Merging narrative types and a question on prologues.

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leakelly
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Merging narrative types and a question on prologues.

Post by leakelly » January 15th, 2010, 2:06 pm

Hi all,

This is my first post and I must admit that I am a little wary - I've read a few posts/blog entries/comments regarding prologues and the general consensus is to scrap them. However, I'm going to persevere and ask anyway.

I'm wondering what the general consensus is on having a prologue written in third person tacked onto the start of a book written entirely in first person?

The reason behind this madness is that the prologue describes a scene which occurs in the past, before my main character (the narrator) was born. Short of having a character, who was around when my 'prologue' occurred, describe the events to my narrator I can't see any other way around it. It is essential that the reader discover the events as early into the book as possible and it would ruin the fun if my narrator found out too early.

Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

- Lea -

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Seamus
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Re: Merging narrative types and a question on prologues.

Post by Seamus » January 15th, 2010, 2:14 pm

Could our character find out (at just the right time) from someone else in the course of the story? You know, one of those, "Before you were born, your mother and I . . . "
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Re: Merging narrative types and a question on prologues.

Post by charity_bradford » January 15th, 2010, 2:18 pm

Writing in first person is really hard because of this very thing. Is there any way for you to work in foreshadowing (not sure what the word should be since it happened before the MC was born) to build the tension without your MC discovering all the details too soon? A whispered conversation overheard, but not fully understood because of other racket covering the words?

Just thinking out loud here. Good luck!
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Re: Merging narrative types and a question on prologues.

Post by poptart » January 15th, 2010, 2:21 pm

Personally I don't mind prologues as long as you keep them short and as intriguing as possible. Long descriptive preambles are a turn-off and too risky at the opening of a book when you need to hook the reader, but if you make it dramatic I don't see why it shouldn't work.

The change from third to first person shouldn't matter, in fact it's good to have a change like this to draw a line between the two timescales.
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Re: Merging narrative types and a question on prologues.

Post by robena grant » January 15th, 2010, 4:19 pm

I've always been told to avoid prologues and epilogues because the story starts with an inciting incident and when the issues around that incident are resolved, the story is over. A prologue is past history, there's no action there and it's like you're setting up the story. I'd find a way to drop the information in later. But if you can't find a way to do that, keep it brief and intriguing, one page maximum.

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polymath
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Re: Merging narrative types and a question on prologues.

Post by polymath » January 15th, 2010, 8:48 pm

Kurt Vonnegut's novel Breakfast of Champions, 1973, opens with a first person preface that's relevant to the story. The first chapter is in the form of a third person prologue, but not demarcated as such. The second chapter also in the form of a third person prologue. Not until several pages into the third chapter does the narrator shift back into first person. "I do not know who invented the body bag."

Vonnegut flouted many of the conventional writing wisdoms of his time that are still bantered about today.
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Re: Merging narrative types and a question on prologues.

Post by LydiaSharp » January 15th, 2010, 9:38 pm

leakelly wrote:Hi all,

This is my first post and I must admit that I am a little wary - I've read a few posts/blog entries/comments regarding prologues and the general consensus is to scrap them. However, I'm going to persevere and ask anyway.

I'm wondering what the general consensus is on having a prologue written in third person tacked onto the start of a book written entirely in first person?

The reason behind this madness is that the prologue describes a scene which occurs in the past, before my main character (the narrator) was born. Short of having a character, who was around when my 'prologue' occurred, describe the events to my narrator I can't see any other way around it. It is essential that the reader discover the events as early into the book as possible and it would ruin the fun if my narrator found out too early.

Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

- Lea -
First off, kudos for being a risk taker. I like that. :)

Can you write a prologue in third person and the rest of the novel in first? Absolutely.

Prologues and epilogues are separated because they are usually distanced from the rest of the story by a time gap. And this kind of answers your other question, too, about the prologue relaying a past event. As long as the prologue and epilogue are relevant, go for it. Just don't be surprised if you are advised by agents or other industry professionals to scrap it/them. They are not generally well-received because most modern readers skip them, especially prologues. If you keep it short, tense, to the point, and relevant, it will have a better chance. By the time a reader has invested his/her time and effort into completing the novel, they are more likely to go ahead and read the epilogue. (They got this far ... why not?) But again, if it's too long or doesn't seem necessary (or it isn't clear that it's a lead-in to a sequel), they won't bother.

Prologues are a little harder to sell, though. You essentially have to start your story twice.

Good luck to you!

~Lydia
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Jaime
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Re: Merging narrative types and a question on prologues.

Post by Jaime » January 16th, 2010, 12:11 am

During editing, I scrapped my first chapter after my beta readers had read it. There was one scene I was attached to, and my readers were also disappointed that I was taking it out. So, now it is a prologue, and I'm sticking with it.

Nathan would probably say "if it works, it works." In fact, I think he actually has said that about prologues and epilogues. If it gives your story something that a flashback (or another character telling them) can't pull off, and it's integral to the story, then it has to be there.

Go with your gut :)

leakelly
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Re: Merging narrative types and a question on prologues.

Post by leakelly » January 16th, 2010, 6:36 pm

Aaah, thanks all! I'm glad I posted this question it's given me lots to think about. I now realise I'd automatically dismissed the foreshadowing and 'whispered conversations' options before I even gave them a go. Having someone else (outside of my own head) suggest the idea makes it seem somehow more possible, so I'm off to re-draft a few chapters to see how it goes!

I'm also glad that a distinction was drawn between short and long prologues. I much prefer the shorter ones myself (the one I'm describing is only half a page). In fact, sometimes they can be really interesting.

again, thanks...

- lea -

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