Saturday, August 20, 2011

Prologues in a Novel

It’s been coming up a lot lately, and I can’t let the topic die. Especially since YA/Fantasy authors seem to love them so much.

All good books have a promising premise and interesting, fallible characters. However, if you pick up a novel that starts with a prologue, nine times out of ten it’s a sure sign of several things.

When you’re writing a story, you always start at the beginning. Problem is, a prologue isn’t the beginning. Chapter One is the beginning. Nearly every prologue can be summarized as one or more of the following—

The Background Prologue. “20 years ago, in a land far, far away…” This is almost always the story of the main character’s (here forth MC) birth or some other event they don’t remember. It can also be used to give you the background information on an important item or battle. Was the Chassis of Invulnerability lost after the blood bath battle of Garfendurst? Of course it was. And you can find that battle, the Chassis and flat, doomed-to-die characters in the prologue. This author knows that the beginning starts in Chapter One, they’re just convinced you’re too stupid to figure anything out unless they spoon feed it to you. This novel will be predictable. Love will conquer. Nearly no one will die.

The Most Tragic Event in MC’s Life Prologue. “The day everything changed.” Think of the worst thing that has ever happened to you. Think of the event that has most fundamentally changed who you are. I’ll give you a minute. Got it? Now imagine you told that full story to everyone you met. It was the first thing out of your mouth to the bank teller, your new boss, the grocery cashier. Not a pretty picture, is it? It’s the same with a MC. We need to care about this person before we’re willing to listen to the ugliest parts of their past. The author with a Most Tragic Event prologue thinks you won’t find the MC’s unexplained fears intriguing, you’ll just be confused and give up. They have deprived you of a meaningful connection to the MC.

My Character has Emotions. Emotions! See how Emotional He/She is Prologue?!“He sighed and looked longingly at the couple holding hands on the park bench.” It’s a given with every novel that there will be a hero, a heroine and they will fall in love. There will be reasons why their love is forbidden or isn’t working out. It will all be very over-dramatic and not at all heart wrenching. For the rest of this book, you will read the difficulties of this love. He likes Coke, she likes Pepsi. He’s moving three hours away. Some jerk (who is so obviously inferior to our hero that if the heroine can’t spot Jerk’s flaws, maybe she doesn’t deserve hero to begin with) is also courting her. This novel is going to be full of things like “I love you,” he said lovingly. Or, “I’m so mad at you!” she yelled angrily. If you don’t stop reading this novel, your eyes will eventually begin to bleed.

Overall, if a novel has a prologue, the author has essentially vomited on your face. Wipe and ignore at your own risk.

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