To Write a Prologue or Not
When I first started novel writing, I remember being told that prologues are not popular with editors and publishing industry professionals and yet some of my favourite authors have started their novels with prologues.
Here are a two definitions of a prologue:
- a preliminary discourse; a preface or introductory part of a poem or novel (www.dictionary.com)
- a literary device that functions much like an 'amuse bouche' - it arouses the reader's interest and provides a hint of what's to come (www.masterclass.com)
Prologues are a bit like marmite, I suppose; you either love them or loathe them. The main thing I've found when reading opinions about a prologue is to make sure it:
- is not too long (Readers often report skipping the prologues to get to Chapter 1!)
- does not act as an info-dump
- doesn't only create atmosphere without having much to do with the story.
A good prologue, however, may:
- foreshadow events to come
- provide background information to the central plot and its conflict
- establish a point of view. This may be the central character's or another character who is witness to the event
- set the tone of the story.
A decision has to be made whether you need a prologue or can go straight to Chapter 1. These are some questions you may have to ask yourself:
- What information is provided in the prologue? Can it be revealed in smaller amounts later on and have the same impact?
- Does this character's POV come up again? Perhaps it would work better as a first chapter instead?
At the moment my novels all start with a very short cameo scene unrelated to the opening of the novel. I'm happy with the one in 'Whispering Olive Trees' which opens with Sophia Simonides finding a body on the beach near her home. I felt it was important to write a short piece from her POV as, although she is an important character, the rest of the novel is written from Elin and Lexi's viewpoints. When editing 'A Secret Daughter', though, I could see that the prologue wasn't working. I was able, with a few adjustments, to add that scene to another chapter. I have now written a very short prologue to replace it. A crucial character in the novel is Joe Jenkins, but this will be the only occasion where a scene is written from his point of view. We see his reaction at receiving a telegram which will be a vital part of the story later in the novel. I hope it works and at the moment it is staying!
So what am I trying to do here? I suppose that I have given readers a hook, hopefully to intrigue them. I hope that questions will be raised in the readers' minds and they will want to read on to have them answered.
I know this is the effect that prologues have on me as a reader. I feel satisfied when the questions raised in the prologue are answered as I read the book. Last night, I finished an excellent psychological thriller by Linda Huber, 'The Cold, Cold Sea'. The prologue here was disturbing as I read it and played an important part in the story. The novel was a real page turner and I read it in a matter of days. I highly recommend the book.
As a writer, do you include a prologue? Perhaps an editor has suggested that the prologue is not necessary and your novel would be better starting at Chapter 1. As a reader, what do you think of prologues?
Thank you for reading. I'd love it if you left a comment telling us what you think.
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