Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Prologues--What's your opinion, good idea or waste of space?

I've been playing with the idea of including a prologue in my book. It would help explain why my MC reacts to some things the way she does, and possibly make her behavior more understandable.

I have heard mixed opinions on the subject of prologues, so I'm asking my fellow writers this question:

When is a prologue a good idea? How much information do you think should be in a prologue?


  1. I am inclined to read a brief, informative prologue rather than ones that drag on for several pages. Those, I skip. I'm not sure if the response is helpful, but it's the best I've got :)

  2. I agree with Amberr--I'm much more likely to read a short prologue than a long one. But I've noticed that usually when I write a prologue, I end up changing it to be my first chapter.

    I'm always hesitant to start explaining things in any prologue, because there's always the chance for it to get info-dumpy. I say, if you're going to have a prologue, make it action- and character thought-oriented.

  3. I agree with Amber that as a reader I prefer a prologue to be brief. To be honest I find them an annoyance. I want to get right into the story. In my opinion, the only time a prologue should be used is when a backstory cannot be written into the book itself.

  4. I'd say there's nothing inherently good or bad about a prologue, but if you're going to have one, it ought to be meaty or relevant. The first Helliconia book by Brian Aldiss includes an exceptionally long prologue which reads like a stand-alone novella.

    Tim Powers wrote at least one good prologue, in that it's very relevant to the story, and it's one page long.

    Another novel I admire, The Inverted World, includes a prologue I would cut altogether. It's just really weak compared to the novel's real opening.

    To go back to my earlier point, prologues are what you make of them. And opinions WILL differ: one reader's treasure is another's garbage. Nothing we can do about that.

  5. It is a rare, rare prologue that I like. And when there is one, the shorter the better.

  6. I haven't come across a lot of prologues in the fiction I read. I agree with Francesca that it could become an info dump. I considered a prologue for my book and wrote one just for fun. I discovered that my book was much more interesting when I cut the prologue, started with action, and slowly revealed my characters' motivations throughout the story.

    So maybe write a prologue and see how it feels with your story. If it feels forced, cut it?

  7. I guess I don't understand why that information couldn't be folded in to the book itself, rather than being contained at the beginning in a set up. I think they almost always feel contrived.

  8. I have been back and forth on this's such a subjective thing and everyone seems to have a different opinion on it. =P I guess in the end we have to go with our gut, but that's easier said! Right now I'm considering putting my prologue back in after earlier today I decided to cut it...and last night I was sure that I needed it! =/
    I think I'm losing it here. lol

  9. I would say don't use a prologue. Use the way your character reacts to point to a secret that drives the plot (or is relevant to character) and reveal them as necessary. You can have the reader wondering why the character is the way she is and give them hints at the appropriate moment. I have done something similar to this in my WIP, but the secrets in there are so huge they are actually plot-drivers. Depending on the nature of your MC's secret, it may be a plot-driver, or may just be an interesting characterisation. But you definitely don't need a prologue for this.

    I changed my prologue into Chapter 1, because there really wasn't anything to distinguish it as a prologue, and I've never looked back.

  10. I'd say it depends on the storyline, the back story and how relevant it is that your reader understand the prologue versus unraveling it as the story progresses.

    I am including a prologue in the novel I am working on as it involves history within the lineage of the protagonist, history of which she is unaware, but which is critical to a common element woven throughout the story. Even so, I have tried very hard to show, not tell.
    Good question! I also like the length of your blog posts. Perfect bite-sized posts for a time-challenged world. :)