Tuesday, April 19, 2011

P: Prologues

I really like prologues. Personally, I don't find them confusing as long as they're done well. Emphasis on the last word.

How do I know what "done well" means? It's hard to say. For me, the prologue tells a very short amount of backstory before your story actually begins. It clues the reader in on something that will or has happened throughout the course of the story. Perhaps it tells your readers something that happened in your MC's past, or explains a component of your story that wouldn't otherwise fit in.

If you haven't checked out Pub Rants, you're missing out on a super helpful blog on publishing, writing, and just about anything related to the publishing world. The blog author, Kristin, chimed in with her two cents on prologues. Here's a hint: she's not a fan.

I also drink the Bransford Kool-aid and will stare at you quizzically if you tell me that you're a writer and you've never A) heard of Nathan Bransford, or B) checked out his website.

Nathan chimed in a few years ago on the prologue debate and it still bubbles up on the forum. Nathan's argument is simple. If you can remove the prologue and the story doesn't change, you don't need it.

While I know that Nathan is kinda the Yoda of all things publishing, I just can't break away from my prologues. I use it to set the (usually ominous) scene. In an effort to be very honest about my own skill level though, I think the fact that I rely on a prologue tells me I have room to improve my craft. I shouldn't rely on the prologue to make my reader think, "Oh! This sounds interesting."

No, I have to do that by myself. Just not right now. I finally have a decent prologue on my hands.

Do you care if the story you're reading has a prologue? Would you be willing to include one in your story?


  1. I don't care what I'm reading as long as it's interesting. I think that's when rules can be bent or even broken, when the reader wants to know what happens next even if it's written in crayon.

    Moody Writing

  2. Prologues don't bother me. They're just part of the book. I barely even look at chapter headings. Although I've never written one. I guess it's good that I never got into the habit of that.

  3. As I reader, I don't search for a prologue. I'm happy jumping right into the plot of the story and going from there. If there is a prologue, I read it and keep moving. But it makes no hinderance on my enjoyment of a book, with or without prologue.

  4. I don't mind prologues as a reader. Sometimes I wonder why the author didn't just title it chapter one, though. As a writer I try to avoid them, if only because, as you pointed out, agents see them as a sign of backstory incompetence.

  5. I honestly don't care whether there's a prologue or not. It irks me lightly when I later realise it had no point story-wise, just as I would with any other useless scene.

    Somehow, I think, the prologue still has to move the plot forward. Even if it happens long before the story. It has to be linked, and have a point.

  6. I'm in the minority this morning - prologue hater, admittedly only because of the 'rarely done well' issue. I'd put a slight spin on Nathan's advice and say if you can take the backstory prologue and slip the information in one or two sentences at a time *after* the first fifty pages, then it really ought to go. Otherwise, it misses the whole point of effective backstory, which is provide deeper meaning to *current* emotional reactions *as they are occurring*. Putting them in a prologue instead doesn't quite fulfill the main purpose of backstory.

  7. I don't mind prologues at all if they serve a useful purpose. I've seen it used more in nonfiction than fiction, however. Found you thru the a-z challenge.Nice to "meet" you.

  8. I like a good prologue, nothing too long though but one that gets me even more interested in the book. I've been toying with one for the story I'm writing.

  9. I'm with Margo on this one, I don't really like most prologues. That's not to say I haven't enjoyed a prologue or two in my life, but most of them annoy me. It's that they either give a bunch of backstory that feels like a boring history lesson and I feel like it's putting off the real story for 4 pages, or it does the prologue I hate - the giveaway. Prologues that give away some important aspect of the story or oh no, the ending, make me crazy. I often want to stop reading because I know I'll spend the whole book waiting for the prologue to happen and not enjoying the unfolding properly like I should.

    I wrote a prologue for my zombie novel. It was a very good prologue, but after I'd written the first draft I realized I didn't need it. It was still a good prologue, but totally unnecessary.

    Sci-fi author China Mieville writes awesome prologues though.


I love getting comments. They're as much fun as getting real snail mail. So please, chime in and tell me what you think!

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