Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Prologues and Vivisected ball gowns


I'm back! I was in Dallas for a wedding this past weekend. It was wonderful seeing a stunning bride and a happy family, and yet in the back of my mind was one little grain of irritation...

Today's blog post. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog question this month is about prologues. Love them? Hate them? Kiss them or compost them? What?

How do I really feel about prologues?

Way back in April of 2010 I'd blogged about them, deciding that for my own stories, I didn't like them so much. I'd prefer to sprinkle in back story as I went along. Right? Right.

So here's something that shocked me when I got to Dallas. I swear this has to do with prologues, so stay with me. We were staying at the lovely Crescent Hotel, and this is what we saw in the foyer:

Do you see them? Those odd, hovering ballgowns?  Here is the right one close up. I took some great pictures but I left them on my iPhone at work, so these are directly from the artist's website (E.V. Day)

This is the front.

And this was the back view.

 Here is a close up of the red dress.

I was so tempted to scramble over to the placard that explained why these shredded ballgowns were pierced and strung up like insect shells caught in a spider web. I was fascinated and horrified. Amazed and curious. 

And I thought, this is the whole issue with prologues, right here with these dresses. 

1) Did I need a prologue to prepare me somehow for why these dresses were here? To tempt me about about their stories (pro-prologue)? Or was it better to just be thrust into their presence to experience the shock of seeing them, with no preparation at all (anti-prologue)?

2) OR...maybe these dresses ARE the prologue to another story yet to come.  Pieced together, vivisected and objectified, yet beautiful and fragile, they give a glimpse of what's yet to be, tantalizing the viewer to read on and find out the real story of why.

The final answer to the debate, for me at least? There is no answer! It's all in the artist's mind on how best to present the story. It's not about being pro- or anti-prologue anymore.

It's about being pro-story. Write your story, and write it as well as you can.

*******
On the artwork:

Both dresses are originally from the NYC Opera's archives, fashioned with monofilament and wood into a suspended sculpture. 

From E.V. Day's website, on the first sculpture:

Cinderella: Distressed Peasant/Princess
This sculpture is composed of two Cinderella dresses that symbolize her transformation: the white, cake-like “Princess” dress with its pearls and panniers, and a dress found on a rack of the costume archive labeled “Distressed Peasant.” Ironically, the peasant dress is more a marvel of handiwork and artifice—its luscious cashmere woven to look like burlap, its hand-made lace hand-torn and rubbed with ink to look sooty, and its silk velvet corselette punched with holes. The bloated, regal Princess dress splits down the back, and the cicada-like, deluxe dishevelment erupts.


On the red dress sculpture:

Mimì—Rigor Mortis (La Bohème, Puccini)
The most popular work in the operatic repertory, La bohème recounts the sad tale of the seamstress Mimì; from her rapturous love for the dashing poet Rodolfo to her tragic demise from a dreaded disease, dying in the freezing cold in the arms of her love. This exquisite example of a bustled Victorian dress in red velvet, with its laced bodice and satin ribbon, is so architecturally constructed it practically stands on its own. The figure of the unyielding dress, hovering like a headless sleep-walking zombie, seems frozen in the moment she reaches for her lover.

See more about E.V. Day's artwork on her website and on Wikipedia.

If you missed it, check out the other Sisterhood answers from Laura Diamond, Sarah Fine, and next week, from Deb!

50 comments:

Mark K said...

Sorry to repeat myself here, but I have nominated you for a 'Versatile Blogger Award' - the details of which can be found on my blog... I hope you don't mind?

Amazing dresses, not that I'm an expert on dresses, but the skill required to create them is quite outstanding.

Kind regards

Mark

Miranda Hardy said...

Wow, what interesting artwork. I'd have had to look them up, too.

I'm neither for or against prologues. I believe they work well if done correctly.

Aldrea Alien said...

That cinderella dress is stunning.

As for prologues ... I've only used it once, but I don't at all mind reading them.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Hovering ball gowns ... what an interesting display!

Prologues vary from book to book and author to author.

Personally, I like prologues that tell me something that happened outside the timeline of the main story. I don't care much for prologues that give me a glimpse of the climax. I'd rather wait for the climax.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I don't mind prologues. My first book had one, but that was at the request of my publisher. Managed to do the second one without a prologue.

Natalie Aguirre said...

So true. It depends on the story whether a prologue works or not. I think for aspiring authors it may be harder to get the agent's attention with a prologue just because they don't seem to like them much.

Awesome you were in Dallas. My husband's family is from there so we go there every year.

Old Kitty said...

Oh I love these dresses!! How beautiful and a little creepy but stunning nevertheless and very very eye-catching!! And I love the reasons for them too!! Brilliant! Thanks for sharing them here!

As a reader, I've never ever been bothered by prologues to be honest! You're so right - it's not whether to have one or not in your novel, but whether you do them brilliantly!

Take care
x

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Never mind the prologue debate, I'm curious why those dresses looked like that and were hanging from the ceiling. So very cool!

Liza said...

Okay, so this topic just came up for me...real world style. I took a book out by an author who was recommended to me. The story had a prologue. Three times I started reading, three times I put it down because the prologue didn't pull me in. I almost gave up. The fourth time I forced myself to wade through the prologue and finally got to the story. Then, I read the book in two days...could not put it down. Imagine that. I almost returned it to the library unread. In retrospect, I understand why the prologue was there, but initially it seriously compromised my interest in reading further.

Meredith said...

Wow, those dresses are awesome! What a strange, beautiful decoration. And I think you're right about prologues--it just depends on the story. Glad you had fun in Texas. :)

E. Arroyo said...

The Dressess are awesome! I'm okay with prologues and I do read 'em.

Talli Roland said...

Love those dresses! :) Glad you had fun. I don't mind prologues, as long as it's clearly connected to the story and actually means something to it.

Mary E Campbell said...

those gowns are fascinating. I can see something like that as a prologue. I generally don't care for prologues. My WIP has a prologue though and I think it's necessary, but I'm also planning to query without it. I think my first chapter holds up without it, but I'm not sure the rest of the story does. Anyway we'll see. I'm also trying to weave the prologue info into the story so that maybe I won't need the prologue. It's hard to know what will work best.

Talli Roland said...

Love those dresses! :) Glad you had fun. I don't mind prologues, as long as it's clearly connected to the story and actually means something to it.

Barbara Watson said...

Hovering dresses. Cool and a bit creepy.

As a reader, I don't like prologues. They frustrate me because I don't like being thrust in the middle before I've had a chance to even enter.

Tamara Narayan said...

Love the dresses as art. They are quite compelling.

As for prologues, I have no problem reading them. When an author takes a bit of the climax as the prologue it can either leave me intrigued as in "How in the world do things get to this point?" or it can leave me shaking my head as in "Cheap way to boost weak plot".

As you wrote, it's different for each work.

Belle said...

I love the dresses as art. Like you, I would have been dying to know why they were hanging there. When I was young I just skipped prologues, but later I realized I missed out on a lot by not reading them. I don't mind them and sometimes I'm very glad they were included.

Julie Dao said...

Fascinating! I love the Cinderella transformation display. And I agree 100% with you: prologue or not, the focus should be on the story. I'm neither for nor against prologues. If one works well in a book - and the author shows some skill with writing one, instead of using it as a backstory dump - then that's cool.

Slamdunk said...

Very creative artwork. I am following the link now.

Welcome back, by the way...

Saumya said...

WOW! So cool! This reminder me of this Met exhibit I went to last year on fashion and feminism. Each article of clothing represented more than I would have ever thought. I love your pictures.

Jessica R. Patch said...

Amazing dresses! I love how they're hanging up there with a story to tell.

I like prologues if the book calls for one. Some do, others don't. Real profound, I know. LOL

lbdiamond said...

I like how you answered this question--the prologue is a tool like any other thing artists use to create art.

Love those dresses!

Bethany Myers said...

Gorgeous pics. Oh, right, sorry, Ahem, yes prologues. I'm not a fan especially if it's a scene that relates to the climax of the story. It's almost a crutch to hook the reader.

However, if it's seemless and complments the 1st chapter it can be quite effective. In the end, oops and the beginning, good writing trumps all else.

Cheers, great post.

February Grace said...

Those dresses just put me in mind of the Haunted Mansion at WDW...welcome back we missed you!

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

What a cool and gorgeous foyer! Those dresses are so interesting.

As for prologues, I lean toward composting, at least in my own work. Most often the information in a prologue doesn't seem relevant since I don't know the characters yet and haven't been lured into caring. And, the information in a prologue is often not crucial to the story. If it is, why not weave it into that story? But, I also understand that each story is unique with it's own needs.

Connie Keller said...

Wow. Talk about visual impact. Very interesting and creepy.

Re. prologues. My thought is like anything in writing--if you do it well, you can make it work.

Rachna Chhabria said...

"Write your story, and write it as well as you can." I also believe in this simple statement. Write your story from your heart.

Sara said...

I'm not the biggest fan of prologues in my own writing, although if there is one in a book I pick up I'll read it.

Those dresses are amazing!

Carrie Butler said...

I'm not a big fan of prologues, but I'm not against them. I'm all for being pro-story. :)

Great post, Lydia!

Coleen Patrick said...

I would have been fascinated by those dresses too! For me it's always about the curiosity--that's what gets me to turn the page.

Deb Salisbury said...

Wow! I love those gowns! (You knew I would. ;-)

And putting the gowns in the foyer is a prologue in itself.

Interesting point on prologues. I'd best start thinking harder on the subject.

Carol Kilgore said...

Gosh, I love everything about this post. And I would love to see those dress sculptures in person. So true about STORY above all else.

Phoenix said...

I'm not really the biggest fan of prologues, because if it's part of the story... make it part of the story. Don't just cop out and explain something, then tell the story. No. Just.Tell.The.Story.

Those are some gorgeous ballgowns to suspend in a lobby, by the way. A very cool artistic idea...

Krispy said...

Totally agree with you about prologues! It depends on the story and how it's done!

The dresses are so gorgeous and intriguing! Thanks for giving us the background too! I was so afraid you'd leave us hanging. ;)

Richard said...

I've read numerous novels with prologues and they did not bother me. I've read a novel or two that could have benefitted from having a prologue. So, I guess I'm not against them. They don't bother me one way or another.

A Lady's Life said...

I love those dresses and have patterns to make them for dress balls.They are so beautiful and women look grand wearing them.
In fact I even love the way they made girdles back then which had eye lets you had to pull a rope through to tighten.Women took so much care to look good back then and it made them all so special.
I sometimes read prologues to see if I would be interested in the story. Sometimes they give interesting back ground info

catherinemjohnson.wordpress.com said...

That is so creative! I love the dresses and I love what you said about there is no answer. I bet it was a lovely wedding.

Sherrie Petersen said...

What an intriguing display -- I've never seen anything quite like it. And I agree about the prologues. Sometimes it makes sense, sometimes it's not necessary.

bethchristopher.com said...

Ooh, I adored your analogy as much as those gorgeous dresses. What a haunting, unusually beautiful display! Thanks for sharing and enlightening.

Kimberlee Turley said...

These are such amazing displays! I think I'd have filled my entire memory card if I'd have walked in this hotel and have left no room for the rest of the vacation.

Jax said...

I'm on the fence about it too, but what a great way to talk about it! Love the idea of the dresses :)

Casey L. Conley said...

I love that . . . very interesting perspectives! :)

Casey L. Conley said...

I love that . . . very interesting perspectives! :)

Karen Lange said...

Wow, I think seeing those dresses hanging there would have thrown me off too. It does make you think about prologues, backstory, and everything in between. Interesting. Glad you had a chance to get away. :)

Clarissa Draper said...

I don't like backstory dumps, whether it is in a prologue or middle of a book. However, most of all the crime fiction I read have prologues and they are all exciting so, in my genre, it's accepted.

DL Hammons said...

I'm with a lot of the others...a prologue can be used when the action is outside of the normal timeline of the main book...or especially with mysteries...clues are sprinkled in that come into play later on. I used one in my book and feel it was absolutely necessary. :)

Annalisa Crawford said...

I'm actually a bit freaked out by those dresses - and that's just the pictures. I have no idea how I'd react if I was there.

The only prologue I can think of is Fight Club, and that works quite effectively as a teaser. You have one opinion of the scene which the subsequent novel dispels. (Is it a prologue if it hints at what's to come?)

vbtremper said...

Seems like odd artwork for a hotel. I don't think it makes sense to be pro- or anti-prologue. It depends on the story.

-Vicki

Sarah Pearson said...

Prologues that work are needed. Prologues that don't, aren't :-)

Those dresses are stunning. I love seeing things in unexpected places.

Nigel Mitchell said...

I actually like prologues, but also feel they should be optional. The prologue should be written in a way that you can skip it and still enjoy the story. The prologue should be like an appetizer. If it's actually important to the story, then it should be called "chapter one."

 
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