To Prologue or not to Prologue

The other day I went on Twitter and said, “Am I the only one who hates prologues?” I didn’t say it to be inflammatory (okay, maybe a naughty part of me did). I said it because that’s the kind of statement that would get me a ton of responses from people all over the map. It’s these kind of all-over responses that make me look at things differently. That’s why I do that kind of thing. I love seeing what people think and feel, because you all think and feel differently than I do, and you often show me how incredibly shortsighted I really am.

You are all geniuses, and I love tapping into that and learning from you.

Hate is probably too strong a word to use in regards to prologues. Prologues largely frustrate me, but well done prologues I absolutely love. My beef with prologues isn’t really anything besides the fact that I am impatient. I want to get to the actual book, and I feel like prologues are largely areas where I waste some time learning about (insert back burner character in far-flung land here) before I get to the book itself.

Prologues, however, have an important place in literature. A prologue sets the tone. It can give the reader important backstory, or even do some important magic/political/world building. If you are a Steven Erikson fan, prologues will stop your heart before you even get to the actual book. They can be incredibly important, and it is these important, heart stopping, tone-filled prologues that I love.

Then you get the prologues that are comprised of a dream sequence, a daydreaming person remembering (insert event here), or a character I’ve never heard of maliciously plotting about (insert event/person here) that you won’t hear about again until the prologue in the next book. These prologues tend to annoy me, and yes, I do skip over them almost completely. Why? Because they take up space, they are infodumpy, the back burner characters you only ever meet in every prologue don’t do anything for me. My ultimate prologue pet peeve? Prologues that are longer than fifty pages. Forcing me to slog through fifty pages of backstory, secondary characters, and obscure happenings is almost assuredly going to make me lose interest in your book.

On the one hand I recognize that prologues have a place in literature and they often help the author set tone, or fill in plot gaps. As a reader, I appreciate that. On the other hand I realize that, like anything, they can be badly done, too long, or lack finesse. I’m jaded in regards to prologues.  I tend to approach them with ambivalence and make them prove their worth to me. I skip bad prologues altogether and just head to chapter one. I hate to say it, but most time I skip a prologue, there is no real impact to the text itself. Even a well-done prologue reads more like a short stories associated with the book rather than part of the book itself.

Am I harsh? Yes.

So prologues: Love ‘em or hate ‘em? Do they have a place in literature? Or are you a prologue skipper?

As opposed to prologues, you have bullet points, or book summaries (think Bradley Beaulieu’s books). I’m an odd case for these. I used to love prologues and hate these summaries. Now I am jaded regarding prologues and every time I see a book summary, or bullet point, I want to kiss the author.

I prefer summaries for personal reasons. The cancer treatment I want through took a toll on my memory, as it does with pretty much anyone who goes through that treatment. Every time a book comes out in a series, I have to reread the whole series just to remember what is going on so I can read the most recent book. That takes a lot of time that. As a reviewer that is waaaay behind on reviewing due to cancer and surgeries, I just don’t have that kind of time.

Bullet points and summaries act as a guide rail for the reader to hold onto. They tell readers important parts of the text, without giving anything away. They help me move my sluggish, broken memories and bring me up to speed on the previous books without forcing me to reread the books. When a series releases a book every few years (which most do), these summaries are doubly important.

On the flip side, if you don’t have the fantastically crappy memory that I have, most readers will probably skip over bullet points because they actually remember the previous book and don’t need to readdress it or refresh it in their minds. Summaries might seem redundant, or indulgent of the author. They don’t add to the story like prologues do, they just help you remember the finer points.

Book summaries: Do you enjoy them or do they seem more indulgent?

Regardless of how you feel and why, I do firmly believe that, despite my personal preferences and psychological issues, prologues and book summaries both have an important place in literature. It’s the author’s job to decide which fits with their book, and usually authors make the right choice, regardless of my own ridiculous issues. There are no rules for this type of thing, and due to the fact that we are all so deliciously different, everyone will feel, and love or hate different things about pretty much everything. That’s the beauty of art. No one artist will please everyone, and everyone will take different things away from his/her art, but I have a great time discussing the various ins and outs, the many things I know I misunderstand or don’t think about, in spite of that.

Educate me.