Welcome back, dear readers,
There seem to be two mindsets about prologues– you either love them, or you hate them.
One side avidly declares writers should never include a prologue, and the other staunchly defends their beloved introductory section. Both sides make valuable points, but they can’t both be right, since they vehemently contradict the other.
But it’s well known that only the Sith deal in absolutes.
There are situations when prologues work and readers will love them. I obviously don’t know the specifics of your WIP, but I can share some foundational questions to ask when it comes to deciding whether or not to keep the prologue you’ve written.
1 | Is it compelling?
Being boring is one of the cardinal sins a fiction writer can commit. Your stories shouldn’t be boring, and neither should your prologues. One of the best reasons to include prologue is because of its effectiveness at exciting a reader’s curiosity. Not in the sense of confusion, because then the reader will set aside the book, but by prompting them to ask the right questions so that they tear through the pages, eager to know more.
That response is what author dreams are made of.
Because prologues can be incredibly effective at hooking the reader’s interest, I also think they can be a useful tool for making promises to the reader. Brandon Sanderson, one of my favorite authors, explains how promise, progress, and payoff are critical components of a satisfying story, and the prologue is the perfect place to provide hints as to what the reader can expect from the story.
Sometimes this is accomplished through the prologue showing a past event that impacts the events of the story, and other times it might be an actual snippet from the book. Whatever works best for making the right promises to your reader, just make sure you fulfill those promises in the book. 😉
Side Note: This is why it always irritates me when a snippet is used as a prologue, but once I reach that section of the book, I find the prologue was not verbatim and instead was altered for that hook. Is anyone else frustrated when they come across this?
2 | Is it necessary?
Like any other part of the book, prologues should add something. If it’s simply there because you adore that section of writing, then it should probably be cut so as not to waste the reader’s time and patience.
People often suggest that a prologue shouldn’t contain information the reader must know to understand the story, and I agree. If the information is absolutely critical, don’t simply bank on the reader not skipping those three pages at the beginning.
This, however, doesn’t mean your prologue should be useless. It can give valuable hints about worldbuilding, character development, or show a formative moment in your MC’s past. As long as this isn’t the sole place you’re addressing these important elements, a prologue can be a great place to foreshadow these significant threads.
You want to respect the reader’s time. So, if your prologue doesn’t add worth to the story, it’s time to “kill your darlings,” as the saying goes.
3 | Does it fit genre expectations?
Surprisingly, this question rarely seems to be asked when writers are deciding whether or not to include a prologue. Yet, it’s a huge factor in determining the success of a prologue in your story.
Readers of different genres have diverging expectations for books and are used to certain conventions based on what is typical for those sorts of books. What might work for readers of one genre could fail for readers of another.
From what I’ve seen, it’s rare for middle-grade contemporary to have a prologue. In epic fantasy, however, it’s basically a given. It would be more surprising to not see one. I mean, The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson has both a prologue and a prelude.
Research your genre to see what is common— prologue or no prologue? If you’ve written a compelling, necessary prologue for a book in a genre that typically has prologues, you’re probably safe including one. If not, consider making it chapter one or perhaps, as painful as it is, removing it entirely.
Prologues can be excellent at hooking a reader’s interest, foreshadowing significant threads, and helping your book meet genre expectations– all of which are important. I’ve read enough fantastic prologues to know they can work, especially if the answer is “yes” to all three questions we’ve covered. Like I said earlier, though, ultimately it boils down to your specific story and what it needs.
My hope is that these questions provide a good starting point for not only deciding if your prologue is worth keeping, but also to help you craft one that readers will love.
What’s your preference on prologues? Do you like them or not? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!