I am currently writing the prologue of my WIP. I think. I started with a later chapter, a scene that just burned in my mind as clear as day and had to be written down at that moment. Then I wrote the end of the prologue and I have been sort of working backward to the beginning. It's a weird way to write but seeing as I have no method, I'm going with it.
I was rolling merrily along, perusing too many blogs, when I came across one that was discussing prologues and made an offhand comment about a specific agent who dislikes prologues, because if you can't tell your whole story within your story, something is wrong. (Of course I don't remember where in the interwebs the conversation was, which is, I know, very helpful).
Hmm. That stopped me. Briefly. I thought, well, plenty of other agents must be ok with prologues because there are a lot of books out there with them. And I thought, like all first time writers probably do with our naivete` and bravado, I'm not going to let an agent dictate what I write. (At least until it's done and I'm querying, lol.) Then I looked over at my bookshelf and grabbed a few random books, all very successful, to see if they had prologues. The Hunger Games does not. Wake begins at the beginning but then Chapter 2 really goes back and acts as a prologue to tell what happened "before". The 39 Clues does, but calls it Chapter 1. The Book Thief does. A Curse Dark as Gold does not. When You Reach Me does not. Marcelo in the Real World does not. Going Bovine sort of does, but again, calls it Chapter 1. Madapple does, but doesn't call it a prologue or chapter one, the chapters just have titles and years, since the book skips from the present to the past with each new chapter.
So all in all, a decent mix. But then it lead to my next question. Is the issue with a prologue just the fact that they call it a prologue? Going Bovine opens with the main character describing something that happened when he was five. The next chapter bounces to high school. I guess it's not really a prologue since the character is in the present, telling a memory from when he was younger.
So I guess my question is - Do any of you think that a prologue is a bad thing just because it's there? Do you not like when a story doesn't jump right in? (I never knew there was an anti-prologue movement, lol). The blog I was reading was sort of secondhand info, and since writing tastes are so subjective, I wouldn't worry too much about one completely anti-prologue opinion. But it did make me think. Seeing as I am writing one.
There are definitely times when I think that a prologue does not work well - if it is super long (that sort of says to me that there is so much backstory that maybe there should actually be a prequel), or if I don't understand what is going on. I don't mind a little mystery in a prologue, it's supposed to plant questions in your mind and make you want to find out what happens, but I do dislike prologues that are so confusing that I really have no idea what they mean until I read so far into the novel.
I did a little searching on the topic and found this article by Marg McAlister, where she states:
"A prologue is used mainly for two reasons.
1. To outline the backstory quickly and economically, saving the author from having to resort to flashbacks or ruses such as conversations or memories to explain the background to the reader. This is commonly done in science fiction and fantasy to show why a certain quest is being undertaken or what will happen in the future. The prologue is a better option than a first chapter bogged down in detail.
2. To hook the reader and provide the story question right up front, giving them a reason to keep turning the pages to find out the answer. Quite often the prologue relates to a scene near the end of the story, and the story itself then shows what has led up to this moment. When is this justified? Perhaps when you want to introduce your characters in a more leisurely fashion, and your reader's experience with 'meeting' them will be enhanced by some sort of foreshadowing of what is to come.
Apart from these two reasons, a prologue can be used to introduce a certain character's viewpoint on one occasion only. The rest of the book may be told from just one other viewpoint, or from several different viewpoint characters that are in some way removed from the one you've used in the prologue. The prologue can bypass the danger of viewpoint violation."
That last paragraph let me breathe a sigh of relief because that's the case in my WIP. The novel is being told in first person, but the prologue is in third person and the MC is not yet born.
She goes on to analyze when to call a prologue a prologue and when to just make it Chapter 1 (again, it's just the title 'prologue' that is a problem in some instances? Maybe it breaks the flow? If the backstory info can weave seamlessly into the present scene for Chapter 2, I guess it's distracting to make it a prologue?)
She also mentions a serious dislike for prologues that end up being exact duplicates of a later scene or chapter. I can honestly say that I don't ever remember reading a prologue like that until the very last book that I read, Madapple by Christina Meldrum. In that instance, as a reader, I thought it worked well at the beginning of the story and wondered why the info was repeated, pages worth, in italics near the end of the story. That struck me a little odd, although I liked the book overall.
What do you think about prologues? Books where they worked well? Books where they didn't? Does your WIP have one?
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