Lately I've heard a lot of authors talking about prologues. While a lot of authors enjoy writing them, the majority of agents and editors seem to be against them. Why? Here are my thoughts ...
Con #1 The voice doesn't match the rest of the novel.
Con #2 The prologue goes on. And on. And on.
Con #3 It's an infodump (sometimes ancient history or world building the author doesn't want to weave into the story)—nothing really happens.
Con #4 Agents expect the first few pages of the ms to match the query. If your prologue is about a different POV character or in a different time frame, you may have a problem.
So, you can see the dangers of the prologue—and why agents and editors probably shudder when they see the word typed in bold at the top of the ms. But can a prologue ever work? I think so.
I've read a few authors who do the prologue very well. How do they do it?
Pro #1 Keep it short. I think a good prologue reads like a short story in many ways—except for the ending. A short story wraps up the ending (mostly). A prologue entices you to read the book and find the resolution to the prologue within the story.
Pro #2 Focus on an event, conversation or thought sequence that is VITAL to the plot—often something that triggers the story itself.
Pro #3 The time frame or the POV character (or both) is different from the rest of the book—necessitating this being a prologue and not Chapter 1. For this to work, Pro #2 must still be in effect and you've got to be aware of Con #4.
Pro #4 Um ... I'm stuck. Any other pros you can think of?
In a story I wrote a few years ago (before I'd even thought of attempting to get published), I wrote a 'wonderful' story with a 'vital' prologue. The story was a contemporary romantic suspense and the prologue flashed back to the death of the main character's father. It was an important part of her family's past, it shaped her life and directly impacted the plot of the story. Many of her adult personality quirks depended on that event. But did I need to include the prologue? Nope. Absolutely not. Once I figured out I needed to weave those details into the actual story itself, my writing made a huge jump forward.
So, have a good look at that prologue. You might decide you really need it, you might decide to dump it, or you might be able to call it Chapter 1 and get on with the story!
What do you think? Are there more pros or cons to a prologue? Any authors you know who do them really well?
Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of YA steampunk and adult romantic mysteries. She blogs at Just Jemi and tweets @jemifraser.