Is a prolouge too long?

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Kullnoush
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Is a prolouge too long?

Post by Kullnoush » December 21st, 2011, 3:01 am

Does anyone have an answer?

I know I've never personally seen a very long prologue in a book, but is there a limit on how long a prologue can be? In my MS (fantasy) I'm using a prologue to explain the world and how it works, cover some of the conflicts that will later arise, as well as point out that things are starting to be put into motion. To cover them thoroughly I seem to have 3,300+ words (roughly 10 pages).

Would this be frowned upon, and since it is practically a chapter on its own, would it be considered the first 10 pages that an agent may ask to see in the query guidelines? I saw a similar question, but the writer stated his/her prologue was 3 pages, and I wasn’t sure if it’d be the same since mine essentially a chapter.

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MattLarkin
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Re: Is a prolouge too long?

Post by MattLarkin » December 21st, 2011, 10:11 am

Kullnoush wrote:Does anyone have an answer?

I know I've never personally seen a very long prologue in a book, but is there a limit on how long a prologue can be? In my MS (fantasy) I'm using a prologue to explain the world and how it works, cover some of the conflicts that will later arise, as well as point out that things are starting to be put into motion. To cover them thoroughly I seem to have 3,300+ words (roughly 10 pages).

Would this be frowned upon, and since it is practically a chapter on its own, would it be considered the first 10 pages that an agent may ask to see in the query guidelines? I saw a similar question, but the writer stated his/her prologue was 3 pages, and I wasn’t sure if it’d be the same since mine essentially a chapter.
In general, prologues are risky for some of the reasons you're dancing around. If it is not part of the main story you are asking the reader to become invested in a character and setting, read about them for a bit (probably with no resolution), and then switch to another character and/or place and become invested all over again. (If it is contiguous with the main story, why isn't it chapter 1?)

Fantasy, in particular, tends to love prologues, but have the most glaring problems with them. That is, they only make sense after you read the book. In the case of some series, perhaps not for several books.

Maybe you can pull it off and make it work well. But by asking the reader to basically read a short story at the beginning that may or may not make sense, and then start another story, you are giving them an extra chance to put the book down. It costs you momentum.

Not saying don't write a prologue, but be aware of the risks. As far as 3300 words, that's longer than most of my chapters. It depends on your style, but, personally, a ten-page prologue might be a turn off, unless it was really fast paced. It'd make me worry about the story plodding along.

About agents, it varies from agent to agent, and sometimes you have to use your discretion. But I think many mean send them the first ten pages, as you intend to publish the book, and in such a case, it would be the prologue, yes.
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Doug Pardee
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Re: Is a prolouge too long?

Post by Doug Pardee » December 21st, 2011, 4:43 pm

I'm generally with Matt. Whenever I see a prologue in genre fiction, my immediate reaction is "oh dear." It's usually a sign that the author hasn't put the effort into figuring out how to structure the writing, and has decided instead to just give us an infodump up front, or decided that chapter 1 was too boring and is giving us a glimpse of what's to come in the hopes that we'll slog through the early chapters, or had some material that didn't fit the story but they couldn't bring themselves to cut it.

Here's the thing. After reading your 10-page prologue, I'm not going to remember much of anything from it. The human mind isn't built that way. We need things a bit at a time. Part of the challenge of being a writer is learning how to pace the introduction of information so that it seems natural and so that the reader won't be overwhelmed by it all.

I have, by the way, seen a very long prologue in genre fiction. Jane Lindskold's The Buried Pyramid starts with a back-story high-action prologue that runs about 25 pages in the mass-market paperback edition, and the prologue doesn't even feature the main characters. Personally, I thought it was a waste of my time.

Kullnoush
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Re: Is a prolouge too long?

Post by Kullnoush » December 21st, 2011, 6:23 pm

Thanks guys, you gave me a lot to think about. I did intend to come back to the character and several of the things that happened in the prologue, but that wasn’t going to happen until book 3. Now that doesn't seem like the best idea, lol. I’ll play around with it, and see what I can come up with. Thanks again.

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CharleeVale
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Re: Is a prolouge too long?

Post by CharleeVale » December 21st, 2011, 11:55 pm

I don't do this anymore, but I used to skip prologues until I realized there was actually STORY in there. I'm sure I'm not the only one who did/does that.

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Nathan Bransford
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Re: Is a prolouge too long?

Post by Nathan Bransford » January 3rd, 2012, 11:58 pm

Hi all, sorry for the delay, I've been away from the Internet quite a bit the last few weeks.

On prologues, there's no hard and fast rule - if it works it works. But I agree with the others in the thread who say that it's important to make sure that a prologue is absolutely necessary to the story. You're making a reader start a book twice, so it needs to be absolutely worth it.

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