Prologues in Query letter: Pro or Con?

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bigheadx
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Prologues in Query letter: Pro or Con?

Post by bigheadx » May 4th, 2010, 2:02 pm

Many of my favorite crime and mystery writers use a brief prologue to either establish a backstory or show the crime that will be solved (for example, Robert Ellis does the latter very nicely in "The Lost Witness"). While there are plenty of discussions about their use, their length, their value, etc. etc., I am curious as to how many people have included their prologue (should they have one in their novel) when they paste that first chapter (or two) into their query letter email. Thanks for your opinions!
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Re: Prologues in Query letter: Pro or Con?

Post by polymath » May 4th, 2010, 2:51 pm

The terms prologue, prelude, and preface are used interchangably to mean a preliminary or introductory action or event preceding a main action or event.

Prescriptively though, a prologue tells the preliminaries, -logue: talk, discourse; dialogue, monologue. In other words, often an introduction of a storyteller's voice, a storyteller's standing in relation to a narrative report, or tellling preliminary details about the events leading up to the main action, etc. A prelude shows in scene a preliminary action or event that precedes and incites the main action or event of a narrative. A preface is a prefatory commentary given by a narrator or author conveying preliminary details essential for appreciating nuances of the main narrative.

A prelude introduces actions or events that aren't intrinsic to the main action or events, but that set up for events or actions that are intrinsic. Preludes don't have to be from a time before the main action of a narrative. They're occasionally used in nonlinear timelines to show the inciting crisis that will happen later in a narrative's internal timeline. The example cited of showing a crime in a prelude is a good example of a preliminary action that incites plot movement, but after being given is no longer essentially intrinsic to the main action of solving who done the crime.

If a prelude incites plot movement, it will engage audience rapport, and might be a good idea to include in a query submission. If it doesn't, if it's a prologue or preface detailing nonimmediately essential backstory or details that don't incite plot movement, it might not be a good idea to include it in a query submission, and might not be a good idea in a manuscript in the first place. Rather, it's a best practice to interleave the backstory or details into the main narrative as they unfold in significance to a viewpoint character's perspective.
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Re: Prologues in Query letter: Pro or Con?

Post by Quill » May 4th, 2010, 4:29 pm

As I understand it, if one has a prologue, then that is the beginning, and as such must properly be included in the submission.

More broadly, to paraphrase Polymath, if the "first pages" can stand without it (if one is seriously considering sending one's first pages without it), then cut the prologue from the manuscript.

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Re: Prologues in Query letter: Pro or Con?

Post by bigheadx » May 4th, 2010, 6:04 pm

Thank you for this information!

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Re: Prologues in Query letter: Pro or Con?

Post by Cabby » May 15th, 2010, 1:17 am

I'm pretty sure that I've read this somewhere....maybe query shark? I know this isn't much help, but one agent/editor whose blog I read is very vehement that you should NOT include your prologue with your pages submission. The story doesn't really start with a prologue--that's why it's a prologue and not chapter one. She says to send chapter one. If they request a full/partial, you can send the prologue then.

Anyway, I know I'm not all that helpful, since I can't remember the source. However, somewhere, there is a blog that answers this question. You could try googling it. (I'm too lazy. I didn't even try.)

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Re: Prologues in Query letter: Pro or Con?

Post by Em! » May 15th, 2010, 1:10 pm

Not sure if this is the specific post you were thinking of, Cabby, but Query Shark comes down on prologues here.

Kristen Nelson has also talked about prologues a few times and is also generally anti-prologue (but not always).
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Re: Prologues in Query letter: Pro or Con?

Post by Quill » May 15th, 2010, 3:33 pm

Cabby wrote: one agent/editor whose blog I read is very vehement that you should NOT include your prologue with your pages submission. The story doesn't really start with a prologue--that's why it's a prologue and not chapter one.
I would argue that a well-conceived and well written prologue is the start of the story. Or, I would also argue, it shouldn't be there. And I think it would be false in all cases to simply rename it Chapter One if it is really a prologue.
Em! wrote:Not sure if this is the specific post you were thinking of, Cabby, but Query Shark comes down on prologues here.
Interesting, her saying a prologue should NEVER, EVER be included in the partial. No reason given. What if it is stellar and integral to the story. What if it would be like starting with Chapter Two without it??
Kristen Nelson has also talked about prologues a few times and is also generally anti-prologue (but not always).
Kristin's second link proves the point. Prologues are rarely necessary, and many agents frown on including them with the partial, but when they work, well, the rules don't apply.

Me, I'm going to keep mine glued to any first pages that go out, because without it the first chapter loses force and context. And I don't see integrating the two page prologue with the first or any other chapter, as it sets the tone for the entire book.

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Re: Prologues in Query letter: Pro or Con?

Post by bigheadx » May 15th, 2010, 4:00 pm

Thanks for the interesting responses. What has been said made me realize that my prologue was actually my first chapter, even tho' it "reveals" the crime to be solved.

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Re: Prologues in Query letter: Pro or Con?

Post by izanobu » May 16th, 2010, 1:30 am

If your prologue is necessary in the book, then you should definitely use it in your query, since it is the start of the book. If the book is fine without it, why even have one? :)

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Re: Prologues in Query letter: Pro or Con?

Post by Quill » May 16th, 2010, 1:57 am

Exactly. And thanks for so succinctly putting it.

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