Thursday, August 23, 2012

Prologue or NO Prologue--What do you prefer?

The use of prologues have sparked many opinions—some authors swear by them, some say never use them.

What is the purpose of a prologue?
It’s a writing technique that allows authors to outline a complicated back-story that would otherwise bog down a chapter with flashbacks. It is also used as a tease introduction to hook the reader. You’ll find prologues used more in the fantasy and science fiction genre than any other genre.

This prologue serves to let the reader know up front that there are ancient ties between the planets of Otharia and Earth. It also gives hints about the origin of the Arthurian legends, the Lady of the Lake and the magician Merlin., at least, according to Dave and I. Here’s an example of the prologue used in QUEST FOR NOBILITY:

Prologue – Earth, 5th Century AD

With bloody sword in hand, Reaver looked over the scene of the massacre.  It did not sit well with him, what he had done, but he was loyal to his commander.  The orders had been simple: kill them all, and so he had done his best.  Now, with most of the killing done, he had time to reflect.
May the gods have mercy on our souls.
The Telkur duty telekinetic looked up as the unauthorized portal started to form. He checked the coordinates and was shocked to see that the incoming portal was from the planet Earth. That off-world expedition was not due to check in for another month.
“What the...”
Before he could finish his sentence, two bloodied men staggered through the opening.
“We’ve been attacked,” the first man said. “All is lost.”
More men and women stumbled through the portal with varying degrees of battle wounds. The duty telekinetic was stunned. Earth was a primitive planet, but from all the previous indications, its people were peaceful.
Snapping out of his shock, he opened a comm link directly to the Duke of Telkur.
“Sire, we have trouble at the portal station. Some of the expedition members are back and are badly wounded.  Please come immediately and bring the healers.”
The gavel banged and the Master Clerk read the declaration.
“Let it be known that, from this day forward, off-world travel to the planet Earth is prohibited.”
Duke Rael Telkur sat unmoving in the Grand Council chamber room. The decree was final. There would be no more travel to Earth. He had lost a fortune financing the ill-fated expedition.  It had required four 10K crystals powering the portals to transport the hundred-plus explorers and their supplies.  Normally, a 10K crystal would provide a duchy with more than three years of local planetary travel.  But more importantly than the crystal expense, he had lost fifty loyal men and women to brutality.  Only five of his expedition team had made it back to Otharia, but they all subsequently died of their wounds.  The Vogdo team members had fared only slightly better; a mere ten of their men returned. 
Rael glanced down the table to where his partner in this venture, Duke Jaks Vogdo, sat stone-faced. There was nothing more to be done.
Jaks looked at Rael and nodded.  You naive fool, Rael.  If only you knew the truth.
Jak’s duchy was rich in crystal mines located within the Sharellian Mountains.  Everyone believed the crystal veins were bottomless, and the Vogdo family thought the same until the veins started to dry up.
Fate and fortune had shone favorably upon Jaks Vogdo when mineral-rich Earth was discovered. He eagerly agreed to form an alliance with Rael to explore this strange new world. They would share expenses for the exorbitant cost of off-world exploration and divide any potential riches evenly. 
At least that was the plan, but greed has a way of eliminating alliances even among friends. Blinded by unimaginable wealth, Jaks had no compunction about turning on his partner and ordering the massacre of the Telkur team members.
“The crystals must be shipped back here without a trace,” Jaks told his man on Earth.  “I’ll open the portal from Earth directly into my mines and transfer the foreign crystals unseen.  No one will ever know the truth.”
“I told you this would work,” Merlinius Telkur said.
His partner Vivienne shook her head at his boasting.  She hated this planet Earth.  They had been running for days from the Vogdo hunting party and she was at the end of her patience.  Their 10K traveling crystal was gone and they had no way to return to Otharia or even contact them to let them know what had transpired here.  There were so few of the Telkur expedition that had escaped the initial attack, and now they were stuck on this primitive planet. 
“Save your breath, Merlinius,” Vivienne shot back.  “Just concentrate on holding your shield until those bastards out there leave and we can get out of here.”
 “I know that,” Merlinis replied, exasperated at Vivienne’s curt command.  “You make sure your own shield holds.  If they detect our life signs, this ruse will be for nothing and we’ll have to run again.”
Vivienne sighed heavily.  At the moment, she didn’t know which was worse: Merlinius’ bravado, or being stranded on Earth with a band of Vogdo killers outside the cave hunting them.

When we began writing QUEST, we struggled with how to convey these hints without bogging down the story of royal twins, Darius and Dyla Telkur, and their struggle to hold onto their duchy when they are accused of murder. There had to be a reason that the twins would flee to Earth and this served that purpose because in less than 900 words, it put the link between Earth and Otharia in the reader's minds from the beginning of the story. 

We ended up using two options to convey information to the reader and keeping the story moving. We opted for a prologue and also at the beginning of each chapter, set down the rules from the Chronicles of Otharia. This informed the reader about the history of Otharia rule without slowing down the story. Here’s an example:

Excerpt from the Chronicles of Otharia during the reign of the First Vacancy:
Division I – The Rule of Otharia
Subsection I – The Kingdom

The planet of Otharia has two major landmasses and multiple island chains.  The larger of the two continents is referred to as the Kingdom of Otharia, though there hasn’t been a reigning king in over a thousand years.  The kingdom is subdivided into a number of duchies, each ruled by a royal family and a seated duke or duchess.  The duchies vary in size, but their wealth is dependant on the natural resources of the region and the ingenuity of the reigning duke.  The smaller continent is ruled by multiple clans of gypsies, who broke from the Kingdom at the death of the last King.

So what about you? Have you used prologues in your books? Do you like them or do you think they are unnecessary?



  1. While I prefer no prologue, of course, a well-written one that is effective in providing the reader a slice of the story is perfectly fine and not a deterrent to reading a good novel.

    For me, I just prefer to learn things within the context or action of the storyline.

    I've not used a prologue yet in any of my novels, although I have used eiplogues.

    With new writers, especially ones seeking to get their first novel published, they tend to employ them as a shortcut for a history lesson or try it ineffectively as a hook.

  2. Hi Terry,

    Nice to see you and thanks for stopping by. Your fantasy novels worked very well without a prologue. I think it's really dependent on the story whether one works or not.

    1. Debra,
      I often visit Two End of the Pen to see what you've got going on here. Just don't always comment.

      Thank you for the positive words about my works. :)

    2. That's great to hear! I loved your books. Are you working on book 3? or something new?

  3. I tend to start with chapter one, but in a recent historical I ended up adding a prologue, just to set the scene. If used at all, it should be fairly short, meant to give the reader a taste for the story.

  4. Totally agree Cathie! Nothing too long and drawn out, otherwise the prologue should just be the first chapter. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. I like no prologue. In my own book I debated about a prologue for action that happened before the story, but I decided on adding it in with dialogue. Having the characters talk about the incident creates more drama than relating the incident itself. It is showing and not telling so I would leave out the Prologue. I think the only thing that needs a Prologue is a very involved and elaborate story that relies on the reader knowing what came before for understanding of what is happening in the story now.

  6. Raani, as you know my genre is poetry. Only with my newest book did I see the need for a Preface because of the nature of the book. As for Prologues, I find it helpful as a reader in that it sets the stage for the book only if information is needed about events beforehand. It might help with understanding the reading but not necessarily needed as part of the dialogue. Just my two cents. . .

  7. I had written a prologue, but pulled it out of my novel before I released it. The prologue provided backstory that chapter one implied at anyway, so it didn't serve any particular purpose and my beta readers preferred to jump straight into the action. I did post the prologue on my blog eventually ( so it wasn't entirely wasted.

    1. That's a great way to let your readers read the prologue, Jade!

  8. I don't have a problem with prologues if they're short and tie in well with the plot at some point. Big dislikes: dream sequences in italics or any dream sequence longer than two paragraphs.

  9. My latest book, An Honourable Estate, has a short prologue - not to tell back story but to set a scene and foreshadow what happens. If a book needs a prologue then I say use it - the problem comes when the prologue is unnecessary.


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