To Prologue or Not To Prologue

to-prologue-or-not-to-prologue

Welcome to this third segment of “To or Not To!” If you’ve been following my blog than you know that this post is an ask and answer. I put out a question to readers and writers about a certain topic. The previous two were about romance and one of its many tropes, the love triangle. I asked how you felt about including a romance plot in a story. And how you felt about love triangles.

Well in today’s post we’ll be discussing prologues. Love them or hate them? If you run a search online you’ll find a bunch of results about how publishers and agents feel about them.

They. Do. Not. Like. Them.

So what’s a prologue? A prologue is a prelude of the story that offers background information. So why is it liked about as much as that annoying cousin you dread meeting during the holidays?

Because with a prologue, you’re telling your story twice. Which comes off as redundant and unnecessary.

I admit that I’ve used prologues in my writing. But once I heard about the aversion publishers/agents have towards it, I removed them. My young adult fantasy, Nadia the Fire Witch, had a prologue set 80 years in the past. And featured the scene of the previous fire witch’s death. Was I wrong to remove it? I don’t really think so. Because then I’d rearranged that scene to appear in a series of memories. And dreams that haunts my main character. Spurring her to solve the mystery of it as well as its connection to the town she just moved to.

My other work in progress, Harbingers of El Tinor, is an epic fantasy. This one had two different prologues. The first featured the villain beloved by the poor community she arrived and now lives in. Ending with her meeting with a rebel leader. I’d scrapped that one to feature a scene from the point of view of an elder and loyal servant, fighting to stay awake. Because the MC has drugged everyone by burning a sleep inducing plant. All to increase her chances in running away. And buying enough time for a head start to escape capture and returned home. Her last words before succumbing to it are, “Young mistress…Aithne…why?” I then axed the second prologue and wrote an epitaph which I’ve now planned on rewriting as a song/poem.

Hell, even after all that I might bring the prologues back to one or both.

So, to prologue or not to prologue? That is the question.

Readers and writers what are your thoughts and feelings about the use of a prologue. Read or written a prologue you thought actually worked for the story? The opposite? Do you skip reading a prologue? Why? Writers, have you written and scrapped a prologue before? Why? Or did you keep your prologue?

For some additional reading about prologues, check out the following links:

4 Big Pitfalls in Story Openings by Jane Friedman

Question: the oft-maligned prologue by Janet Reid

The Problem with Prologues by Dan Koboldt

The Seven Deadly Sins of Prologues by Kristen Lamb

 

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20 thoughts on “To Prologue or Not To Prologue

    • Really? I wonder what was his/her reasoning?
      Feel the same. Plus, like finding clues in the prologue that connects to a character(s) or future events in the story.

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  1. Good post!

    As a reader, I’m indifferent to prologues. I don’t skip them and I don’t avoid books with them in. Having said that, I can think of several books that I think would be better without their prologues (notably Life of Pi – now one of my favourite novels, but it sad unread on my bookshelf for years because the prologue was so confusing I put it down before the first chapter), but I can’t think of a single book where the prologue was either a) necessary or b) improved the book. Mind you, I don’t read fantasy, which is where most prologues seem to be.

    As a writer, I have never included one and I doubt I ever will. To me there are significant drawbacks (editors, agents, AND readers who will all dismiss the book for having one) and no benefits. Even if an editor requested one, I would try to find another solution that would satisfy us both.

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  2. I think you need to ask yourself if you need a prologue. I had never really thought about it before until this post. My draft YA novel has one in but it could really just be Chapter 1. I think a good prologue sets the scene and sometimes writing that information into your story can slow the pace down. The best prologues I have read give you some idea of the world the story is set in and seem like just a bit of extra information but then come in being really important later on. I read a book recently which started with an accident, the rest of the book is told from two different people and you think the prologue is told from the point of view of one of them but actually the characters that you see involved is neither of them. You relate the prologue to one of them right up to the twist.
    Sometimes you can over think things and to my mind a prologue, and epilogue for that matter, is a device for story telling in much the same way flashbacks and telling the story from different peoples points of view is. If it works use it, if not then leave it.

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    • That’s an interesting twist. A prologue that provides information or clues as backstory that later comes to play in the story, is a prologue I can get behind and read.Don’t mind epilogues either, because it’s a fast forward and second happily ever after, seeing how the characters’ lives turned out. One of my favorite epilogues is seeing Harry Potter, grown up with a family of his own, putting his children on the Hogwarts train.

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  3. It’s funny if it weren’t so ridiculous. I’ve also been warned of the publisher standby that they don’t like prologues, that the manu. is immediately shoveled to the reject pile. Ever since I was told/warned that, I’ve been noting it carefully while reading.

    You know what? Every one of my favorite novels (and all of the novels I’ve read in the past year) has a prologue.

    (Sooooo…about that myth…)

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  4. Hi Lidy, Happy New Year! (I guess your next asking might be when is it too late for a HNY greetings;-)
    IMHO, Fiction is better off without a prologue, though I’ve written them before. Lit mavericks, which like less than 1% of the reading population, often like to read them for getting more inside the writer’s head.
    On the other hand, I rarely read them… unless, like lit mavericks, the work compels me to want to know more about the ‘back story.’

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    • Hey Happy New Year to you too! And no, it’s never too late. Understandable. I don’t mind reading a prologue as long as it contributes to the story I’m reading. And for a little back story. I’m all about reading a good story. But if it doesn’t, I’ll still read it but I’d skim through it.

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    • Yes, case by case. It makes me wonder if it works the same for genre too. Are they necessary and work better if the story is a science fiction, fantasy or historical? Or is it as you said, case by case, damn the genre.

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    • Exactly. It’s a tough decision to make when it shouldn’t. If our creativity leads us to writing a prologue, one that works and vital to the story, it should be our call to keep or discard it. Can listen to whatever reasons against or for it, but still our call.

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  5. Pingback: To Prologue or Not To Prologue — Paving My Author’s Road | Arrowhead Freelance and Publishing

  6. As a reader, I like them, when they’re used well–that’s the rub. A lot of folks don’t use them well. I HATE the huge data-dump backstory sort that bore me to death with world building and don’t give me anyone to care about, but I love the sneak peek into where this story will end up sort that build my curiosity. They’re more acceptable in epic fantasy than in other genres. So far, I haven’t written anything that uses one.

    @mirymom1 from
    Balancing Act

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