Prologues – Good or Bad?

Famous Prologue

One of the Most Famous Prologues…

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.

If you want to know more about The Ambition & Destiny Trilogy, or receive my monthly newsletter, visit my website here.

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About Val McBeath

Born and raised in Liverpool (UK), I live in Cheshire with husband, youngest daughter, and cat. In addition to family history, interests include rock music and Liverpool Football Club. Prior to writing, I trained as a scientist and worked in the pharmaceutical industry for many years. In 2012, I set up my own consultancy business and now split my time between business and writing.
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5 Responses to Prologues – Good or Bad?

  1. bookpino says:

    Reblogged this on bookpino.

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  2. I second you. A well written prologue creates the mood of the novel for me and even leads to an impulse buying decision at times. Frankly speaking, nobody gives two hoots about what a literary agent preaches as long as the Prologue is catchy and engrossing 😀

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    • Val McBeath says:

      Thanks for the comment. I agree that if you’re going to self-publish literary agents views shouldn’t matter. I think I’ll see what my beta-readers think of my prologue before I do anything else with it. 🙂

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  3. Pingback: Building an Email List: The Value of a Short Story | From Story To Book

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