Now a prologue comes in at somewhere between ‘a total waste of space that I skip’ and ‘I will TBAR this book because I don’t get what is going on (it was ‘set up’ in the prologue)’
I’m in a bit a prologue myself at the moment, as my wife is over in the big city (well, relatively) in hospital, awaiting surgery for gall-bladder issues. It was due to be today, now it’s tomorrow. She was flown out in a howling gale on Saturday… have been in our small island hospital for 24 hours. I’m as a result not at my best and brightest – just wish they’d get on with the story, or that I could do something. This is not making my attempts at work or writing blog posts too coherent (worse than usual) so bear with me.
Should you even have this ‘prologue’ thing? Speaking as the guy who is guilty of doing this a fair number of times… the right answer is probably ‘no’. Pot. Meet kettle. Get the reader to engage with the story as fast as possible.
In my defense, they CAN make a book work better. I’m not saying I always succeed at that. But I think what I trying to say is that it is a technique to be used both with conscious thought and extreme circumspection. That’s fancy words for ‘Keep it short, if you must do it all’
I did this wrong for one of the best books I haven’t written (and yes, the latter does hinge on the former – I was selling books on proposal at the time –including the first few chapters). The story NEEDS a prologue. It makes no sense without the prologue (or so I said to myself) And the prologue is a lot of fun…
The prologue IS a lot of fun. It’s also far, far, far too long, and far too distant from the story itself (there are several thousand years between the two). The characters (which are quite amusing and engaging) in the prologue are long dead and irrelevant except in vaguest sense to the characters in the book. Yes. They do create the frame for the universe of the book. But… at the cost of distracting from the story.
That prologue is either another book, or the information in it needs to be dribbled into the main story, or maybe it needs a re-write to bring it down to a few paragraphs – but as is it a book-killer. Try to learn from my stupidity instead of having to learn from your own. Trust me, it’s much nicer.
I think a good place to start is by asking yourself why you have the prologue in the first place. For me, anyway, it’s often something best interpreted in theater terms as ‘set design, stage direction’ Enter villain left, staggering and bloody, muttering, into what appears to be a ruined castle at dawn… and then the story begins with the frame at least for the back-story established.
In this case I did keep it short but introduced the characters and set the scene and introduces the ‘universe’ of that story and tells the reader what kind of book they’re getting. After all – it’s the first bit they’re likely to read (some of you will probably recognize this as something of a homage to Leonard Cohen’s ‘The Partisan’ by which it was inspired.
Freedom Soon Will Come
“Move! Get up ramp!” screamed the Nar guards. Their nerve-jangler whips added screams of pain to the clank of heavy machinery, and the rumble of war-wagons hauling more cages full of prisoners across to the starships.
The packed mass of naked humans moved up the ramp, their manacles clanking. They moved or died. The bodies of those who hadn’t, lay next to the ramp. The weight of prisoners pushed Ash and Marcia forward, down the corridor into the dim, reeking racks of the Nar slave-hold.
Ash tried to keep a hold onto his pregnant wife’s hand, but there were just too many people. People pushing them deeper into the layers of mesh shelves –about eighteen inches high by four foot wide.
The dim-red-lit hell was full of people crying, people begging, people screaming, falling and being walked over. People calling desperately for their loved ones, as they were forced into the racks.
Ash was one of them. Maybe Marcia was too. He couldn’t tell.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this when the aliens came.
They’d been cautioned to surrender.
And they’d listened and obeyed.
So: the questions – did it set the scene? Would you want to read the book?