “started out with a bang” where I didn’t know what was happening right away. The very nature of the beast requires that the author make it clear relatively quickly who the players are and what the situation is.

    Reply
  43. Sherrie said: ‘I view (prologues) as something akin to a forward or introduction in nonfiction books’.
    Aha! You see, there are some of us who always enjoy reading the Foreword, the Introduction and the Acknowledgements before starting on Chapter 1 of a non-fiction book!
    I am impressed that you always know what is going on in one of these plunge-in-the-deep-end starts. I often genuinely don’t, even in books written by skilled and highly acclaimed authors, and could give examples. Often, if I bother to keep reading at all, I have to go back later and re-read the first couple of pages, which is irritating.
    But readers are different, just as writers, and stories, are different. If a writer wants to grab and hold some people’s attention, the shove off the high board into the bottomless whirlpool is the way to go: for readers like me, the subtle drawing-in by easy stages is the truly effective method.
    What I think, and hope, we can all agree on is that there is never ONE right way, the others being WRONG. It is not the screenplay-type novel as such that bothers me, but the apparent belief that that is the only good kind.

    Reply
  44. Sherrie said: ‘I view (prologues) as something akin to a forward or introduction in nonfiction books’.
    Aha! You see, there are some of us who always enjoy reading the Foreword, the Introduction and the Acknowledgements before starting on Chapter 1 of a non-fiction book!
    I am impressed that you always know what is going on in one of these plunge-in-the-deep-end starts. I often genuinely don’t, even in books written by skilled and highly acclaimed authors, and could give examples. Often, if I bother to keep reading at all, I have to go back later and re-read the first couple of pages, which is irritating.
    But readers are different, just as writers, and stories, are different. If a writer wants to grab and hold some people’s attention, the shove off the high board into the bottomless whirlpool is the way to go: for readers like me, the subtle drawing-in by easy stages is the truly effective method.
    What I think, and hope, we can all agree on is that there is never ONE right way, the others being WRONG. It is not the screenplay-type novel as such that bothers me, but the apparent belief that that is the only good kind.

    Reply
  45. Sherrie said: ‘I view (prologues) as something akin to a forward or introduction in nonfiction books’.
    Aha! You see, there are some of us who always enjoy reading the Foreword, the Introduction and the Acknowledgements before starting on Chapter 1 of a non-fiction book!
    I am impressed that you always know what is going on in one of these plunge-in-the-deep-end starts. I often genuinely don’t, even in books written by skilled and highly acclaimed authors, and could give examples. Often, if I bother to keep reading at all, I have to go back later and re-read the first couple of pages, which is irritating.
    But readers are different, just as writers, and stories, are different. If a writer wants to grab and hold some people’s attention, the shove off the high board into the bottomless whirlpool is the way to go: for readers like me, the subtle drawing-in by easy stages is the truly effective method.
    What I think, and hope, we can all agree on is that there is never ONE right way, the others being WRONG. It is not the screenplay-type novel as such that bothers me, but the apparent belief that that is the only good kind.

    Reply
  46. From MJP:
    Okay, it’s Sunday night and I’m back from Toronto, and what a FABULOUS collection of comments on the subject of prologues! Lots of insight for sure. I particularly like the idea of a prologue as being like a musical prelude.
    While prologues can work with either contemporary or historical novels, historicals might have a bit of an edge because atmospherics tend to be somewhat more important in historicals. But–there is more than one kind of prologue, and JAK’s suspense prologues exactly suit her very contemporary stories.
    As to Canada–I was speaking to the Toronto RWA chapter Saturday, and I hope the people who came had as much fun as I did! It was an informal, two hour Q&A session, where I perched on a table at the front of the room and talked about all kinds of things.
    Since I’m always happy to have an excuse to come to Canada, we arrived several days early and had a bit of a holiday in Niagara-on-the-Lake. This was mercifully a few miles east of the two feet of snow that hit Buffalo!
    I may blog more about this on Friday…
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  47. From MJP:
    Okay, it’s Sunday night and I’m back from Toronto, and what a FABULOUS collection of comments on the subject of prologues! Lots of insight for sure. I particularly like the idea of a prologue as being like a musical prelude.
    While prologues can work with either contemporary or historical novels, historicals might have a bit of an edge because atmospherics tend to be somewhat more important in historicals. But–there is more than one kind of prologue, and JAK’s suspense prologues exactly suit her very contemporary stories.
    As to Canada–I was speaking to the Toronto RWA chapter Saturday, and I hope the people who came had as much fun as I did! It was an informal, two hour Q&A session, where I perched on a table at the front of the room and talked about all kinds of things.
    Since I’m always happy to have an excuse to come to Canada, we arrived several days early and had a bit of a holiday in Niagara-on-the-Lake. This was mercifully a few miles east of the two feet of snow that hit Buffalo!
    I may blog more about this on Friday…
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  48. From MJP:
    Okay, it’s Sunday night and I’m back from Toronto, and what a FABULOUS collection of comments on the subject of prologues! Lots of insight for sure. I particularly like the idea of a prologue as being like a musical prelude.
    While prologues can work with either contemporary or historical novels, historicals might have a bit of an edge because atmospherics tend to be somewhat more important in historicals. But–there is more than one kind of prologue, and JAK’s suspense prologues exactly suit her very contemporary stories.
    As to Canada–I was speaking to the Toronto RWA chapter Saturday, and I hope the people who came had as much fun as I did! It was an informal, two hour Q&A session, where I perched on a table at the front of the room and talked about all kinds of things.
    Since I’m always happy to have an excuse to come to Canada, we arrived several days early and had a bit of a holiday in Niagara-on-the-Lake. This was mercifully a few miles east of the two feet of snow that hit Buffalo!
    I may blog more about this on Friday…
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  49. From MJP:
    Okay, it’s Sunday night and I’m back from Toronto, and what a FABULOUS collection of comments on the subject of prologues! Lots of insight for sure. I particularly like the idea of a prologue as being like a musical prelude.
    While prologues can work with either contemporary or historical novels, historicals might have a bit of an edge because atmospherics tend to be somewhat more important in historicals. But–there is more than one kind of prologue, and JAK’s suspense prologues exactly suit her very contemporary stories.
    As to Canada–I was speaking to the Toronto RWA chapter Saturday, and I hope the people who came had as much fun as I did! It was an informal, two hour Q&A session, where I perched on a table at the front of the room and talked about all kinds of things.
    Since I’m always happy to have an excuse to come to Canada, we arrived several days early and had a bit of a holiday in Niagara-on-the-Lake. This was mercifully a few miles east of the two feet of snow that hit Buffalo!
    I may blog more about this on Friday…
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  50. From MJP:
    Okay, it’s Sunday night and I’m back from Toronto, and what a FABULOUS collection of comments on the subject of prologues! Lots of insight for sure. I particularly like the idea of a prologue as being like a musical prelude.
    While prologues can work with either contemporary or historical novels, historicals might have a bit of an edge because atmospherics tend to be somewhat more important in historicals. But–there is more than one kind of prologue, and JAK’s suspense prologues exactly suit her very contemporary stories.
    As to Canada–I was speaking to the Toronto RWA chapter Saturday, and I hope the people who came had as much fun as I did! It was an informal, two hour Q&A session, where I perched on a table at the front of the room and talked about all kinds of things.
    Since I’m always happy to have an excuse to come to Canada, we arrived several days early and had a bit of a holiday in Niagara-on-the-Lake. This was mercifully a few miles east of the two feet of snow that hit Buffalo!
    I may blog more about this on Friday…
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  51. From MJP:
    Okay, it’s Sunday night and I’m back from Toronto, and what a FABULOUS collection of comments on the subject of prologues! Lots of insight for sure. I particularly like the idea of a prologue as being like a musical prelude.
    While prologues can work with either contemporary or historical novels, historicals might have a bit of an edge because atmospherics tend to be somewhat more important in historicals. But–there is more than one kind of prologue, and JAK’s suspense prologues exactly suit her very contemporary stories.
    As to Canada–I was speaking to the Toronto RWA chapter Saturday, and I hope the people who came had as much fun as I did! It was an informal, two hour Q&A session, where I perched on a table at the front of the room and talked about all kinds of things.
    Since I’m always happy to have an excuse to come to Canada, we arrived several days early and had a bit of a holiday in Niagara-on-the-Lake. This was mercifully a few miles east of the two feet of snow that hit Buffalo!
    I may blog more about this on Friday…
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  52. My only objection to prologues are those that clearly *should* have just been chapter one of the book. When, for example, “chapter one” directly follows the action of the prologue — that is not a prologue!

    Reply
  53. My only objection to prologues are those that clearly *should* have just been chapter one of the book. When, for example, “chapter one” directly follows the action of the prologue — that is not a prologue!

    Reply
  54. My only objection to prologues are those that clearly *should* have just been chapter one of the book. When, for example, “chapter one” directly follows the action of the prologue — that is not a prologue!

    Reply

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