The Trouble With Prologues

Here’s my issue with prologues:

I’m a long-time fantasy reader. That means I have been faced with more prologues than I can even count. Some books even have two prologues! Sometimes these prologues are interesting and legitimate.

Much, much more often the prologue is used as a free info-dump. The writer feels no need to ‘hook’ me into the book—so why read it at all? I was at one time a decided prologue skipper, because more often than not, the information in the prologue wasn’t even necessary for me to understand the story.

In my opinion, for a prologue to justify its existence, it needs to:

  • Have a reason for not being Chapter One. Something breaks it from the main story–a big time jump, an unusual shift in POV (3rd person a story otherwise told in 1st person, or from the POV of a character who is never seen again, etc), or it’s information that none of the POV characters could possibly have access to.
  • Be necessary. Every single scene in your story needs to be necessary, especially  the first one.
  • Have a damn good hook, just as compelling as the one that opens your first chapter, because the prologue is hopefully going to be read first.

The first two are requirements for the prologue even existing. The third one is what you have to do to make the prologue good. If you can hit all three, I’ll eat your prologue up and ask for seconds.*

~ RM

* Not really seconds. I’ll ask for your first chapter. Please don’t give me a second prologue, I don’t care if you are Brandon Frickin Sanderson.

“The Trouble With Prologues”
“So, prologues–yes or hell no?”

2 thoughts on “The Trouble With Prologues

  1. I love prologues when they’re done right. Whenever I see the word prologue, I expect to find ‘Chapter One’ to start at a different point in the story and/or with a different character.

    I also love it when something is buried in the prologue that suddenly makes sense at a certain point in the story or is something that the protagonists discover. That ‘aha!’ moment I get from picking up on something like that is always very satisfying for me as a reader.

    1. I don’t see a lot of “In the beginning…” prologues anymore, thank heavens!!! I’d still be a prologue-skipper if that were the case. Either authors have wised up a lot, or their agents/editors aren’t letting them get away with it any more.

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