Prologues?

I am a fan of the prologue. For me it is like the shorts for a film; dropping you into the action of the story before we have to worry about all that character development/ world building stuff. I think it nicely whets the appetite for what is about to come.

Others are not so taken with the prologue. Things I’ve heard about prologue use include; ‘I will put a book down if I see it has a prologue’, ‘it is a tool for weak writers’, ‘It is the author being lazy.’

I must confess, I’m a bit perplexed by these comments, they certainly don’t hold true for my beliefs, for of my six novels (either finished or on the go) only two do not have prologues. Then again, maybe that is a sign of my weak writing? 🙂 Topic for another post perhaps?

Maybe it was my early reading affair with Clive Cussler novels where whatever distant disaster the book was about always took place in the prologue, so we knew what everyone was talking about in the main guts of the novel. I do not see this as a weakness, more as an excuse to do just one flashback –because everyone knows you are not allowed to do JUST ONE flashback in the body of a novel (aren’t you glad you don’t know all these rules).  

For me a prologue can save you a bunch of clunky info-dumping later in the novel (another of those rules about things to avoid) or it can hook your reader so they get a glimpse of what will ultimately be driving the novel.

There are a couple of rules that I do respect when it comes to prologues; 1) short and sweet. You must keep your writing tight, and no more than two pages, half a page is even better! 2) If you start with a prologue, you must end with an epilogue. If your novel does not lend itself to an epilogue, try to knock the prologue on the head. They are the bookends to the novel and if you have one, you should always have the other.

I would love to know what readers think, as it is only other writers who I have heard make such denigrating comments about that snappy first chapter. I suspect most readers don’t even notice that they are reading a prologue! But I could be wrong…

Nat

5 thoughts on “Prologues?”

  1. I’m not a fan of them in general, but I think that’s because they often go on for pages and pages. If they’re short and set up the story in a needed way, then I think they work.
    I’ve read a few books deliberately skipping multipage prologues, and it’s sad how often it has had no impact on my understanding of the story that followed.

  2. I don’t mind a prologue, I figure an author just uses it when they want to open the book with someone other than the main protagonist. When reading them I just treat them like another chapter.

  3. As a reader, I will tolerate a prologue if it’s short (no more than 3 pages), but generally I don’t like them. (I used to HATE the prologues in the David Eddings’ Belgariad series! It was all world history and BORING.) My problem is that (unlike EM) if it’s there I have to read it. Even if I hate it, I can’t not read it. And I’m irritated, because I don’t want to be getting invested in characters who probably aren’t the main characters. For me the prologue is just something I have to get past. Not the most auspicious beginning, but usually not a deal-breaker.

    Re your comment on epilogues being essential if you have a prologue, I’m not sure I agree with that. I think there are many more legitimate reasons to have a prologue than an epilogue.

  4. Thanks for your comments, it is really interesting to see that people have these opinions about prologues. It certainly makes me wonder about cutting them out in future!

    I have to confess my epilogue comment was sparked by a very well respected writer saying that you “cannot have one without the other” so I’ve taken it on board ever since. But I agree that you need to be very cautious about using them. Epilogues need to be super short, less than a page ideally, otherwise they are just another chapter with a funny name.

  5. I’d rather a short prologue than the author having to break off from the story later in the book to explain a central point. That really breaks the flow.

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