Saturday, September 5, 2009

A Prologue: To Have or Not to Have?

Over at Public Query Slushpile is a query for CALLARION AT NIGHT, my in-revisions WIP that's my first effort at writing steampunk fantasy (which is great fun as I can use my knowledge of thermodynamics to make some fairly cool tech).

The current version of that story includes a prologue set when the MC, a half-nymph named Moriah, is ten years old and sets up the reason for why her mother, Dahlia, runs out on the family. I used this as a way to show that Dahlia wasn't a complete tool for leaving her daughter and husband by letting the reader see, through Moriah's father's eyes, why Mom decided to leave.

I'm struggling with keeping it in. The prologue offers information the reader might not otherwise see, but I wonder if it would be better to introduce it through Moriah's eyes instead. That way the reader discovers why her mother left right along with her. It's a toss-up for me -- I love the audience having insight the MC doesn't, but I also feel the prologue can be cut without sacrificing the story.

So I wonder what the general opinion is on having prologues. Do you include it if it's interesting backstory or only if it drives the plot forward? Thoughts?


Joshua McCune said...

I used to love the idea of prologues in my writing, but I know I tend to skip prologues for most books b/c they're either infodumps or they seem to be unrelated to the first few chapters and then when they come into play, I don't recall exactly what happened in the prologue.

FWIW, my vote's for no prologue, particularly if you can feel you can cut it w/o sacrificing story.

Rick Daley said...

I'm all for prologues. I read them, and I like it when they give me a suspenseful teaser that keeps me wondering as I read the rest of the novel.

I think a prologue needs to work as a part of the book. If you change it from "Prologue" to "Chapter 1" it should be relatively meaningless, unless you go by word count in which case a prologue is generally shorter.

I have a prologue in Fate's Guardian that is a necessary set up because between it and the official chapter 1 it ties together lives in the thirteenth century with modern day. It's not told as backstory, and it directly ties into the action of chapter 1.

If you are doubting it, you may need to cut it. Trust your instincts. I asked Nathan Bransford about them one time, his response:

if it works, it works!

Gary Corby said...

What happens if you remove the prologue? Does the book stand without it? If not, why not? Does this suggest anything?