Monday, May 23, 2016

Prologuing the Inevitable (God, I hate puns)

The Professor touched on a subject in her last post that I have struggled with for a very long time. To prologue, or not to prologue - that is the question. Yes, that was lame. However, it does illustrate my conundrum. Should I write a prologue or not?

If you research the issue (and I mean more than just Google it), you'll find that the Professor has pretty much nailed the discussion in one. This, of course, should come as no surprise to any of you. Prologues are out of vogue and it is largely due to misuse. Info dumps are quite possibly the worse offenders. Writers who want to get all the boring bits out of the way, so that they can jump right into the action. Star Wars, with it's scrolling preamble, is a good example of this. Yes, yes, that's a movie and not a book, but it is still storytelling.

There are other "sins" of the prologue that you can read about on other pages in the interwebs or in books by people more learned than me. Yet, in the end, you can distill it all down to this: Prologues are a remnant from the earliest playwrights in long ago Athens. The Greek Chorus setting out the tone and timbre of the play in their manifold voice. A lone speaker - a crier, if you will - telling the audience what had happened just before. We have carried this device through the centuries as part of our story telling DNA. And now, in this century, the great and the good have decided that perhaps we do not need this old stick to help us along anymore. Perhaps, we have just evolved beyond it.

Not finding my answers anywhere in my research, I turned to the "old masters" of my genre. I pulled the first book of each series and looked for this contentious being in each of them. In the end, there was no help here either. Half of the books had a prologue and half did not. I even surveyed out of genre books as well as classic fiction, much to the same end. I assessed the value of each prologue relative to what I remembered of the story and found varying degrees of effectiveness.

A wash, then. Equal parts yea to equal parts nay.

So that brings me back to my own regard of this worn old hat. Shall I use the prologue that I have written or shall I kill my darling and send it to the edit pile? Euripides invented it and Shakespeare used it often, so why then cannot I?

Because you are not they, says the blinking cursor on my screen.

And yet, one must try.  


  1. Mike, I searched for prologues, too, before I tried to get funny with The Professor's writing prompt. I found only a few. I was sure one of my favorite books (and movies), Orwell's 1984, had one. did not. Isn't it interesting that I 'remembered' it having one? Look. I was the one who read that one article slamming prologues and carelessly shared it with you and the workshop that one fateful day. It is POISON. I was wrong. Please...Drink* heavily to get the poison out of your system. Please forgive me and keep writing your FANTASTICALLY written prologues, Sir Mike. I slap myself with a whip of frayed leather...wear plaid shorts and black socks at the beach. Shame on me!

    *Only tea...cooled to room temperature...low fat milk and one packet of low cal sugar substitute.

  2. I've kept it, so no need to flog yourself. Somehow I didn't picture you as