Prologues – Yea or Nay?

I once heard a writing instructor say he never reads a prologue. He was of the opinion that anything written in a prologue was unnecessary and a writer should say what they want to say in the first chapter.

I’ve heard others say the same thing, but I beg to differ. If a book contains a prologue, I figure is there for a reason. Therefore, I read it.

Somewhere along the way, prologues became evil. Some critique groups claim editors hate them, therefore they encourage writers not to use them.

But guess what? If the situation calls for it, I’ll write a prologue. Then again, I’m the writer who vowed I would one day use the line about a dark and stormy night, and did. Seriously, there are valid reasons for writing a prologue. Among them are:

  • A scene/event that takes place in an earlier time from the story
  • Hooking the reader with an unsolved mystery
  • Told from the point of view of the antagonist

A prologue should never be used as an info dump or for the mere purpose of backstory. To use one for this purpose (or even if done in the first chapter) you’ll lose the reader. In my opinion, it’s better to gradually reveal information about your main character. Give the readers little snippets that will make them want to learn more.

There are no hard and fast rules on the pros and cons of using prologues. You’ll probably find an equal number of writers, editors, and readers who love them as well as hate them. But until they are forbidden, if the situation calls for it, I’ll keep writing prologues.

What about you? Do you read prologues? Write them?

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55 thoughts on “Prologues – Yea or Nay?

  1. Pingback: Writing Links…10/2/17 – Where Genres Collide

  2. Pingback: Reading to improve writing: The prologue debate | Stories from the Heart

  3. Great post, Joan! I always read prologues, unless they are there to bring a reader up to speed when deep into a series and I’ve been following the series. Most of the time, the prologue is a valuable scene. In fact, my agent just recommended I use a prologue for one of my manuscripts to give the reader a scene from the past that would ground the reader. I like Marcia’s method of not calling it a prologue. I might have to use that 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve had good luck with it so far, Julie. The reader isn’t put off by a word that might be negative in their mind, and can see immediately that there’s something going on they might like. So I feel like it’s a win-win. I’m happy I got my prologue, and the reader is happy because it isn’t being presented as one. Yay. Happy is good. 😀

      Liked by 2 people

    • That’s good to know, Julie. I used a prologue in my novel Unseen Motives and will do so with the sequel, Unknown Reasons. In both cases, the prologue takes place years before (with the first novel) and months before (with the second novel) the main stories. I too like Marcia’s idea of calling it by another name. Thanks for your input today!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I always read the prologue because, like you said, it’s there for a reason. And I don’t want to miss out on part of the story just because the first chapter has a fancy name.
    In my own writing, it varies. I wrote a fantasy story once that required a prologue to explain the connection of two characters, whereas my current writing does not. If I included one, it would be pointless. Personally i’d avoid writing them, just because I know there are people out there who skip them, but if there’s something that just doesn’t flow in the first chapter, then I would include a prologue.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Pingback: Prologues – Yea or Nay? — Story Empire – I Suck at Writing

  6. I read them but I try not to write them. Recently though, I read a book that had an extremely long prologue that almost had me giving up. I stuck with it though, and when I got into chapter one felt like I was reading a different book—a better one. This experience has backed up why I try not to write them!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve used them in some of my books when I use the Columbo approach to the story. If you remember from the old Columbo television show, they would often show the murder and, very often, the murderer, in the opening scene and then the story was about how Lt. Columbo was going to trap them. A prologue works in this approach for me.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. As a reader, I have no problem with a prologue, and actually enjoy them. Most authors use them to set up an important piece of the story they feel we should know up front.
    As a writer, I’ve used them as an opening action scene with either my antagonist or my protagonist, depending on the book. There are so many so-called rules when you take up a writing pen, it drives me crazy, lol.
    But then, I’m something of a rule-breaker, so there you go 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I never understood all the negativity about prologues. If they’re in a book I will definitely read them. I think they’re great for foreshadowing, or a glimpse of what happened in the past.

    I’ve used them in a few of my novels to showcase an event from a time-frame before the book was set. In my latest ms, I started with a prologue, (again in a different era), but the fit felt odd, so I made it the first scene of chapter one. That worked well. For most of the book, each chapter begins with a scene from the past for consistency. If I’d only been doing one glimpse into the past, I would have kept the scene as a prologue.

    I once heard an editor say if you have a prologue then you need an epilogue. That’s another rule that I don’t hold to, but I found it interesting.

    Great post for discussion, Joan!

    Liked by 3 people

  10. I always read a prologue. If the author put it there, I assume I need to know it. I’m sometimes disappointed that it was stuff that could have been included organically in the main story, but not every author is going to use a prologue correctly. (I agree with your comments on when to use them and when not to.)

    I haven’t yet written a novel with a prologue. At the moment, I don’t think any of my future works require one. But I’ll never say never.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. I read and write prologues, because why not? An info dump is bad form whether in a prologue or a chapter, so I don’t use them for that. These days, I use them to jumpstart the action. Mine are typically shorter than a chapter, and I’ve used them to show a killer’s POV before starting my main story, or just as a bit of a “bam!” However, I don’t have hard and fast rules for them. I just like them. And I ALWAYS read every, single word any author has written, cover to cover. Skipping things the author wanted me to know makes no sense to me. Now if I find that what I’m reading is boring, then I might not bother with the rest of the book. If the writer can’t make the prologue as interesting as everything else, I’m probably not going to enjoy it.

    I’ve been reading for roughly 68 years now, starting at age 5, so prologues are very familiar territory to me, and when I started writing four years ago, I was surprised to find there was any controversy about them at all. Having said that, I certainly don’t require one of a book. If it’s there, I’m reading it, but it does need to hook me, for sure, if I’m going to continue reading.

    What I have done lately, to satisfy prologue haters, is just not call it that. I now use a date or title at the top, or even a name, such as the following, which is the “prologue” for my latest book:
    December 6, 2013
    “Take This Job and Shove It”
    ~Johnny Paycheck~

    Thanks for an interesting post and discussion, Joan. I’m sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  12. I read them and enjoy them. I avoid writing them because of popular opinion. I’m back to my concept of not giving someone a reason to say no. I opened with my antagonist in The Playground and established the stakes. I called it chapter one instead of a prologue.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I use them in all my fantasy books so far. They help me set up for the main plot, which avoids future info dumps and allows for foreshadowing. For me, they’re the best place to use the gods and villains for a set up. The whole debate is a head scratcher to me anyway. The argument that the prologue stuff isn’t important if it isn’t in the first chapter has a flaw. Technically, the prologue is the first chapter, but it isn’t named that way. If I simply called it chapter 1, the story wouldn’t change in quality or flow. Yet, cutting it out would create gaps. So, I’m unclear on why people dislike prologues.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. I don’t have any hard and fast rules on using prologues. If a book has one, I always read it. Whether I write one depends on the book. I used one with The Battle for Brisingamen, but with The Glade I made it the first chapter (and playing with the timeline allowed me to do that). However, if I think it’s called for, I’ll use them. I believe they should only be used to heighten the tension and not to information dump, and definitely shouldn’t spoil the plot. Thanks, Joan! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Prologues are common in mysteries, which is what I write. Saying they are always irrelevant is ridiculous. I use them to heighten tension and introduce either the antagonist or some other “mysterious” part of the story, before plunging into the actual tale.

    Liked by 2 people

    • To say I was shocked to hear this person make the statement about them being unnecessary would be an understatement. I like them when they heighten tension or like you say introduce a mysterious part of the story and/or antagonist. Thanks for commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I’ve been put off prologues because too many of them, in the past, have been badly done. If there’s a prologue, for me, it needs to be a big hook, and not a plot spoiler or info dump. So these days I tend to skim read a prologue with one eye only, to test its value.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree with you. They shouldn’t be an info dump. Writers should take care not to do this. A badly written prologue (or first chapter for that matter) can destroy the reader’s interest in the entire book.

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