I like prologues. I know it’s not a fashionable thing to say, but personally I’m disappointed if a book doesn’t have one. It’s like going out for a meal but skipping the starter; for me it doesn’t feel right.
From what I’ve read, however, I seem to be in a minority. I know they are more acceptable in certain genres but I’ve read a number of blogs/writing sites that either warn you off them completely or else advise their use with caution.
One of the main reasons seems to be that they are out of favour with agents and publishers, but what if you plan to self-publish? Can / should you use them then?
Examples of the sites I have read (that have opposing views) include standoutbooks where the author feels that prologues can act as an anti-hook, purposefully distancing the reader from the story. They are of the opinion that you are likely to lose readers who aren’t already on board with the story, and give a signal that the real story hasn’t started.
On the other hand, writers digest suggest that prologues can work well. They give several examples where a prologue can establish why things are as they are (eg Pirates of the Caribbean), or why the main character is the way she is when the action begins (eg Mulan). They also use Game of Thrones as an example of how a prologue can hint at the danger that will soon sweep over the hero’s life.
It seems to be that prologues can be useful if you get them right. They should engage the reader and be used to set the tone for the novel using information that wouldn’t otherwise be available. They shouldn’t however, be used as a dumping ground for backstory, or as a hook if your opening Chapter isn’t up to scratch.
I have a prologue for Book 1 of my trilogy and I’m pretty pleased with it. It’s set three years before the main book starts and I’ve included it to show the normality of life immediately before the life changing event (which is the last sentence of the Prologue). I don’t want to use it as the first chapter as it is a different point of view. Also, at about six hundred words it’s very much shorter that the other chapters in the book. I’ve deliberately made sure it isn’t an information dump, but I’m still wondering if I should get rid of it?
Do you have any thought on this, either as a reader or an author? Have you used a prologue in any of your writing and if so, what was the response? Let me know, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.