Author Topic: Prologue 'versus' Look Inside  (Read 2114 times)

Paul Gr

Prologue 'versus' Look Inside
« on: November 12, 2019, 06:46:26 AM »
I've just finished writing a horror novel which is partly set in the modern age and partly set in the 1600s. Two modern people are transported back in time to this period, then return to the modern age.
I've written a couple of chapters to explain the back story to the novel, it explains why they are transported back in time.
At first I placed the two chapters at the beginning of the story, as normal chapters.
Then I had the idea of placing them further into the story, so the story cuts
from the modern age to the 1600s then cuts back to the modern age.
After looking at the story a few times I decided that this was too jarring, so put them back at the beginning of the story.
The problem is, the Look Inside, on Amazon, and the, let's call it the  'look at the first few pages' on other publishing platforms.
Anyone reading the Look Inside will think that it's historical fiction, and might not bother to read any further if they aren't interested in this genre.
I should add that these first two chapters are 2919 words long in total, which at 250 words per page is mmm let's see about 12 pages long.
I could use them as a prologue and introduce them as such, of course.
Does anyone else use prologues, and if so how long are they?
Are they as concerned about 'Look Inside' etc. as I am, or not concerned at all?

notthatamanda

Re: Prologue 'versus' Look Inside
« Reply #1 on: November 12, 2019, 07:42:25 AM »
I am still a prawn but these are my thoughts.

Cover should signify horror.
Blurb should mention time travel.

I have used short prologues, one page and long prologues, eg 2000 + words.  In that case it was the characters meeting for the first time as children, then skipped to the meat of the story years later.

To me it depends on the story.  If they are traveling back in time, I would put it in chronological order, as the characters live it.  But you can hook people with a page of a prologue, set in the 1600s, then go back to the beginning.   You could have a one or two paragraph horror hook, as a premonition.

But I don't think if someone has seen your cover and read your blurb and those are doing their job they will try the look inside and thing "OH NO not historical fiction" and  :catrun
 
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Jeff Tanyard

Re: Prologue 'versus' Look Inside
« Reply #2 on: November 12, 2019, 07:50:53 AM »
Check out Eric Flint's 1632.  He wrote an explanatory prologue.  It's short and to the point, and it gives the reader all the info necessary to dive into the story proper.
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PJ Post

Re: Prologue 'versus' Look Inside
« Reply #3 on: November 12, 2019, 08:56:11 AM »
 
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Maggie Ann

Re: Prologue 'versus' Look Inside
« Reply #4 on: November 12, 2019, 11:45:33 AM »
I've used prologues but keep them to a few pages. I took a scene from the first book and used it as a prologue for the second book. Did the same between the second and the third.

Prologues can be useful, but they really shouldn't be overly long. There's also the danger they can fall into info dump territory.

           
 
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JRTomlin

Re: Prologue 'versus' Look Inside
« Reply #5 on: November 12, 2019, 03:01:26 PM »
I've used a prologue in one of my novels. It was about the same length as my regular chapters. It introduced the main character in a somewhat dangerous situation a few years before the main plot of the story began.

As far as time travel, they seem to usually start in the normal period for the character so the reader understands what is normal for that character. If your prologue doesn't involve your main characters though, and I can't tell if it does from your comments, then it might be a problem because readers do hate prologues that are info-dumps.
 
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TimothyEllis

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Re: Prologue 'versus' Look Inside
« Reply #6 on: November 12, 2019, 03:38:50 PM »
There's also the danger they can fall into info dump territory.

This came up on a Quora question yesterday.

The asker wanted to do 2 separate prologues, both of which amounted to info dumps.

Someone responding was also thinking about doing one on the basis the first chapter didn't make sense without it. I like first chapters not making sense though. It engages the reader into wanting to find out why whatever happened happened.

But if you dump on them first, you put people off.
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JRTomlin

Re: Prologue 'versus' Look Inside
« Reply #7 on: November 12, 2019, 03:42:17 PM »
You want your prologue to be as gripping as the rest of your novel. If it isn't, then you need to have a good long think and maybe scrap those chapters entirely. Backstory can be worked in without dumping it all in one indigestible lump.
 
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Laughing Elephant

Re: Prologue 'versus' Look Inside
« Reply #8 on: November 12, 2019, 05:50:49 PM »
As nothatamanda said, blurb and cover should signify genre.

And I wouldn't be that worried about readers coming into a story that starts with the background - trust the reader to figure things out as they go along, not everyone needs or wants spoonfeeding.

Good luck with your story.
 
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Paul Gr

Re: Prologue 'versus' Look Inside
« Reply #9 on: November 13, 2019, 03:48:48 AM »
Thanks to everyone for replying.
I didn't think of the cover and blurb revealing all, and I also had no idea about info. dumps.
Luckily the prologue isn't an info. dump, which I take to mean long passages of information presented in an informative but un-entertaining way.
It started out as two chapters rather than a prologue so contains the usual desirable chapter ingredients: scenes that arrive at a conclusion, each containing action, dialogue, different POVs, some narrative.
Maybe this is the way to go; write a chapter or so and then decide to use it as a prologue rather than deliberately writing a prologue.

Maggie Ann

Re: Prologue 'versus' Look Inside
« Reply #10 on: November 13, 2019, 03:53:30 AM »
Thanks to everyone for replying.
I didn't think of the cover and blurb revealing all, and I also had no idea about info. dumps.
Luckily the prologue isn't an info. dump, which I take to mean long passages of information presented in an informative but un-entertaining way.
It started out as two chapters rather than a prologue so contains the usual desirable chapter ingredients: scenes that arrive at a conclusion, each containing action, dialogue, different POVs, some narrative.
Maybe this is the way to go; write a chapter or so and then decide to use it as a prologue rather than deliberately writing a prologue.

Do you really need to label it as a prologue? Maybe you could title it something like, "December 12, 1683," and then when you get to the present day, label it something like, "January 18, 1983," or whatever the dates are.

I'm suggesting this because two chapters is pretty long for a prologue.

           
 

JRTomlin

Re: Prologue 'versus' Look Inside
« Reply #11 on: November 13, 2019, 05:29:39 AM »
There is nothing wrong with calling it a prologue. In hundreds of reviews, I've never had anyone complain about mine.
 
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Maggie Ann

Re: Prologue 'versus' Look Inside
« Reply #12 on: November 13, 2019, 06:50:28 AM »
There is nothing wrong with calling it a prologue. In hundreds of reviews, I've never had anyone complain about mine.

No, I don't think anyone would complain. I'm just thinking that two chapters is pretty long for a prologue but not something anyone would write a letter about.
           
 

JRTomlin

Re: Prologue 'versus' Look Inside
« Reply #13 on: November 13, 2019, 07:22:20 AM »
The two chapters part I agree with. That is too long imo.
 

Maggie Ann

Re: Prologue 'versus' Look Inside
« Reply #14 on: November 13, 2019, 09:21:33 AM »
The two chapters part I agree with. That is too long imo.

Which is the only reason I was suggesting he not call it a prologue. I'm pretty sure we're on the same page.  :tup3b
           
 

Paul Gr

Re: Prologue 'versus' Look Inside
« Reply #15 on: November 13, 2019, 09:13:45 PM »
I like the idea of giving each let's call it a 'prologue chapter' a date, to establish the period, can't remember who suggested it.
As I said in my OP, I originally planned to insert these chapters at a turning point in the story, to maintain suspense.
So one minute the hero and heroine are facing impossible odds, the next minute we are in the 1600s.
That jarred with me, too abrupt a transition, which is why I considered a prologue.
Even with a good book cover and blurb to make it clear that it's a horror story, readers still have to read nearly 3000 words of history before they get to the horror bit.
I might go back to plan A, to insert the chapters at a turning point in the story.


TimothyEllis

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Re: Prologue 'versus' Look Inside
« Reply #16 on: November 13, 2019, 09:16:29 PM »
So one minute the hero and heroine are facing impossible odds, the next minute we are in the 1600s.
That jarred with me, too abrupt a transition, which is why I considered a prologue.

I've seen it done very successfully.

But it works better if more than just a once of thing. If you make the 1600 a bigger plot, and visit it 3 or 4 times in key places, it would work a lot better.
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PJ Post

Re: Prologue 'versus' Look Inside
« Reply #17 on: November 14, 2019, 04:04:36 AM »
Try to find the beginning of your story (not always easy to do), and start Chapter 1 there; this may or may not be the same as the inciting incident. If the transitions are handled well enough, the jumps back and forth shouldn't be jarring - so the prologue might not be necessary at all. Maybe have some beta readers explain their disconnect. Pro tip: always listen to readers when there is a problem, but never take their advice on how to fix it. I think that one comes from Orson Scott Card, but don't quote me.

The first thing to know is that you're writing a portal fantasy. You have the familiar world on this side of the portal, where all of the science (or magic) stuff happens that creates or reveals the portal, in your case time travel; and then you have the through-the-looking-glass portal world, again, in your case, the 1600s.

In a story like Outlander (magic time travel), the story bounces around all over the place in pursuit of character and establishing conflicting relationships. In a story like Crichton's Timeline, another time travel adventure, we bounce around way less. Once there, we stay mainly in the past, with the exception of showing the unstable tech in the 'present' that might prevent the team from returning, thus amping up the suspense.

Outlander is a deeper story and Timeline is a more superficial read, neither is objectively better or worse, they're just different approaches to the same setup, each focusing on different narrative elements.

A common approach that avoids the whole opening discussion is In medias res - the currently preferred adaptation being opening up mid-action. Shallow readers, meaning those that prefer to stay on the surface of things for a lighter read, usually enjoy these openings - Bam! Bam! Zoom! Zoom! Pow! But the deeper reader typically hates them because without establishing character and motivation, the action falls flat. It doesn't matter.

So, depending on your story, one option is to start mid-action in the 1600s (which would be the look inside), end on a cliffhanger, and then return to the 'present' to explain the whole time traveling thing; from what you're saying, that might mean moving the two prologue chapters to Chapters 2 and 3. Again, there’s no right or wrong, just different approaches.

With that said, I think books need to establish character as soon as possible. We need someone to root for. Cussler writes wonderful and fairly lengthy prologues that establishes a mystery in the past that then intertwines with the present-day plot. He doesn’t have to worry about character because his stories always feature the same guy - Dirk Pitt. Cussler is really good with mysteries but he's a pretty superficial writer, that is, he tends to stay on the surface of things (no water pun intended). Good and evil are usually black and white; Cussler doesn’t trade in moral ambiguity.

So, if the present day stuff gets to character first, start there. If the character stuff tends to come during the adventures of the past, start there. You can also weave the present day familiar world science stuff in as you go, with either flashbacks, discussions or memories - or just time jumps. The cool thing about time travel adventures is time is relative. While I think it's important to maintain a reasonably linear narrative, so as not to confuse readers, you can play around with it a little bit at the edges.

Good luck.
 

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Re: Prologue 'versus' Look Inside
« Reply #18 on: November 14, 2019, 11:52:16 AM »
Cussler writes wonderful and fairly lengthy prologues that establishes a mystery in the past that then intertwines with the present-day plot. He doesn’t have to worry about character because his stories always feature the same guy - Dirk Pitt.

That is worth emphasizing.

If you only write one main character, and that name is on the cover, then a prologue isn't a problem in any way, except maybe for Kindle positioning.

When the character is already established, you can do anything.

Reacher is another example.
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Re: Prologue 'versus' Look Inside
« Reply #19 on: December 12, 2019, 10:48:51 AM »
I'm doing a time-travel story and it starts in the present.  There's an incident and she finds herself in the past.  The readers discover why/how it happened along with the main character. 

I don't know if that works in your story but thought I'd add my 2 cents.  :angel:

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Jessica

Re: Prologue 'versus' Look Inside
« Reply #20 on: December 12, 2019, 01:30:45 PM »
I like to think of prologues like those two to five minutes at the start of a series episode before the title card pops up. Something that hooks the reader/ viewer and sets the tone for the rest of the novel/ film. Sometimes it gives a hint that makes sense much later into the story or gives away some knowledge for suspense the main character doesn't have (like those crime series that start off with showing the murder the MC later has to resolve, or the villain planting the bomb that has to be found). Therefore I like to keep them short, usually just one scene that ends in a memorable picture. For a horror novel, as a reader, I would expect to be confronted with some slight horror that promises me a nasty ride ahead. 12 pages seems a bit much to me.
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spin52

Re: Prologue 'versus' Look Inside
« Reply #21 on: January 06, 2020, 04:49:03 AM »
I'm doing a time-travel story and it starts in the present.  There's an incident and she finds herself in the past.  The readers discover why/how it happened along with the main character. 

I don't know if that works in your story but thought I'd add my 2 cents.  :angel:
That's much the same as what I did. It starts with the MC in the past but not knowing how she got there. The bulk of the action takes place where she has ended up (1588, since you ask) with only occasional scenes cutting to the present as her fiance tries to find her.
     

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