Whether or not you should write a prologue into your novel, has been a debate that I have seen over the years. The topic has come up many times in writing conferences and during writing competitions.
I have written prologues for every one of my stories… and then omitted them.
* Most of the time I realized that prologues are big info dumps for either world-building or history. (click here for my post on info dumping) Sure, it is very important information, but can it be integrated or even changed to chapter one with a few tweaks? If you are using the prologue to set the mood or create the setting, uh, why wouldn’t you just do that in chapter one?
* I realized most of the time my prologue didn’t hook my reader. (click here for my post on how to hook your reader.) No one wants to read a boring prologue, no matter how vital the background information. When you pick up a book from the library or bookstore, do you find yourself skimming past the prologue? Studies show that most people do.
* Prologues are sometimes snatched from a scene in the novel and placed in the beginning. Personally, I don’t like this kind of introduction to a story. I think of movies that do this and one of the only ones that worked for me was in Breaking Bad. The opening scene was Walt in his underwear in the middle of the desert.
Every scene thereafter leaves the viewer guessing… how did Walter White get there? When we finally find out, it clicks, but then the story continues past that scene. I think it is easier to do this kind of a prologue in movies, not books. It’s usually a sign of sloppy writing where the writer wants to tell the reader – wait, here’s a glimpse into the good stuff – but you won’t find it until half way through the book.
Personal experiences about Prologues.
* I have entered my works in progress into many first chapter and beginning of book contests. Most every competition has stated that they do not want the prologue included. They want it starting at Chapter One. Why? Because the judges want to get to the meat of the story. When I started to see this over and over again, I realized that I think the judges probably have the same attention span as future readers.
* The best advice I received was for my work in progress, Vagabond. It is a young adult low fantasy novel. Many fantasy and sci-fi novels have prologues. I thought I could bend the rules and keep it in the story because of the genre:
I was told a few years ago, and I wholeheartedly agree, that my prologue had a different voice than my first chapter. My prologue sounded somewhat biblical, which made me happy because that is what I was going for. But, and this is a Big But… the young adult reader would most likely think that my entire story was written that way. People, especially teenagers, have the same attention span as a goldfish. What teenager wants to read something that sounds biblical? Yea, the light dawned for me, too.
* I am in five writing groups. I have read a lot of prologues-in-progress. Last week I went to Dave Farland’s professional writing workshop. Most of us were fantasy writers. Therefore, most of us had written prologues. We contributed and critiqued each others work and I could see how many of the prologues were unnecessary. A few things the instructor Dave said were: don’t use, don’t use, don’t use.
* Personally, I love them in books. I always read them. I write them, too. That is why I write them for myself and then keep them for myself. They are helpful to the author because it fleshes out important information. But it’s best to keep it to yourself or use as deleted scenes for when your novel becomes a blockbuster movie! Prologues generally can be sprinkled into the novel — preferably in the first few chapters. I have used dialogue and short glimpses of backstory from my main character to incorporate the prologue.
* It felt like cutting off a leg when I cut my prologue from Vagabond. Was my story enough to stand on its own? Yes, I think it is stronger now. But I still love my prologue. Most of it was in my villains point of view, so I have sprinkled it elsewhere. I’ll keep it for when my books become movies. 🙂
I would love to hear your comments. Do you like to read or write prologues? If so, why? I would love conclusive evidence.
Happy writing –
Here are a few other blog posts on writing prologues that you might find helpful.
David Farland – My Story Doctor – follow his writing tips! He’s fantastic. I scanned for one on prologues and became impatient because he has maybe a couple hundred excellent tips on writing. So just read through all of them 🙂
Kristen Lamb – 7 Deadly Sins of Prologues – follow her fabulous blog!
K.M. Weiland – skip the prologue – good read!