WritersBeat.com
 

Go Back   WritersBeat.com > Writing Craft > Writing Help & Issues

Writing Help & Issues You name it, we solve it! Ask your questions here.


Introducing a backstory as chapter one or as a prologue? Opinions welcomed.

Reply
 
Thread Tools
  #1  
Old 12-22-2011, 04:43 PM
donnaf (Offline)
Homer's Odyssey Was Nothing
Official Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2011
Posts: 1,057
Thanks: 663
Thanks 219
Default Introducing a backstory as chapter one or as a prologue? Opinions welcomed.


My hero had a major life altering experience several decades before the story takes place. This experience overshadows his life even now and the story's nemesis was involved in it. I was planning to introduce my hero in chapter 2 by having him awaken from a nightmare about his past experience but after thinking it over I feel this may come across as cheesy and cliche'd.

I'm tempted to use it as a prologue instead of as chapter one but many folks here say most readers don't read prologues. (There have been several threads here concerning prologues and whether or not they are feasible.) I for one don't understand why someone who has plunked down $6-8 bucks for a book wouldn't read a prologue as it is part of the story.

Using the backstory as chapter one presents some issues in my mind as well. A lot happens between the time the event takes place and the story starts properly. I go from him being a POW being used for heinous experiments to nearly 60 years later having a disease-ridden starship crashing into the local starport, etc. It doesn't seem like it flows very smoothly to me--too much disparity between what took place and what is now happening, if that makes any sense. I don't want to jar the reader from my world and have them going, "Huh?"

With the backstory written as a prolgoue versus as a chapter, I can introduce "inside information" to the reader and set the undertone of the story. I also think by using the backstory as a prologue it will help the reader understand my hero better and possibly feel more of a connection to/sympathy for him early on. (They will already know something about him and I can build on that knowledge right away.)

I understand you don't want to laden the story down right away with a lot of backstory but do you think it can be done well if the information is used a prologue and not an actual chapter?

Reply With Quote
  #2  
Old 12-22-2011, 06:10 PM
Jinjonator's Avatar
Jinjonator (Offline)
Scribbling Master
Official Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2009
Location: The Space That's In Between Insane and Insecure
Posts: 993
Thanks: 19
Thanks 45
Send a message via MSN to Jinjonator
Default

I'd say make it a prologue, but still write it like normal, and not make it an information dump (of course).
__________________
There's a place for those who love their poetry
It's just across from the sign that says "Pros only"
Reply With Quote
The Following User Says Thank You to Jinjonator For This Useful Post:
donnaf (12-22-2011)
  #3  
Old 12-22-2011, 06:36 PM
donnaf (Offline)
Homer's Odyssey Was Nothing
Official Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2011
Posts: 1,057
Thanks: 663
Thanks 219
Default

Yeah, that's what I'm leaning toward. Right now I'm trying to get inside his head and get down on paper how he feels scared, humiliated, defiant, and full of hatred, all at the same time.
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 12-23-2011, 12:22 AM
Mike C's Avatar
Mike C (Offline)
Legend
Official Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2006
Location: UK
Posts: 9,117
Thanks: 99
Thanks 1,572
Send a message via MSN to Mike C
Default

Originally Posted by donnaf View Post
I for one don't understand why someone who has plunked down $6-8 bucks for a book wouldn't read a prologue as it is part of the story.
Because usually they're badly written and boring; they're the clunky bit that the author couldn't figure out how to fit into the book, or they're an infodump. That's why.
__________________
لا شيء يدوم‎
Reply With Quote
The Following User Says Thank You to Mike C For This Useful Post:
donnaf (12-23-2011)
  #5  
Old 12-23-2011, 12:36 AM
Tau's Avatar
Tau (Offline)
Solemn Simulacrum
 
Join Date: Jul 2006
Location: Unknown, possibly nowhere.
Posts: 8,830
Thanks: 497
Thanks 682
Default

Prologue, and if people don’t read it then it is their loss. However instead of thinking of it as backstory just think of it as a scene and write it like that, don’t include any information not relevant to the scene itself, so no information dump.
__________________
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?


To view links or images in signatures your post count must be 10 or greater. You currently have 0 posts.
Reply With Quote
The Following 2 Users Say Thank You to Tau For This Useful Post:
donnaf (12-23-2011), TrinaA (01-06-2012)
  #6  
Old 12-23-2011, 04:24 AM
donnaf (Offline)
Homer's Odyssey Was Nothing
Official Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2011
Posts: 1,057
Thanks: 663
Thanks 219
Default

Originally Posted by Mike C View Post
Because usually they're badly written and boring; they're the clunky bit that the author couldn't figure out how to fit into the book, or they're an infodump. That's why.
Originally Posted by Tau View Post
Prologue, and if people don’t read it then it is their loss. However instead of thinking of it as backstory just think of it as a scene and write it like that, don’t include any information not relevant to the scene itself, so no information dump.
MikeC: Thanks for the input. I understand about prologues sometimes being info dumps. I like CJ Cherryh's stuff and she has a tendency to do this. I read her prologues but have to admit they can be tedious.

Tau: I'm going with your suggestion. I'm writing it as a prologue because I feel it is crucial information that will come into bigger play later in the book but it doesn't "feel" like it should be the first chapter. I think it will work better that way.

Thanks for your thoughts!

Last edited by donnaf; 12-23-2011 at 04:33 AM..
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 12-23-2011, 04:46 AM
AnyaKimlun's Avatar
AnyaKimlun (Offline)
Samuel Johnson, obviously!
Official Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2011
Location: North East Scotland
Posts: 6,943
Thanks: 2,739
Thanks 1,456
Default

I like prologues when they are done well and I do read them.

My advice is write the prologue, but watch as you are writing the rest of the novel or editing it for ways it can be interspersed through through the story.
Reply With Quote
The Following User Says Thank You to AnyaKimlun For This Useful Post:
donnaf (12-23-2011)
  #8  
Old 12-23-2011, 06:02 AM
donnaf (Offline)
Homer's Odyssey Was Nothing
Official Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2011
Posts: 1,057
Thanks: 663
Thanks 219
Default

That's a good point to keep in mind.
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Old 12-23-2011, 10:01 AM
CandraH
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
Default

Originally Posted by Mike C View Post
Because usually they're badly written and boring; they're the clunky bit that the author couldn't figure out how to fit into the book, or they're an infodump. That's why.
You grumpy old git you.

I always read prologues. If they're in a book, they get read whether they're shit or not. If they are shit, that usually means the rest of the book will also be shit so they're good little windows onto whether or not to keep reading.

Donna, I didn't read your op, sorry. A bit distracted at the moment. But if you really want to get something into your story, put it in in whatever way you want. You can always come back during editing and decide if it still needs to be in a prologue or if you've already made it redundant by including the backstory elsewhere.

Edit; Heh. What Anya said.
Reply With Quote
The Following User Says Thank You to For This Useful Post:
donnaf (12-23-2011)
  #10  
Old 12-23-2011, 10:26 AM
donnaf (Offline)
Homer's Odyssey Was Nothing
Official Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2011
Posts: 1,057
Thanks: 663
Thanks 219
Default

Thanks for your opinion. It is appreciated.

Last edited by donnaf; 12-23-2011 at 10:31 AM..
Reply With Quote
  #11  
Old 12-23-2011, 11:10 AM
longknife's Avatar
longknife (Offline)
Scribbling Master
Official Member
 
Join Date: Sep 2009
Posts: 752
Thanks: 115
Thanks 89
Icon6

Like MikeC said, Prologues are usually boring, infodumps that, unless it's a well-known writers whose book I bought because of his name, will cause me to read further - or dump the thing in the recycle bin!

In my sequel to Sonora Symphony [a story about a soldier suffering from PTSD who finally learns his parents were murdered] my first chapter is a dramatic [I hope!] recount of the death of his parents. It also introduces one of the MCs.

But, the trick was to make a smooth connection between that and chapter two, where the current story takes place. You also need to hold some of the infodump back and feed it out gradually throughout the story.

Good luck with your effort.
__________________

To view links or images in signatures your post count must be 10 or greater. You currently have 0 posts.

The history of the California missions


To view links or images in signatures your post count must be 10 or greater. You currently have 0 posts.

Life in the military and general ramblings
Reply With Quote
The Following User Says Thank You to longknife For This Useful Post:
donnaf (12-23-2011)
  #12  
Old 12-27-2011, 11:40 AM
Stig (Offline)
Pencil pusher
Official Member
 
Join Date: Dec 2011
Posts: 15
Thanks: 0
Thanked 1 Time in 1 Post
Default

In my current story I included basic things of the backstory in the first chapter, but I have never made separate prologues. I also have personal experiences of skipping prologue or I just scan it quickly through.

In my earlier still unfinished story I didn't tell much of the backstory in the beginning but basic idea becomes fairly clear during first 3-4 chapters and very important detail of the main character is told only few chapters later (it is possible to gues it earlier). This might be generally the better way with less risk of info dumping.
Reply With Quote
The Following User Says Thank You to Stig For This Useful Post:
donnaf (12-28-2011)
  #13  
Old 12-27-2011, 08:46 PM
Kazeshini (Offline)
Abnormally Articulate
Official Member
 
Join Date: Oct 2011
Posts: 130
Thanks: 6
Thanks 19
Default

I normally don't skip prologues but I haven't had any inclination to include one in my novel either. A couple of times when I've felt like a "history lesson" was needed I've closed one chapter with an event that ties in to something that has happened previously and then written the next chapter as a scene from the past. For example in chapter one several characters are introduced but I wanted the relationship between two specific people to stand out. I closed the first chapter with them having a discussion in which one person makes a reference to a private joke they have shared for several years. The second chapter is a scene from their past in which something significant occurs and the origin of their little joke is revealed. At the same time it reveals something about the one character's personality and how he occasionally uses inappropriate humor to deal with tense situations. Hope that makes sense!
Reply With Quote
The Following User Says Thank You to Kazeshini For This Useful Post:
donnaf (12-28-2011)
  #14  
Old 12-28-2011, 02:40 PM
Rei's Avatar
Rei (Offline)
Verbosity Pales
Official Member
 
Join Date: Jun 2010
Location: The Tardis
Posts: 3,488
Thanks: 269
Thanks 257
Default

I like exposition to be done so that we barely notice that's what's happening. It should be weaved into the narative when it's most natural for the characters to bring it up, or when the audience really needs to know it. We should also trust our readers and respect their intelligence. Give them one plus one, and they will come up with two on their own.
__________________

To view links or images in signatures your post count must be 10 or greater. You currently have 0 posts.
Reply With Quote
The Following User Says Thank You to Rei For This Useful Post:
donnaf (12-28-2011)
  #15  
Old 12-28-2011, 11:41 PM
donnaf (Offline)
Homer's Odyssey Was Nothing
Official Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2011
Posts: 1,057
Thanks: 663
Thanks 219
Default

Originally Posted by Rei View Post
I like exposition to be done so that we barely notice that's what's happening. It should be weaved into the narative when it's most natural for the characters to bring it up, or when the audience really needs to know it. We should also trust our readers and respect their intelligence. Give them one plus one, and they will come up with two on their own.
I agree with respecting the reader's intelligence. I have to watch myself as I tend to overwrite--not because I think my readers incapable of grasping what I am trying to say but because I don't trust myself to be capable of getting my point across without walloping them over the head with it. Need to work on reining those tendencies in, for sure.

Thank you for the reply, btw.
Reply With Quote
  #16  
Old 12-29-2011, 06:35 AM
CandraH
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
Default

Hey Rei. Good to see you back. Where've you been hiding?
Reply With Quote
  #17  
Old 12-29-2011, 07:51 AM
JoeMatt (Offline)
 
Join Date: Sep 2009
Location: Atlanta, GA
Posts: 6,394
Thanks: 441
Thanks 1,526
Default

Originally Posted by Mike C View Post
Because usually they're badly written and boring; they're the clunky bit that the author couldn't figure out how to fit into the book, or they're an infodump. That's why.
That's true. But the people who read the kind of books with prologues probably don't know the difference.
Reply With Quote
  #18  
Old 12-29-2011, 08:05 AM
CandraH
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
Default

Originally Posted by JoeMatt View Post
That's true. But the people who read the kind of books with prologues probably don't know the difference.
Haha. Cheeky Bastard.
Reply With Quote
  #19  
Old 12-29-2011, 11:15 AM
Rei's Avatar
Rei (Offline)
Verbosity Pales
Official Member
 
Join Date: Jun 2010
Location: The Tardis
Posts: 3,488
Thanks: 269
Thanks 257
Default

Originally Posted by CandraH View Post
Hey Rei. Good to see you back. Where've you been hiding?
Why don't we stay on topic and leave me the hell alone?

I don't like generalizations. Prologues can work. The prologues I like are often like pre-titles sequences on TV and movies. The first sequence in the most recent Star Trek movie counts as a prologue because it takes place a long time before the rest of the story, but we need that sequence anyway because, at the very least, we need to know where the Romulans came from. It also helps set some other stuff that is technically not essential, but it helps. The first scene/chapter in the firs Harry Potter can be called a prologue, too. However, they don't call it that. They just call it chapter one.
__________________

To view links or images in signatures your post count must be 10 or greater. You currently have 0 posts.
Reply With Quote
  #20  
Old 12-29-2011, 11:41 AM
AnyaKimlun's Avatar
AnyaKimlun (Offline)
Samuel Johnson, obviously!
Official Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2011
Location: North East Scotland
Posts: 6,943
Thanks: 2,739
Thanks 1,456
Default

Originally Posted by JoeMatt View Post
That's true. But the people who read the kind of books with prologues probably don't know the difference.
nah we just know what you are missing out on and appreciate a good story. Nowt wrong with a good infodump works well for Melville, Dickens and Hugo

A good prologue especially in an historical novel or a fantasy story will deepen the reading and understanding. Lewis and Tolkein just wrote prequels instead.
Reply With Quote
  #21  
Old 12-30-2011, 03:41 AM
fihr (Offline)
Word Wizard
Official Member
 
Join Date: Jun 2011
Location: In a state of chaos.
Posts: 552
Thanks: 244
Thanks 195
Default

The only problem I have with prologues, is that sometimes, by the time they are relevant to the story, I have forgotten them, and I have to interrupt the book to go back and reread.

One of my favourite authors often uses them, and they are fascinating, and they do make sense later... but one thousand pages on. They become a puzzle that I'm dying to solve, and I get annoyed because the story goes off in a completely unrelated direction at Chapter 1. But that's because the prologues are great. They are scenes like anywhere else in the story; in no sense an info dump. More, a mystery dump.

In Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, the second book, there was an important prologue, and it also had that mystery, where it wasn't completely clear what the description was referring to. It was an experience one of the characters had, but they weren't named. And it was vital to the story.

I think a prologue is good if it adds to the story and is an experience that leaves you wanting more (to answer the questions it raises), without being an info dump. Quite the opposite to an info dump, in fact.
Reply With Quote
  #22  
Old 12-30-2011, 09:10 AM
CandraH
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
Default

Originally Posted by Rei View Post
Why don't we stay on topic and leave me the hell alone?
Haha. Good to see you too, girly.

Topic? I covered that already.
Reply With Quote
  #23  
Old 01-06-2012, 12:53 PM
OrionDarkwood's Avatar
OrionDarkwood (Offline)
Typist
Official Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2012
Location: The Sooth
Posts: 74
Thanks: 21
Thanks 7
Icon6

Originally Posted by donnaf View Post
My hero had a major life altering experience several decades before the story takes place. This experience overshadows his life even now and the story's nemesis was involved in it. I was planning to introduce my hero in chapter 2 by having him awaken from a nightmare about his past experience but after thinking it over I feel this may come across as cheesy and cliche'd.

I'm tempted to use it as a prologue instead of as chapter one but many folks here say most readers don't read prologues. (There have been several threads here concerning prologues and whether or not they are feasible.) I for one don't understand why someone who has plunked down $6-8 bucks for a book wouldn't read a prologue as it is part of the story.

Using the backstory as chapter one presents some issues in my mind as well. A lot happens between the time the event takes place and the story starts properly. I go from him being a POW being used for heinous experiments to nearly 60 years later having a disease-ridden starship crashing into the local starport, etc. It doesn't seem like it flows very smoothly to me--too much disparity between what took place and what is now happening, if that makes any sense. I don't want to jar the reader from my world and have them going, "Huh?"

With the backstory written as a prolgoue versus as a chapter, I can introduce "inside information" to the reader and set the undertone of the story. I also think by using the backstory as a prologue it will help the reader understand my hero better and possibly feel more of a connection to/sympathy for him early on. (They will already know something about him and I can build on that knowledge right away.)

I understand you don't want to laden the story down right away with a lot of backstory but do you think it can be done well if the information is used a prologue and not an actual chapter?
I think you have answered your own question in you make the nightmare tell all the highlights that you wish to convey. Nightmares being of a fluid and surreal nature can contain all something like

Tom's eye's fluttered and his muscles twitched at the nightmare overtook him

He was back at on Earth when Mr. Nasty McEvil kidnapped him and did mean things too him.. as he ran into darkness a new horror emerged he was old and blowing the doors to Mr. McEvil's liar to find his son McEvil Jr. had killed his father and had his wife hostage.. etc.. etc..
Reply With Quote
  #24  
Old 01-07-2012, 12:33 AM
Mike C's Avatar
Mike C (Offline)
Legend
Official Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2006
Location: UK
Posts: 9,117
Thanks: 99
Thanks 1,572
Send a message via MSN to Mike C
Default

Originally Posted by JoeMatt View Post
That's true. But the people who read the kind of books with prologues probably don't know the difference.
This is, I think, a universal truth.
__________________
لا شيء يدوم‎
Reply With Quote
  #25  
Old 01-11-2012, 10:35 AM
tamara8flo (Offline)
Pencil pusher
Official Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2012
Location: California
Posts: 14
Thanks: 0
Thanked 1 Time in 1 Post
Default

Chapter 0.
This works nicely because:
1) It makes the reader more interested, because Chapter 0 is more unique and memorable
2) You can write in in prologue form, but since it is a chapter, readers are more likely to read it!
Reply With Quote
  #26  
Old 01-11-2012, 12:00 PM
Mike C's Avatar
Mike C (Offline)
Legend
Official Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2006
Location: UK
Posts: 9,117
Thanks: 99
Thanks 1,572
Send a message via MSN to Mike C
Default

Tamara, something can't be more unique. It's either unique, or it's not.

And in this case, it's not.
__________________
لا شيء يدوم‎
Reply With Quote
Reply

  WritersBeat.com > Writing Craft > Writing Help & Issues


Thread Tools

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off


Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
A Prologue ... or possible a Chapter One? Taylor Gray Fiction 2 12-02-2011 06:54 AM
Edited prologue and start of chapter 1. LSMatthews Fiction 0 12-08-2010 11:12 PM
Ithaca IV, prologue and chapter one Heroshade Fiction 1 11-15-2010 06:47 AM
(new version)Duo of destiny- prologue and chapter one alvin123 Fiction 2 02-19-2008 09:10 AM
Adrenaline - Prologue to Chapter one. Sycorax Fiction 1 02-18-2007 02:50 PM


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 12:38 AM.

vBulletin, Copyright © 2000-2006, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.