So what’s wrong with prologues?

So what’s wrong with prologues? I’ve read recently that prologues are in someway wrong (or perhaps old-fashioned?) I don’t know who decides these things but prologues are very much alive and well and used in many top writers’ novels, including the bestselling ‘The Secret History’ and ‘Game of Thrones’.

Prologues are often essential tools for supplying back story, tone and hints of what is to come. I often judge a book on the prologue because it gives me an insight to the story’s content, as well as an evaluation of the writer’s standard of writing and storytelling ability. If the writer can handle the prologue well – then it stands to reason I may expect the rest of the book to be equally good.

Prologues, done well, are meant to intrigue and entice. They are often far richer than a ‘jump right in’ first chapter. They add texture and depth to the story to follow. For me, a good prologue is a measure of a writer’s talent – simply because this piece of writing has to be informative and yet puzzling enough to make you want to know how this fits in with the rest of the tale. It is the ‘hook’ so to speak. It also shows that the writer knows where they’re going, where they want to take you, and what you can expect in the way of mystery and pace.

Granted, prologues may not be essential in all books – but where they are used for all the above reasons, they add greatly to the ‘weight’ of the book, in my view. I’m saddened that some people take it upon themselves to make these new ‘rules’ about writing and book structure. So much of the richness and intellectual agility of excellent writing is being undermined by this kind of short-sighted approach. Inclusion or exclusion of prologues is no more than a matter of style and opinion – it is not, and never should be, a measure of the book’s ability to sell and be enjoyed.

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6 thoughts on “So what’s wrong with prologues?

  1. Keri Peardon says:

    I have a prologue in my first book (I didn’t even know they’re out of fashion until after I write it; too bad). I start it with action and some mystery, so I don’t think it’s boring. But the events in it 1) take place outside my MC’s knowledge, 2) take place a year before the main story, 3) set up the entire sequence of events in the rest of the book. So, I can’t NOT have it, and I don’t think it works as the actual first chapter.

    I also have an epilogue–again, outside the MC’s view–which ties up a few lose ends and sets up the second book. But the second book has neither. The third book has an epilogue, but I’m not sure if I’m going to have a single prologue or just put a series of flashbacks in it; it all depends on if I can tell the back story in one chapter or not.

    • Malla Duncan says:

      So true what you say – that a prologue is useful for telling events as yet outside the MC’s knowledge. Spot on! As far as I’m concerned, you can use prologues and epilogues to your heart’s content – as long as they add value to your story – that’s the only thing that matters.

  2. jeanettehornby says:

    I think it’s up to the discretion of the writer whether they include a prologue or not. It’s their story and they can choose to tell it how they like, although I do think it’s best if the prologue is not too long.

  3. Malla Duncan says:

    I agree. It’s the writer’s choice depending on how they want to structure getting information across.

  4. Five books, two have prologues (one of them the biggest seller by far).

    Number six (almost completed first draft) first chapter is a sort of prologue with a collection of real and fabricated news stories detailing world events leading up to the action in North Korea.

    I think a prologue that scene sets and leaves the reader wonder what it has to do with the body of the story is perfectly fine — as long as it has something to do with the story.

    I read a Patterson book a number of years back with an exploding bus in a sort of prologue (the second chapter took place a good chunk of time after the first, qualifying it as a prologue, I guess), AND IT TURNED OUT THE BUS WAS A RED HERRING.

    Hated that, and I believe that’s the point I stopped enjoying Patterson books. But that’s a whole post on it’s own.

    [Note on the importance of proofing before posting comments…my fourth paragraph referenced an exploding butt.]

    • Malla Duncan says:

      I guess an exploding butt is what one experiences as a writer when faced with people who pronounce such silly ‘rules’ with regard to something as useful as prologues! But (sorry) as you say, prologues must contribute to the story to follow.

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