Thinking about prologues…

A word about pro­logues.


I bring this up because the book I star­ted read­ing at 4:50 this morn­ing has one. Now, there’s a bit of debate over To Pro­logue or Not to Pro­logue. Many times I’ve heard agents say, “I hate pro­logues.” I’ve even been given the impres­sion that they will reject a novel out­right because it has a pro­logue. I think that’s a bit silly, and maybe I don’t want an agent who would reject a work for a goofy reason like that. To be fair, maybe the agents in ques­tion were just being melo­dra­matic. But it has made me think about prologues.

I have to con­fess [flushes guiltily] that I have skipped pro­logues. Why? Because so often they are too long and dull. If a pro­logue just gives me a bunch of world his­tory and back­ground info, well that’s bor­ing. Why hasn’t the author skill­fully worked that stuff into the story itself if it’s so import­ant? The book I began this morn­ing has such a prologue. 

The whole time I was read­ing it I was think­ing, “This had all bet­ter be cru­cial inform­a­tion.” It was about five pages long, and that’s a lot of energy to invest in some­thing that is kind of bor­ing. If it isn’t cru­cial I will resent being treated so dis­respect­fully by the author. 

Some­times a pro­logue is the right way to impart crit­ical inform­a­tion to the reader. If it’s an event that takes place prior to the time period of the story but is some­how a cata­lyst for the events of the story. Or if it involves char­ac­ters that may or may not appear in the main story. Or when said event needs to be from the point of view of a char­ac­ter who will not oth­er­wise be a POV char­ac­ter. Those are some case where a pro­logue is a great tool. But for me as a reader I want it to be short and I want it to be intriguing. I have been known to skip pro­logues that go on and on. I read a book years ago, I can’t remem­ber which book it was, but its pro­logue went on for about 14 pages and I was so confused

[Growls in frus­tra­tion because this is the point where the inter­net shuts down, and everything typed after this point is lost so it must be typed again… Grrrr]

…that I stopped read­ing after just a few pages. See, without any ground­ing in the story none of the places and names men­tioned in the pro­logue made any sense.

An example of a pro­logue I liked is in The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie.

It is 1915 and the Lus­it­ania is sink­ing. A man approaches a young lady and asks her to take charge of a packet of import­ant papers, “because of ‘women and chil­dren first’. He gives her a few instruc­tions and that’s it. It takes about a page and a half. That is the incit­ing incid­ent for the rest of the story. When the story opens it is sev­eral years later, and the reader meets the prot­ag­on­ists, but con­tin­ues to won­der what happened to the girl and the papers and why they are significant. 

That’s a pro­logue that really works for me because it is intriguing and it’s short! I fig­ure I shouldn’t refuse to write a pro­logue because some people “don’t like pro­logues.” If it’s the best thing for the story, then I will go for it. At the moment my second book has a pro­logue which I quite like, but I revisit it when I return to that book for revision. 

My ori­ginal end­ing for this post was way bet­ter, but I can’t remem­ber what it was. Ah well.

Boy, it’s really easy to make these posts very long, isn’t it? (sort of like some pro­logues). I’ll have to watch that.


Tagged on:

One thought on “Thinking about prologues…

  1. rwodaski

    Short and snappy is also how I prefer my prologues.

    In my case, I’m using a pro­logue because the story devel­ops slowly from an action stand­point, and I want to show the reader that there is some excit­ing stuff com­ing later.

    Devel­ops slowly” in this case means [inter­est­ing!!!] char­ac­ter development.

    So you could say that in my case the pro­logue is inten­ded as a tease.