To Prologue or not to Prologue?

I’ve probably got no business starting another novel.  There’s some editing to be done on the three I’ve already written; the task of getting them published in some form or another; not to mention all the unfinished projects I have around the house.  But, as I said in my previous post, I’ve been “infected” by the germ of a new novel.  It’s a sickness; I can’t help it.

The plan was to do the necessary research for the new book while editing book # 3 (a contemporary, non-Jane-Austen story: more about that later).  But I wanted to at least set down my thoughts for how I would begin book #4 first.  So I wrote what amounts to a prologue.  Great!  Then I wrote a little more…and a little more.  Fun stuff!  But when I reread what I had so far, I realized I didn’t have a prologue and chapter 1, I actually had three prologues!

Prologue: an introductory passage before the main action of a novel, play, or long poem.

I’ve heard that prologues are out of vogue at the moment (so having not one, but three of them, is probably not a good thing), but I thought, “surely Jane Austen must have utilized this fine literary tool.”  Nope; I checked – nothing that’s officially called a prologue in any of her novels.  She was big on epilogues, however.  Here again, they aren’t labeled as such, but a final chapter clearly serving that function.

Epilogue: a short chapter or section at the end of a literary work, sometimes detailing the fate of its characters.

My favorite JA quote of all time (and my personal writing philosophy) begins what amounts to the epilogue of Mansfield Park:

Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery.  I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody, not greatly in fault themselves, to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest.

I like the way Austen ties up all the loose ends for us; she doesn’t leave her readers dangling, wondering “but what ever happened to so-and-so?”  I try to do the same, but one prologue and one epilogue per book is probably the limit.  Gotta work on that.

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About Shannon Winslow

author of historical fiction in the tradition of Jane Austen
This entry was posted in Jane Austen, Jane Austen Quotes, Shannon Winslow's writing, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to To Prologue or not to Prologue?

  1. Three prologues MIGHT be a bit much, but who knows… my dad’s new novel had a prologue broken up into three parts, which is kind of like having three prologues, and it didn’t hurt his book! 😉

  2. Pingback: The Germ of a Novel « Jane Austen Says…

  3. Jessica says:

    I recently read an article for writers that stated agents hate prologues. Well, tough beans, I think it works for my story and I bet it does for yours too! I’m very intrigued about your steps back in time 😉

    • Thanks for your comment and your vote of confidence! I find prologues a very usefull. It’s a great place to set a hook or to allow you to introduce information you otherwise couldn’t. For example, when I changed For Myself Alone to first person, I thought I would have to lose a scene I’d written about gossip because it had to be third person. Instead, I made it into the prologue – appropriate because it relates to one of the themes of the book: gossip and it’s effect on reputation. (See page: For Myself Alone)

  4. Susan says:

    Hi Shannon- From an amateur’s standpoint-I like a Prologue/Epilogue-chic or not/trendy or not-If the story needs a set up for the reader and/or an ending to let the reader what happened to the characters-it should have one.

    As you stated in your post-JA did write a type of Prologue/Epilogue they were just not labeled that way.

    3 Prologues may be a bit much-but I think it proves you have a story just trying to get out! 🙂

    Maybe do your magical tweeking and turn 3 Prologues into 1 prologue+2 chapters.

    Happy Writing!
    -Susan

  5. Shannon, As others have suggested, you may be able to fool the editors by your clever use of titles. How about: Prologue, Pre-prologue, Pre-pre-prologue. If you think that’s too obvious, try: What Went Before, What Went That, What Went Before That. Guarenteed to fool them. One last suggestion: I Need to Tell You Something, Oh Yes And, One Last Thing Before We Get Started.

  6. Pingback: WIP: “My Darling Exile” | Shannon Winslow's "Jane Austen Says…"

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