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Before We Begin

Hello friends!  This post is an argument for the prologue.  I've read comments on writing forums from fellow writers that say they hate prologues.  Orson Scott Card says he never reads prologues.  If so many people take issue with prologues, why do they even exist?  What purpose do they serve?  Let's first look at why prologues are hated.

1) Prologues are info-dumps
    - Readers are picking up a book to read A STORY, not hear about all the worldbuilding the author has done.  Any worldbuilding or history that is important to the story can be interspersed within the story.
2) Prologues are flashbacks
   - Ditto the worldbuilding comment above.
3) Prologues should just be re-named Chapter 1
    - I can see this argument, but I think this should only be the case if main characters and storyline are introduced in the prologue.
4) Prologues are too long
    - Anything more than a couple pages feels like too much of an investment for the reader.

Why have a prologue?  What makes an "acceptable" prologue?  A good prologue introduces the main (or one of the main) conflicts for the story arc before the story arc begins.  Think of the prologue in Game of Thrones, where we meet the White Walkers.  As we meet the rest of the cast throughout the book, we keep thinking about the prologue and the danger we saw there.  While the rest of Westeros is playing king-of-the-mountain, we know eventually they will have to get it together to face the danger the White Walkers present.

Can't you do that in the first chapter?  You could.  So how do you know if the prologue you wrote for that story works?  Cut it.  Have someone read the story without it.  Get their feedback.  Then give them the prologue.  Does it give them any new information?  Does it change their feedback? No?  Your story is good without it.  Yes?  Keep it.

Let's go back to our GOT example.  Without it, the main conflict of the story seems to be the power struggle within the kingdom.  We still know that the White Walkers are a danger, but the stakes are not as high because we haven't seen the danger.  (A downside of the GOT prologue?  It's nine pages long.)

How do you feel about prologues?  Are there some that you hate?  Any that you love?  Have you ever put a prologue in any of your writing?

Comments

  1. Personally, I have absolutely no issues with prologues. It always drives me nuts when I see those arguments - I've yet to hear a single reader who wasn't a writer/agent complain about prologues.

    I've also never understood this idea from people who dislike prologues that they just don't read them - to me its extremely arrogant and dismissive to decide that, without even reading it, this part of the story is unimportant and the author was an idiot for including it. If you can/won't read the prologue, why bother to read the rest? It's all part of the story the author is telling.

    I've never read a prologue that I hated, and can't really think of any I love because it just doesn't register with me that "oh, a prologue" - to me its all part of a story. :-)

    Hmmmm....I don't have any in any of my current stories as they haven't asked for one. Long long long ago, the one attempt at a horror story I started but never finished, did have one - showing events 100 years in the past or something.

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  2. "I've also never understood this idea from people who dislike prologues that they just don't read them - to me its extremely arrogant and dismissive to decide that, without even reading it, this part of the story is unimportant and the author was an idiot for including it. If you can/won't read the prologue, why bother to read the rest? It's all part of the story the author is telling."
    I absolutely agree! And this attitude isn't only saved for prologues. There are people that skip love scenes, fight scenes, pretty much if you can classify it, you can find people that hate it. I feel like if you are skipping a part of the book, you're reading the wrong genre.

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