Lately I’ve been seeing posts about prologues. Evidently some readers, agents, and editors hate them. Some well-know writers use them. Many readers skip the prologue and go straight to chapter one. New writers are often told to avoid using them, to label their prologues as chapter one. Who’s right?
I’m one who believes there are no rules in writing. Oh, there are traditional ways of doing things. Preferred ways. But I’ve read many books that break tradition and do it well. I would hate to tell a writer not to use a prologue if a prologue works for the story.
The question for me is why have a prologue? Is it necessary or is the writer being lazy?
Some writers, especially new writers, feel they must let the reader know what happened to make a character think/act/feel the way he or she does, so they write a prologue showing whatever happened to create that person. Usually this is simply backstory, an information dump that could be revealed in other ways throughout the story.
Some writers want to hook the reader with a dramatic scene that will occur later in the book, so they put the scene, or part of the scene, in a prologue, and then chapter one will start with something like, Five days earlier or Fifteen years earlier. The idea is the reader will want to read the story until they reach the time when the prologue occurred. This technique is often used when the early chapters of the book are not dramatic, but are necessary to show what builds to the more dramatic scene. Some movies even use this technique. And some readers really hate it. It’s like foretelling.
Because writers have heard that editors and agents won’t look at submissions that have prologues, writers have tried to get around that by labeling the prologue as Chapter One. But, if Chapter Two starts with Five days earlier, have they really avoided a prologue? I guess it gets those people who skip prologues to read the material, but if it’s not essential information, the reader is still going to be disappointed.
The thing is, some prologues do work, and many successful writers do use them. So what makes them work? In my opinion the prologue needs to be something that couldn’t easily be worked into the story at a later time, isn’t used as a teaser to get the reader to read on, and gives the reader important information. I also believe a prologue needs to be short. Three to five pages max.
What do you think?