Predicament: Prologue or Not Prologue?

I’m looking for any and all advice on this one. It’s got my hands tied and I don’t think my source material is going to help the decision go any easier.

Here’s the issue. In my Arabian inspired story, I want it to mimic Arabian Nights in a way. Each chapter will be “The Tale of…” or some derivation of the phrase. I have one small issue. In Arabian Nights, there is a tale happening around the tales told as a woman tells stories to save her life. There is an entire story leading up to why the stories are being told. There is a story after the tales are told. I like it. But I’m not sure it will lend itself to me.

I have three options presented to me. I need help deciding which one to write. Chances are the two options including a storyteller will both get written out. Maybe I’ll include the prologues in the future and you can decide. But here’s the summary:

First, the story. G’desh is an ancient city built on a massive lake in the southern desert. The Followers of the One and the Purifying/Eternal Flame have fought for centuries over the bronze city itself, the others being exiled to the desert, living a nomadic life until the next shift in power. The Purifying/Eternal Flame currently hold sway, however the Followers have recently gained some questionable aid, and a way into the bronze city without much resistance.

Meanwhile, a rebellion and cult known as the True Flame are placing coals under the Purified. The Khalif’s inability to deal peacefully with the people brings the south close to a full civil war, with a shadow on the outskirts looking to swoop in.

This will pay into the Scrolls of Ji Wei (or something), where four separate nations come together to set the fate for their world. (South is Arabia, North is Norse, West is India, and East is China)

Now for the options:

1) It takes place thousands of years in the future, as an old man tells his many times great grandson the story of G’desh. For the most part, magic is only a part of old stories, but the grandson has magical abilities and is exploring them. He does this recklessly, and while he is told by his grandpa the story, he’s learning about control and corruption. In the end, he’s to figure out the path he’s taking in life and with magic and how that will shape him. This will affect a series that’s a long way off, but the character would be eventually important.

2) Takes place around a decade in the future. It would tie in with the east story, as a master teaches his pupil. The pupil is training and would be the center piece for the fourth novel and the series overall. If I do this, the other two novels might have an prologue and epilogue teaching us more about the master and student.

3) None of these. I don’t play it off as a master telling a story to his pupil, but just as a line of tales written down which happen to work together, about a very tumultuous time period in G’desh’s history.

Seriously, any and all comments really are truly appreciated. I have no idea what to do, and it’s part of the reason I’m having issues moving forward. It truly changes how I write it, and I’m not sure if having layers to the story will simply confuse, or if it will add. All input welcome.



16 Comments on “Predicament: Prologue or Not Prologue?

  1. Hmmm…that’s a toughie. I vote for option two because master/pupil sounds interesting. I’m also a little partial to the east. 🙂 Whatever you decide, I wish you luck.

    • The master/pupil would be a lot of fun. The stories I’d tell would steal from the fourth book, but I’m okay with that. Because it’s going to be a really long book.

      Isn’t the east the greatest? I can’t wait to get there. I need to find an artist to do the cityscape to make it that much more real. The lore for it is pretty neat as well. It’s likely my favorite creation so far.

  2. Prologues have been done to death. You’re better off starting straight on Chapter 1 nowadays–at least that’s my experience in the fantasy genre. Literary agents have admitted to being turned off by a story the moment they read the word “prologue.”

    Ultimately, that’s just opinion. You’re best off asking yourself two questions: 1. What will the story lack if I don’t start off the book with the contents in the prologue, and 2. If you don’t believe your story can’t start without the prologue, what purpose is it serving that can’t wait for Chapter 1?

    See what successful authors in your genre have done and emulate their success. Your Arabian Nights tale is veeeery old, so you can’t do it cookie cutter in this day and age.

    • Yes, I’ve heard this before with the prologues. I’ll likely call it “Tale of Lee,” or something and hopefully avoid that stigma.

      I’ve been pondering the necessity of it as well. The original story lacks this storyteller. While reading Arabian Nights, the idea struck me that I really want to emulate that as far as how they have tales. It would fit very well thematically, even though it wouldn’t be a bunch of random stories, but the stories of four lives intermingled. But I do need to look at it from the stand point of what it adds and if being close to the original is worth it or if it will detract.

      As for not being able to do the story cookie cutter, what do you mean?

      • I mean you can’t copy the original as closely as you once could because people don’t have the same patience they once used to. For example, Tolkien took roughly 100 pages to get the story started. Sadly, that doesn’t fly anymore.

        Before I deliberate further, by the sound of your blog post, you’re not even done drafting the book. Am I right? If so, don’t even worry about prologues and such. Just get all your ideas on paper and write the story you want to write. It’ll help you find all the answers to any questions you’ll have by giving yourself a complete story to work with.

      • That makes sense. I understand.

        Book is written. It’s a very rough draft. Really what I’m trying to solidify is the beginning, as that will help with the reshaping of the whole. Once I have that down, I already know how the story moves. If it’s a tale being told for a purpose, though, I need to modify some scenes and add some of the storytelling scenes. If I’m just going with what I have, I don’t have to worry about this and I only have to refine what I already have.

      • Beginnings and endings are the hardest part of any book. Try several versions and send them to as many trustworthy test readers as you can and see what they say.

  3. If you did #2, the “master” could be a minor character / sidekick in the earlier book(s). This would further tie them together, and provide a plausible basis by which the “master” has the knowledge of the events/legends he recounts, as it will be first hand knowledge.

    • That’s complicated. As cliche as it is, I don’t know if I want to tip my hand on the truth, but in either story, the person telling the story will have very good information and how he got the information will be noticeable.

  4. This is just my opinion – please take it with a grain of salt. 🙂

    I like prologues in moderation. 🙂 I don’t think every story needs one, but they’re really good for breaks in time. If you want to reference something from the past, or even the future, depending on how you’re writing the story – maybe as a character looking back on the events (the body of the story itself) that led them to where they currently are (the prologue and last chapter). I think you should go for it, but only if you feel like the story can’t move forward without the information it gives readers, and if it would be too jarring (as with time jumps) in the first chapter.

    I like your second option the best, mainly because I think having some central character(s) that readers can come back to is important to ground the reader in the story. Otherwise, it may read like an anthology of connected short stories – which isn’t a bad thing – it just doesn’t sound like what your intention is, if I’m understanding correctly.

    Arabian Nights had Scheherazade and King Shahryar to hold it all together. After each tale, the story goes back to the King and Scheherazade. Have you seen that mini-series they did several years ago?

    It’s kind of long, and since I’ve never read the original, I’m not sure if they’ve changed anything, but I love it because every tale in some way relates to the King, and there’s a chance he could learn to look at things a little differently. I think having these central characters affected by the stories ties everything together.

    You could do a modern retelling, like Alex Flinn did with her stories – like Beastly:

    Or completely mix things up like Gregory Maguire did with his books – like Wicked.

    Or I’ve seen other authors start each chapter with a bit of another story that somehow goes with the chapter. Sometimes it’s a story one of the characters is reading or writing. Or sometimes it’s some bit of the past that’s affecting the present, like a flashback.

    I hope that helps a little bit. Good luck with your story – it sounds really cool! 😀

    • Paige, did you just do a blog post 😉

      Awesome information! Thank you so much. You’ve given me a lot to think on and I don’t think I’ll be able to digest the information tonight. Will start pondering this over the weekend, likely just start writing each concept and see what turns out. You definitely gave me more to work with than I had been giving myself.

  5. I agree with paigeaddams – it seems to me (and I could be reading it wrong) but what you’re talking about here is not just a prologue, but a tale within a tale, weaving the two stories together. That is a very powerful way to write, and would work really well, I think, as your characters reflect and learn from the stories themselves (I am thinking of tales like ‘the rhyme of the ancient mariner – which would be a much weaker poem without the wedding guest who reflects on the lessons the mariner learned) .
    If you considered the ‘jump back and forth’ as paigeaddams mentions in the arabian nights stories above, you’d also have space to add detail and background of the world and explore relationships between the two characters who are telling and listening.
    In the end, your muse will decide which way you go, I am sure. I’m looking forward to reading your finished story in a few months.

    • Thanks for the input! Thematically it looks like I really need to focus on weaving the two tales into each other, which is something I overlooked a little in lieu of it being close in form to the inspiration, instead of being true to the spirit of Arabian Nights. Between all of you, I think I know what direction I’m kind of going. Figuring it out this weekend.

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