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.

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. The Writing Runner says:

    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!

  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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