Monday, April 18, 2011

P: Pseudo-Prologues

Prologues are bad. Or so they say.

A trend I've noticed in historical fiction is something I'm dubbing the pseudo-prologue (only because I wanted something with a double P for my title). Three of my favorite hist-fic novels--Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen, Exit the Actress by Priya Parmar, and Lady of the Butterflies by Fiona Mountain--all employ this nifty-neato tactic.

What is a pseudo-prologue? It takes a scene toward the end of the novel and makes it Chapter One. Eventually the same scene will reappear, but with some tweaking to make it new again instead of a la Groundhog Day. This worked in all three books to pique my interest--I had to know why that event had happened and how it would be resolved. And I was going to keep turning the pages until I found out.

My first novel had a very linear time frame and it worked well for that story. However, my current WIP is almost certainly going to employ the pseudo-prologue once I get to my first round of edits.

Have you ever used a pseudo-prologue? Or read any books with one?

13 comments:

Gary Corby said...

It's tricky to get away with that technique. That sort of thing sets a contract with the reader, and if the reader isn't interested in what you're offering, then you've lost them on scene 1.

Depending on how you look at it, either the opening scene is a flash forward, or else the opening's in current time and the rest of the book is effectively a flashback, which is how I think most readers would see it.

My favourite example of this working really well is Roadmarks, by Roger Zelazny, which actually opens with Chapter 2. They even numbered it that way!

Stephanie Thornton said...

Gary- Good point about the flash forward/flashback- it is tricky, but I think it can be done well. We're all in this for the challenge right? (Hmmm... maybe that's just the masochist in me.)

If the first chunk of the book was a flashback, I wonder if it could work to allude to things that would happen in the future? I've had a few lines creep into this first draft that aren't exactly linear, but it's first person POV. I thought they would need cut in revisions, but if I'm going non-linear, they just might work.

Now you've given me plenty to chew on. Although it would probably be a good idea to finish the first draft before I start shuffling scenes and such!

welcome to my world of poetry said...

Moat interesting, I have never read one or used one,
Yvonne.

Cheree said...

I have actually seen this used a couple of times. I still don't know whether to love them or hate them because they are nearly giving the ending away, or maybe the ending doesn't live up to how the scene portrayed it as.

Anne Gallagher said...

I don't think I've ever seen one either but the idea is very inriguing. I'm all about trying new things. Good luck with your own book.

J. L. Jackson said...

Would love to be able to use this at least once. Love it, but only a good few can pull it off well.

Mark Noce said...

It's a great tactic, and Kim Stanley Robinson applies in well in his sci-fi books. Definitely something to think about:)

Lynda R Young said...

I do like the pseudo prologue although I've never written one myself.

S.L. Stevens said...

I wouldn't try out that technique, because it's so hard to do right.

I think the recent popularity of the pseudo-prologue may be due to the Twilight series. Although that wouldn't explain its popularity in historical fiction.

Vicki Tremper said...

I'm glad you like that technique since I've used it in my WIP. Time will tell if it stays. It can be a tough sell, because even if you don't call it a prologue, it looks like a prologue.

VR Barkowski said...

Hmm. I have a prologue in my current WIP, which happens to be part historical fiction. It's an intense scene that I hope stays with the reader throughout the story. I'm not sure whether I will recreate it later on, but I may, especially now that you've got me thinking about it.

Margo Berendsen said...

I haven't run across this before but it sounds very intriguing (bumps Water for Elephants up on the TBR list). I love tidbits like this!

Brielle said...

I had an odd experience with PP this morning. I'd written a prologue in a previous edit of my manuscript (115k novel) and scratched it, so I've been to the wall already with the idea. But this morning I read a quote by Mickey Spillane: "The first chapter sells the book; the last chapter sells the next book." Immediately after I read it, I began typing a one paragraph pseudo prologue to my novel. This reaveals a bit about how wacked out my inspirational moments can be. Even as I was writing the few sentences I was so thrilled and convinced at how it would seal the deal for the reader and solidifiy my first plot point without giving away too much. It isn't a PP in the sense of last chapter modded/reveal but very similar. I searched for pseudo prologue to find out if others used such a thing and only came across your post so far. It seems only the few have tried it, but then again - mine hardly qualifies for a prologue due to the length. I'm sure I've read enough books that have a paragraph at the beginning which sets things up. Thanks for this post. Too bad I missed the contest! Good luck with your book.