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I am writing a World War 3 Novel, and I want to write the backstories of the main characters as prologues. It's really short, so I can't make another book.

Is it even possible to make multiple prologues?

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  • You can have an intro at chapter level.
    – Bookeater
    Commented Jun 30, 2016 at 5:43

8 Answers 8

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Is it possible? sure. It is your novel, so structure it as you will.

Is it wise? probably not.

Prologues are theives which steal from their creators. They steal the backstory and motivations which defines who your characters are; leaving you, the author, with nothing except your characters' future actions to build your story with.

It is very hard to write a prologue about a main character, without giving the coming story away. The historical facts which you choose to share, subtly inform the reader of what parts of all of a world's history is important to this particular story. The particular character details which you share, let the reader know what the character is likely to do, and which personal demons they will have to slay along the way. No matter how carefully you craft a prologue, you are likely to give away more than you desire.

Keep that precious backstory hidden. Save it for the slow moments between the action, when your characters might naturally reflect on their past and how it relates to their current adventures. Don't reveal your characters' pains and dreams before the reader has even met them. Allow time for the reader to learn to love them, before telling more about who they are.

For me, the proper quantity of prologues for any novel, is none.

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    I won't DV this because it's not "wrong," but wow, I could not disagree more. The prologue doesn't have to be about the main character. In Susan Elia MacNeal's Maggie Hope mysteries, all the prologues are about minor or one-off characters, and what occurs is part of what kicks off the plot of the book. Maybe you've been reading the wrong prologues. Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 10:24
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    Thank you for not applying your executive privilege. I actually agree with you concerning prologues which involve minor characters, subplots or even introduce an otherwise too subtle theme. But the OP was specifically asking about prologues defining main character backstories. Glad that we can disagree and yet both be right. Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 12:39
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    I'll chime in that I agree with you both. Primarily, such a set of prologues, without having an actual story progression, is bound to BORE the reader. The usual approach is to pepper the text with these, as * * * sections. The main story is approaching a key point, and we're getting a flashback, telling about backstory of what is about to happen; some iconic reaction of a character, some turn of events - caused by the backstory, told at that moment.
    – SF.
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 14:49
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    Seconded! Remember many people believe a great story's supposed to be like an iceberg: that is, there's supposed to be more beneath the surface than there is on display. Lots of successful writers will tell you that some or all of the back story they write for their characters and for their world doesn't go in the book. You can have multiple prologues, but that's only because as a writer you get to do whatever the heck you want. It might be that the best thing for your story is to try omitting this backstory altogether, or, as the post says, drip-feeding it over the course of the story :)
    – Cakebox
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 15:59
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This strikes me as a semantic quibble. You can have a section in which the stories of various main characters are told before some larger action commences. Lots of novels have multiple parts, often with gaps in time between them. Calling the entire first part, with its multiple chapters, a prolog, however, seems to stretch the meaning of the word for no obvious purpose.

But you should also bear in mind that backstory is not really backstory unless you are already in a story and, at some point, reaching back into the past to reveal earlier story. What you are talking about is starting the story earlier. And that means that your character introductions need to be stories in their own right. Simply writing biographies or case files that do not work as stories is not going to engage the reader, and calling them prologs is not going to change that.

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I gave an answer to this question about why prologues are useful, which may be relevant to what you're looking for.

In summary: a prologue is useful for setting up a story, and including any relevant information that cannot be worked into chapter 1 without an exposition dump. It is useful as it does not have to follow the same flow or narrative style as the rest of the book, and serves to engage the reader immediately.

@HenryTaylor is correct in his answer, there is no need to tell the reader everything about the characters before they are introduced, because the reader will not be invested in their life story, as they will not know who the characters are.

I'm assuming from the context that the backstory would refer to their lives before the war began. However until the reader understands who they are now, it doesn't matter to them who they were. This is why so many TV shows now run the story of characters in their current lives in parallel with their previous lives (such as Lost, before and after being on an island, and Orange Is The New Black, before and after being in prison).

You get to understand who the main characters are, and gradually learn who they were, how they changed, and how they came to be that way. That is how readers connect with the characters, and understand them deeper. You wouldn't immediately give your life's story to a person you had just met. They don't care, because they don't know you. But close friends would be interested, as they are invested in who you are as a person now, just as a reader would be invested in the current story of the characters.

So the answer to your question 'Can you make multiple prologues in your book?' is no, because you shouldn't have to. If you can't make it into a single prologue, it shouldn't go into a prologue. If you are setting up the backstories of multiple separate characters, that should be happening within the body of your book.

Instead, if there is salient information needed to understand who these characters are before the story begins, it should be done altogether.

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Multiple prologues I suggest are more acceptable if they each have at best two paragraphs each because characters need to process every detail, besides readers may remember actions more clearly than statements

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Read White Death by Clive Cussler & Paul Kemprecos. Two Prologues, and they work extremely well. Useful for when you want to tie two seemingly disparate story lines together later on in the book. BUT -- you must plan this carefully, or you leave yourself open to confusion, plot holes, or even worse writing yourself into a corner

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You could split the book into parts and make one parts all '5 years ago' '20 years ago' how ever you want. That's what I did for my book.

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  • OP has specifically stated that their book is "really short" and that splitting it into multiple books won't work for them. This might work for other writers, so I'm leaving it for now, but it won't work for OP.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Jan 11 at 19:57
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I'm having this problem myself since my author wants a short prologue before every chapter. Each chapter is different in setting and time period, but the theme is the same. I agree with the others above, if you can make it work seemingly, then do it! Always re-read it first out loud before you commit to it though since it doesn't always sound the same as in your head!

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    Commented May 29 at 12:21
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    Commented May 29 at 12:21
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I wouldn't create multiple prologues, instead your single prologue can consist of several different scenes (separated by a blank line). I see this done quite often in fantasy, where sometimes two or three scenes with different settings and characters are told in the (one) prologue.

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