Upon returning from a writer’s conference, a member of my writer’s group informed us that editors and agents hate prologues. Since I had just read the group my WIP’s prologue, her revelation made my heart sag. I was quite pleased with what I had written. I introduced vital back-story in a pertinent character’s viewpoint, which was the one and only chance for this character to express himself before his demise would silence him forever.
That got me to thinking—and researching—about when we should use prologues in our fiction. The online consensus about the nasty little setup pages brought me to conclude that more readers *and editors* are against them than are for them.
Really? Why? I love a good prologue. I never skip them because I’m afraid I’ll lose out on vital information the author placed there to help me understand the plot. If done well, they can enhance a story.
I imagine editors get tired of reading misfit prologues. One editor said she could count on one hand how many necessary and successful prologues she has read in her years as an editor. Another suggests a new author avoid using a prologue if he really wants his manuscript considered. So when may a writer use a prologue or is it best to avoid them altogether? My research uncovered the following.
A writer may include a prologue if it:
Provides critical information – You should never use this information elsewhere, and it should provide necessary enhancement to the plot. However, if you can weave that information throughout the rest of the novel then eliminate the prologue all together. If the story makes sense without the prologue, you don’t need 3-5 pages more to bog it down. If you hold doubts about whether the information is important enough to stand on its own, consider making it chapter one, even if it takes place in a another time period.
Provides more than mood or action – If your purpose is to set the mood or hook someone into the story with action, then get rid of the prologue. You can do those two things in the body of your story. Using these ploys might suggest to the editor your first chapter is weak.
If you do use a prologue, make sure it is short, relevant and in the same style as the rest of the book. Since using a prologue is asking the reader to start the story twice, make sure this addition is brief and supplies the missing elements that make the plot clear as it progresses. When submitting your manuscript for consideration, include the prologue with what you send.
After all this advise, I still love a good prologue. As I rush to the completion of my manuscript, I'll consider and weigh whether mine contains information I can slip into the body of the story or not. I want the best chance possible to impress an agent or editor. Even if the setup pages are well written, I have to be willing to sacrifice them for a sale.