During a writers’ meeting the topic of prologues came up. One writer wondered if he should use a prologue for his story. I immediately said “No, don’t do it.” Another writer questioned that, which made me stop and think about my response.
I’m always telling others there are no “nevers” in writing, so why shouldn’t he use a prologue? Or, why should he?
At conferences, I’ve heard many editors and agents tell writers not to use a prologue. I’ve also heard readers say they usually skip over a prologue, only to go back to it if they feel they’re missing something in the story that might have been in the prologue. (Sometimes they discover they should have read it, other times, they say, it didn’t help.)
Back in 2015 I blogged about this subject. Prologues: Use Them or Avoid Them A google search shows several blogs on this subject, indicating it’s a question writers often face.
So, do you need a prologue?
Usually a prologue (which comes from pro logos “before the words”) is to give information (background of a major event, motivation for the main character, or the description of an unfamiliar setting/world) that a reader needs to know before the story begins.
- If a reader can skip the prologue and still follow the storyline without any trouble, then NO, a prologue is not needed.
- If you can work the background information in throughout the story, then No, a prologue is not needed.
IF, however, you feel a prologue is necessary:
Keep it short. You’re asking the reader to pause before getting to the real story, so less is better.
Keep it concise.
Keep it essential.
Think of the question this way: If your story were made into a movie or a play, how would the prologue be handled?
With the first Star Wars movie, the prologue (setup for the story) was written on the screen as the battle progressed behind the words. In many scifi movies, a narrator gives the necessary information as the camera pans over the setting. Or, it might be a short scene—a boy seeing his parents killed in front of a movie theater—which gives motivation for later decisions (becoming Batman) in the movie.
In each of the above examples, the words (written or spoken) and the short scene helped the audience understand the events that followed.
So, yes, a prologue may be necessary, but don’t be surprised if readers skip over it or if a publisher turns it into the first chapter.
I used a type of prologue when I submitted the manuscript for As the Crow Flies. It was simply a box with information written inside.
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF
Friday, June 12
It was on a separate page, prior to Chapter One. The publisher changed the layout to:
Both the publisher and I felt the information in the box was necessary, but the publisher moved it to Chapter One so it wouldn’t be missed.
So should the writer who wondered if he should use a prologue do so? Maybe…or maybe he can describe the worm-hole and new environment his protagonists steps into just as easily as part of the story. That will be his decision.