To Prologue or Not to Prologue

I’ve heard a lot of negativity about prologues. Overwhelmingly, the advice is not to use one. However in my opinion, there are times when a prologue not only works but is necessary to the story.

The last manuscript I wrote had a prologue. I’d written about a thousand drafts of the first chapter (which my writing group can verify). No matter what I did, though, I just couldn’t get the right balance of information and action. So I decided to write a prologue.

The prologue shows a scene that happened several months before the main part of the book, so it was disconnected enough that I didn’t want to just call it chapter one. But it established a lot of information that I otherwise would have had to include as flash back or backstory later on, which would have slowed down the pacing. Ultimately, it was a move that really worked for that book.

I would say that a flashback is useful any time you want to reveal important information that is slightly disconnected from the main part of the book. In my case, the time line was what was slightly disconnected between the prologue and chapter one. It could also be that your prologue is written from a different point of view than the first chapter, and that’s what disconnects it.

So those are reasons to use a prologue. However, the advice against prologues isn’t out there without reason. I have read a lot of bad prologues where I really wished the author would just get on to chapter one.

The main problem with prologues is that they’re often too vague to be of use to the reader. I think the writer is under the impression that they’re being mysterious when really they’re just being confusing. These type of prologues tend to read as though the author and the reader are sharing a secret, but only the author knows what the secret is, if that makes any sense.

In conclusion, I say use a prologue if it works for story. Just make sure you know why you’re using it and can justify it’s inclusion because it contains something important.

3 thoughts on “To Prologue or Not to Prologue

  1. I know that on occasion prologues work, however, I am one of those people who is completely anti-prologue. I accept your reasoning and you know your story, however, I don’t read prologues – Full Stop. I gave up years ago, primarily for the same reason you mentioned but also because they tend to be massively long, long, long. Also, I have no connection with the story, or investment in the MC, so it means little to nothing to me. Additionally, way too many (of the ones I attempted to read), are clearly an application through which the author has ‘tell-me’ cheated; rather than investing in the novels ‘show-me’ writing, and on the whole, they seem to tend toward verbal diarrhoea. If a novel has a “forward” that is to say, something 150 words or less, perhaps explaining the world, or some sort of poem, or verse, then I will read it (primarily because it’s quick to read), especially if it’s from an author I know and like,but beyond that, naddah! So, if a novel depends on readers (like me) reading a 2-10 page prologues, then those novels aren’t the right fit.

  2. What do you call a short intro, say 2-3 paragraphs that is about an event that doesn’t occur until 1/2 way through the book? In the MS, I go into more detail about the event, but I thought a short synopsis of it at the beginning would get reader’s attention and they would be “What is going on in this book? I need to read it now to find out why that just happened?” I can think of two examples of what I’m talking about. In Twilight (I know… not the best literary example), Bella talks about dying, which doesn’t happen until the end. And in Unbroken, the author tells part of the story of being at sea battling sharks, which then she goes into more details 1/2 way through the book. Thoughts?

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