To Prologue… more than once? #IWSG

I know prologues are considered one of those deadly sins of writings, but it’s one of the “rules” I’m willing to break. But what if I have two prologues for the same story?

I’ve read books with multiple prologues. They don’t bother me. But I’ve encountered people who assume prologue == bad writing. They immediately cast judgement without sampling the writing. Thus stems my insecurity. With these people despising prologues, it makes me wonder what the reaction would be to having more than one.

I have my reasons for this. One takes place 3 centuries earlier, and the POV character isn’t used again. This seems perfect fodder for prologue material. The second one takes place 20 days before chapter 1, but it definitely takes place before the story begins. The reasons for it being a prologue and not chapter 1 isn’t apparent until around chapter 14 (if the reader is good at figuring things out, 19 if not). But there is a reason.

Too bad it doesn’t rid me of my insecurities.

So I’m looking for opinions. Should I have 2 prologues? How many people would that turn off? Should I combine the two and separate them with a scene break and 3 Centuries Later…? I’ve been calling my first prologue an Introduction, but that seems to create more confusion.

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Loni Townsend

About Loni Townsend

Wife. Mother. Writer. Ninja. Squirrel.

43 thoughts on “To Prologue… more than once? #IWSG

  1. Prologues, introductions, postludes, or whatever don’t bother me at all as long as they contribute something meaningful to my understanding of a story. Maybe they could just be labeled as additional chapters or given some other name designation. I think its silly when people get bent out of shape about such things.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

  2. I don’t recall ever seeing two prologues. If introduction doesn’t sound right, I wonder what else you could call it?
    I don’t mind prologues. They don’t turn me away.

  3. I kind of like the introduction idea but I am also team prologue. I have them in all of my books. I would rather understand a bit, I get frustrated when I have to try to figure too much out.

  4. I don’t understand the big deal about prologues. I used one in Polar Night and at that time didn’t even know they were considered a cardinal sin. I think you should use whatever works for you. I’ve never once picked up a book with a prologue and thought it was a problem.
    I can’t remember reading one with two but again, it’s all about what works for your story.

  5. Prologues are considered one of the deadly sins? I read them all the time, in many books, by different authors… I had no idea. Huh. I know this is not the point of your post but why are they sins? I don’t mind them at all. Two prologues…I’m not sure I’ve ever read two prologues. Not that I remember anyway. Could you fit one into the book anywhere? Rework is as an epilogue? (I have read books with both a prologue and an epilogue.) It seems more likely you’d have to rework it into the first chapter. Or…not at all. If you feel like it works, keep it. (Last thought: Could you somehow smoosh them together into one?)

  6. I have no problems with prologues as long as they contribute something to the story. If the story is good, no one will complain how many prologues or epilogues or whatever. 🙂

  7. I think people get all negative about prologues because there are so many UNNECESSARY prologues. It’s an overreaction, of course, because saying all prologues are bad is like saying all dreams in books are bad – in other words, an over-generalization. Some prologues are great, and some dreams are great. Personally, I think if your prologue belongs, and is necessary, then it’ll be great. It sounds like yours definitely need to be there. In that case, put ’em in, and remember – there’s no rule that says you have to label them as prologues. They don’t have to be labeled at all. They can just be there, with chapter breaks.

  8. I have no problems with prologue but I’ve never read a novel with 2. But if it works for you and your story then use it.

  9. I’ve heard that prologues are “evil” and what not, but I’ve never figured out why. Unnecessary prologues (as Liz points out above) might be the reason why, but I have no idea. I heard an interview with one author who was very proud of having two prologues, damn the haters! I don’t think having 2 for the sake of having 2 is a valid reason, but if there is a purpose to the story, then go for it.

    That being said, I am tempted one of these days to write a book with like 14 prologues, 2 chapters, then a half-dozen epilogues. Just because.

  10. I don’t get the beef with prologues. Personally, as a reader, I like them. It wasn’t until I started writing that I heard they were the white socks and black shoes of the literary world. Oh well, I’ve never really been a trendy sort of gal- maybe that’s why I don’t get it.

  11. Since you’ve got two, I vote for one Prologue with a scene break and a setting/year orientation(s) if needed. 🙂

    IWSG #119 until Alex culls the list again.

  12. The reason I would hesitate over two prologues is because you want to engage your readers in the current action ASAP. I think that’s why people shun prologues to begin with, but I don’t mind them. A well placed prologue can be great–as long as it draws the reader in.

  13. I don’t really mind prologues as long as they’re done well and actually feel necessary. I’ve never seen 2 in the same novel, so I really have no idea how you would go about doing that. How long are the prologues? Would they be able to stand alone as their own section–like a Part One sort of deal?

  14. Prologues don’t bother me but if there are two, I might stop and think “why are we waiting so long to get to the main story?” I like your idea of doing a page break with ‘3 centuries later…’ that way you can get all your information out and the reader isn’t wondering why they haven’t started on the main book – it’s just one really long prologue. 🙂

  15. I like prologues both as a reader and a writer. One agent said she loved them but she still rejected my book. lol Since I heard the same thing as you…that people hate them…I remade my prologue into the first chapter of my book. Recently I’ve been thinking about completely moving that first chapter and reworking it so it can come a bit later as I think the beginning is the reason why I haven’t been able to get an agent. The thing is we never know what someone will like and what will work. Maybe you can try your two prologues and see what beta readers think. I do like the did of separating them with a scene break and “3 centuries later…”

    • Just as I hit “post comment” I saw a typo. That last sentence is supposed to read, “I do like the idea of…” 😛

  16. Hi,
    If it will give your readers more clarity if you have two prologues, then that is what I would do. I know there are agents out there that have made prologues a bad thing because they don’t like them. But that is not all agents.

    Personally, I like prologues and especially in a series. So the series that I am writing has a prologue at the beginning of each book.

    Shalom,
    Pat Garcia

  17. I don’t know who decided prologues = bad writing (was it readers or critics?) but a prologue has never stopped me from reading a book. I can’t say I’ve read any with 2 prologues, but that wouldn’t stop me either.

  18. I think it’s agent and editors who have most of the problems with prologues. As long as they’re relevant and well written, I suspect most readers won’t care.

    Is there any reason why you have to call them prologues? I’ve read books where the prologues are simply called chapter 1.

  19. I think it’s like anything else–when it’s good it works. I hate when certain things are suddenly deemed no nos. Like lately a ton of readers hate love triangles. But some of my fav books have them so will I never do one?? definitely not! if it works I will do one 🙂 so I say go for the 2 prologues if you think it enhances the story!

  20. Emma Adams

    I don’t actually mind prologues (and one of my favourite books, Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings, actually has THREE prologues). It’s one of those “rules” that you can break if it works for the story!

  21. I may have brought this up (over a dozen times) previously, but Going Postal by Terry Pratchett has two absolutely wonderful prologues. The first is “The Nine-Thousand-Year Prologue” and the second “The One-Month Prologue”. Both have stuck with me ever since I’ve read the book and I can practically quote them.

    Lessons learned from them you might apply? Short – Only two pages each. Interesting – Or riveting in this case. Evocative – Make an impression! Relevant – Both characters in the prologues are pivotal to the plot, even if one plays a minor part and the other dies in the prologue. Exposition – No, not really, avoid infodumping in your prologue more than anywhere else.

    What I have heard about prologues being verboten usually concerns editors or agents. Some screen new work based on a set of ground rules, one of them being “no prologues”. The reason for this is poor writing. The prologue is prone to abuse by some writers. Instead of immersing the reader in a fascinating new world they write a dry encyclopedia entry to give the reader the background they need to understand what is going on. “In the year of the Concussed Goat, King Wahooni the Pungent conquered all the lands surrounding Inglepest. His son, Prince Wiffer the Fragrant, was killed in the final battle.” All of which eventually tells you why your MC’s country hates the neighboring country.

    Basically, people who do things professionally, like editors reading new writing, develop rules of thumb they use to make their work more efficient. I imagine waiters know what signs point to a difficult customer. Same with people on the phone for tech support. Editors know signs that point to poor writing, and when they try to codify it for us, we get “no prologues”, “no first-person mirror scenes”, and “don’t start with weather”. I Googled “top reasons editors will reject you”, but got very reasonable and thoughtful results, rather than the verboten list I was looking for.

  22. Prolgues-Schmologues.. Do both of them. The idea is unique and sounds as if they would add a lot to the story. Hmmm figuring it out in chapter 12 or chapter 19? I gotta read this story! Best wishes.

  23. If the prologues are there for a reason (and at least the second one seems to have a good reason) then put them in. 🙂

  24. Some of my favorite authors use prologues – Linwood Barclay – and I find they work. Why is it okay for a successful writer to use them, but not the debutantes? If the prologue is a separate event, though relevant to the plot, use one. As for two, I might make that Chapter 1 in your case as it’s only 20 days earlier and does eventually tie in. My debut had a Chapter 1 set three months before the main events, although it gradually tied in. However, I like Melissa Maygrove’s suggestion of a Prologue ” with a scene break and a setting/year orientation(s) if needed.”

  25. Long as they’re well written, prologues don’t bother me in the slightest. And I know you’re a good writer, so I know they’re well written. =)

  26. Personally, I don’t mind prologues as long as they serve a purpose to the story. Unfortunately, I listened to people who said prologues are evil and reworked my current story to remove the prologue.

    I think the 2 you are suggesting would work well.

  27. That’s one rule to break! I love prologues and I never equate them with bad writing, unless, of course, the writing is indeed bad!

  28. You could write a dozen prologues when they’re compelling and strategically relevant. It’s the “info dumps” that readers tend to shy away from. With your high caliber writing, I wouldn’t worry–do your thing!

    Uncharted

  29. See, this is where the whole publishing thing is confusing. It seems like the industry professionals are all like, “No, prologues are bad.” But as a reader, I don’t mind a prologue at all. In fact, I just finished reading DEFY by Sara Larson where she did an interesting type of prologue. She used “Before” at the top of the page as like the prologue and then Chapter 1 said, “Now.” Kind of a unique way to do a prologue and it separated the 3 year time break really well.

    As for yours, yeah, I think I would combine the two prologues and add the 3 centuries later if you feel the 2nd prologue is absolutely essential. Maybe at the top instead of writing Prologue, you could write “Three Centuries Before” and then at the break write “Now.” Then go into your Chapter 1 once you’re finished with your two prologues. Make sense? Email me if you have questions or need to talk through it some more. 🙂

  30. You write the story the way it needs to be written. The anti-prologue people are just as nutty as those who say you shouldn’t write in first person POV. WTF? Everything is story dependent and you have to follow your own instincts as the storyteller. *steps off soapbox*

  31. Someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me like there are two prologues in The Girl on the Train (which is a NT Times Bestseller). There are two pages before the start of the actual first chapter and they each have one paragraph on them. They aren’t titled as prologues, but I assumed they were. Maybe they’re called something else though, not sure. 🙂

  32. Two wouldn’t stop me. As a writer I’d either understand why you choose two, or I wouldn’t. It’s storytelling I’m looking for. I have a prologue in my most recent WIP. I’m worried too, because the prologue takes place in the future, not in the past. The reason I chose it was to show the reader that my protagonist takes control of his life. Because in chapter one, he’s shattered and broken. And I wanted the reader to know this man is someone they can cheer for.

    I think it all comes down to great storytelling. Prologue is such a word like chapter. I’m so anxious to get into the story, I seldom even notice the chapter headings.

  33. Your struggle indicates you’ve come to the conclusion that 2 prologues are absolutely necessary for this story – so let’s do this! What do you think about not using the word prologue — instead merely give each of the 2 prologues an appropriate title – maybe even just something like “Three Centuries Earlier” and “20 days earlier”: then a simple Chapter One.

  34. Go with your gut feeling. Only you know what’s best for your story.
    What’s the anti-prologue sentiment all about, anyway?
    I’ve read tons of stories with prologues that worked well.

  35. I feel your pain. I’ve written so many prologues. >_<

    With my current book, I wrote a short story as a prologue, and wasn't sure if I should make it part of the main book or not, for most of the same reasons you've talked about here. So I wrote the book and did my best to weave all the prologue's info into the story itself, so that I could see if I could make it work without the prologue. And it worked. As much as I love the prologue, I think the story doesn't need it. My suggestion is to see if you can fit the essential details from the prologues into the story itself.

  36. I have no problems with prologues (in fact, one of my series will have a prologue for each book and if you don’t read them, then you’ll miss out on very important information), but I haven’t really heard of having two prologues in a book. I wonder how you’d title it because you can’t use prologue twice, and I’d stay away from introduction because most people skip those (more than prologues).

  37. I don’t mind prologues. I think putting them together with a scene break would work fine. If I see the word Introduction, my first inclination would be to skim, so I think just going with Prologue would be more engaging for me as a reader.

  38. I’ve read books with multiple prologues and it doesn’t bother me – I expect those kind of things from the genre. Brandon Sanderson uses them a lot, and he’s doing okay. If you’re worried about names you don’t have to call it “Prologue” – and have a descriptive title of some kind instead, with the place and date or some other piece of information that will fit it in with the story. I wouldn’t call it an introduction, though – I think that would just be confusing.

  39. I don’t mind prologues at all, and I like them when they hook me in. But I’m not a fan when they go on and on and on.

  40. Prologues never bother me, as long as they’re entertaining. I guess I might imagine getting annoyed if by the end of the book the prologue ended up contributing nothing the story. But, I’m sure that’s happened, and I can’t recall that ever being a reason I disliked a book/prologue.

    I’ll admit, I’ve never used them. But, if I felt doing so would fit a story, I probably would.

  41. i actually have the same fear – i’m doing one for the first time, but it’s a different pov – and felt right to write! and per the suggestion of my awesome first cp, i do an epilogue from the same pov as the prologue. i think if they’re done right, they’re fine. as a reader, some are good, some are pointless… i say if it works, use it!!

  42. It’s funny how prologues have become vilified. I used one in my book and I was pretty nervous that it would put some people off. So far that doesn’t seem to have been the case. At the end of the day, if there’s a reason for it, then I think the no-prologue rule goes out the window. It won’t ruin a good story, nor will improve a bad one….

    That said two prologues does sound a little weird. I don’t know that it would necessarily put me off a story but it would definitely take me out of the story as I tried to work out what was going with all the prologues. I much prefer the idea of doing one prologue with a break and a “three centuries later” comment to help situate the reader. Introduction sounds too much like a foreword by the writer or something of the like. Hope this helps! 🙂

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