I used to be completely, vehemently anti-prologue.
(If only I was so utterly anti-adverb.)
Really? Two lines in and I’m already digressing?
Yeah, I was really down on prologues, because so many of them were one of two things:
- An introduction that could well have been chapter one. I mean, start the story where you’re going to start the story, right?
- An egregious info dump that leaves no opportunity for subtext to develop over time.
It was that second one that was such a problem for me as both a reader and a writer.
I wrote any number of prologues that tried to make my main character, Giovanni, a more flawed character. I wrote a number of flash fiction stories that were supposed to be part of his backstory, part of who he was so the reader would be more sympathetic to him in the course of the novel.
They didn’t work.
Because I was trying to hook my readers, I made the stories particularly egregious and shocking. Something I’ve learned in this writing odyssey is that life is tragic enough, and I didn’t need to go over the top to make Giovanni feel life’s pain. His story was sad enough; I didn’t need a horrifying prologue to emphasize that. It’ll come through as the story unfolds.
I went to the other extreme. Prologue bad. Prologue info dump. Prologue evil.
Then one day Dan Wells cleared it all up for me. He calls it the Ice Monster Prologue.
There is a prologue in the Game of Thrones series that features magic and adventure and ice monsters called Others.
Except all that comes later in the story. Like most good stories, the beginning of things isn’t terribly exciting. It’s the regular old world of one of the main characters.
In Shadow of the Portico, it’s Giovanni being yelled at by his older sisters for being a bonehead.
But The Journeymen is about a group of superhuman time travelers. We are well into the book before Giovanni discovers that he is one of them. It made a lot of sense to me to start the story–indeed, the series–by getting a little taste of what it’s like to travel back in time 440 years.
Armed with this new paradigm, I went in and wrote my prologue. You can read it here.
Always looking for the larger lesson, I realize that even when you think you know something, whether it’s about writing or anything else, you are never above learning something new.
By the way, if you’re interested in Dan Wells’s story structure, I put a link to his videos on my Writing Resources page.