I’ve mentioned in previous posts that seemingly everybody “in the know” says you should avoid using a prologue in your novel. I would tend to agree for a couple of reasons. First off, if you’re pitching a book to an agent who says “I don’t like to see a prologue” then you shouldn’t use one. But mostly, as a reader, I just find a prologue…boring.
But why do I find prologues boring? After all, there are good prologues out there. I think one could make the argument that a lot my favorite shows (Deep Space Nine, for example) begin a with a type of prologue. They give the viewer a quick intro to what the episode will be about, and then hit the opening credits.
But with a novel, that is completely different. To me, prologues in novels usually exist to provide a complicated backstory that may or may not be immediately relevant to the main storyline. They run the risk of becoming way too telling, and because of that, might overload a reader with infodumps or a whole bunch of people and places that a reader won’t care about since an emotional connection has not yet been made.
I’d also like to endorse the popular opinion that anything important enough to include in a prologue can instead be scattered throughout the novel later, making it more relevant and more interesting.
Now, I know I’m pretty much stereotyping every prologue out there with those last few paragraphs, but I still think the argument against prologues is mostly solid. But fair and balanced we are here at Write Good Books, so with that said I’d like to present…
Three reasons to use a prologue
1. An event that happens outside the regular time-frame of the story.
This could be something that takes place earlier in the life of your main character, or really anything that happens either before or after the major story. Do this only to serve as a brief intro to the story. Keep it short and to the point.
2. An event that is not told through your regular viewpoint characters.
This could be a big, global event that sets up the world for the rest of the novel. It might be something that only an omniscient narrator could know (think Genesis Chapter One “Let their be light”) or a set-up event that happens to other characters that do not appear later (think The Stand.) Just keep in mind what I said earlier in this post: Make sure you don’t do this in a boring, telling way.
3. An effective hook.
This is the most difficult. Mainly because it blurs the line between prologue and first chapter. This would I be more of a short-term thing, kind of like the DS9 reference above. I would say that in most cases you shouldn’t do this, and just make it your first chapter, but if the tone or narrative style is a lot different than the rest of your book, make it a prologue.
So to close, I still think a prologue can–and should–be avoided and in most cases you should just begin with the first chapter. But as always, writing rules are made to be broken. As long as they are broken well. So use your own judgement, and use a prologue if you think it fits your novel.
How do YOU feel about prologues? Leave a comment and let us know!