Because everyone is familiar with big name movies, I'm using some examples here. Note, not every example has a book format, nor am I necessarily saying that those that did, used a prologue in the writing. I'm using the visual to explain what I'm driving at.

1. The 13th Warrior

It's a first person narrative. The movie begins with Ibn telling us about how he happened to be assigned to his mission. Action is employed all the way through the meeting of the Tartars and the pursuit. Intrigue/drama is given with the mention that the Norsemen might kill them if they linger. Conflict is he's supposed to meet with people. By this time we're no longer hearing his voice, we're experiencing the action. The oracle tells him he's the 13th warrior and has no choice but to go.

All of that is, essentially a prologue. Without it, if the movie began on the boat scene north where he already understands their language... the reader is lost. He could tell us how and why and what's going on while they sail north. But he (Ibn) showed us with a prologue what happened before the forward action of the plot (finding the things in the mist) begins.

2. Gladiator

Gladiator comes equipped with it's own prologue. It's written on the screen, grounding us in the events of the world at that time. However, I ask -- is that first battle a contributor to the forward-moving plot (which is the fate of Rome).

Nope. It sets up character and "the prologue" ends with the echoing, "Mighty victor!". It shows us why Maximus was chosen to restore Rome. It is an excerpt from Maximus' immediate past, justifying his future role. It also puts the stakes of Rome, herself, beneath our nose by linking the written prologue with the action of the final unification.

The forward moving plot doesn't truly begin until Claudius appears on the screen and his motives are seen.

3. Bolt

Bolt's prologue is unique. It's a prologue within a prologue. It begins with telling us how the dog had special powers, which is all a lead in to the fact that the dog is a movie star who believes he's really saving his human. We learn how it is plausible (because until we've seen it once, we think it's real). We learn why the dog behaves as he does. Goal, motivation, conflict.

There are many, many, unanswered questions in each part of each prologue. The answers unravel as the story goes on... the forward-moving plot is the dog's quest to return to his owner. He could have told us he was a super-power dog, but we wouldn't believe it if we hadn't seen the pre-prologue, and he could have told us how he'd gotten away from his human, but we wouldn't understand his motivation without knowing the second prologue.

The plot begins when Bolt is separated from Penny.


4. Avatar

Avatar's prologue is shown 100%. It is the portion of the movie where we're learning how this handicapped, formerly enlisted Marine, managed to end up with an Avatar. We don't know what is purpose is. We don't know what's going to happen, or what his conflict is. But we've been shown, as opposed to his telling us by explaining it to the lead scientist, how he got there and why. We learn all the rest as the movie goes on.

The forward-moving plot is the conflict between the races and the struggle for the land.

5. Cars

Cars' prologue is the race in the begining which shows us the animosity between the green car and Lightning McQueen. It sets the stakes -- what Lightning wants and could lose if he looses the tie-breaking race.

All of this is shown to the viewer. The forward moving plot is the quest to get to (and win) the tie-breaker. It begins when he's riding down the road in his semi and rolls out. Lightning could have told us what had happened at the previous race. But we were shown it, thus engaging us in a portion of this characters' past, that was action-packed, brief, and set the stage.

All of these can be argued that because they are movies they are inherantly shown. But imagine these as books. Imagine those scenes cut off from the rest of the plot and written out as an engaging four or five pages, titled PROLOGUE.

Think of the unanswered questions at the point of cut off. Step through the movies and see when, and how, those questions are answered. Analyze those scenes to see how they set the stage and note that every one of them is jam-packed with action.

And now, I shall step off my soap-box on prologues :)



1 Response so far.

  1. I agree. The use of a prologue as an info dump will turn me off. However, if it leads into the story without actually being a 'part' of the story, sets the scene, and gives me a hint of what's to come, well, I'm in. I'll buy this book in a heartbeat.

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