Tuesday, March 25, 2008

When to Prologue

Tomorrow I'm going to post about prologues--when to write them, when to avoid them. I thought I'd already done this, but nope. Nothing in the archives. Every time I teach at a writers conference the issue of prologues comes up. It's also a popular issue on writers' loops. So many new authors want to start their novels this way. Should they?

Before we start--do you have any particular question about prologues you'd like me to cover? Any opinions on when to use them, or when not to use them? As a reader, have you found that most prologues work, or would the novel be better without one?

This series will probably go 2-3 posts in length.


Timothy Fish said...

In a nutshell, my opinion is that prologues should be short and should cover an event that is detached from the story, but is important to the story. Do they work? Often they do, but like everything they can be abused.

C.J. Darlington said...

Whatever you have to say about them will be interesting to me. I only recently started using Prologues, but I think the key is only using them when absolutely necessary since some readers don't like them. But I found them to be very needed in both my novels.

In my first novel I opened with my main character being arrested for drunk driving. Some comments I had from readers was my main character wasn't all that sympathetic. She'd been drinking. Why NOT have her get locked up? So I decided I needed a prologue to show her as a teenager and what happened on the same night fifteen years prior that's made her who she is.

I think the best Prologues are the shorter ones. But I've read some really great grabbers. Two that come to mind are the Prologue in Maggie Comes Lately by Michelle Buckman and The Pawn by Steven James.

Nicole said...

Prologues, preludes, epilogues, you name it--I love them all. I want them to work. I love variety. The most recent novel I've read with a prologue is Karen Ball's What Lies Within which was gut-wrenching for those who'd read the previous book in the series, and I read The Pawn as well which had a really creepy one.

A lot of readers and professionals alike don't like them because they feel like the hook is good but then the story is delayed because it goes back or forth in time.

I've used a prologue and epilogue with my second novel, a prelude with my seventh. Those particular novels just worked for me written that way.

While I think you can give pros and cons for them and instructions on how to make them effective, I think it's unfair for those who don't care for them to deny their value.

Ed J. Horton said...

A novelist whose prologues immediately popped to mind is Clive Cussler. His prologues are interesting and, by the end of his non-CBA books, tie into the main story splendidly.

I would like to hear more thoughts on the subject because I've incorporated a prologue and epilogue into a thriller manuscript. I'm seeking reassurance as to whether it works, or not.

Patricia W. said...



Specific event not in the same time frame as the rest of the story.

Not simply something the author wants to highlight but important to getting the story.

Not simply something that could be covered through backstory snippets.

Often the prologue could really be chapter one. Most stories I read don't have one and don't need one. The book I'm currently read does...and doesn't.

Feel completely different about epilogues. Love 'em because by then, I'm into the characters and want to see how it all turns out for them (especially in romance).

~ Brandilyn Collins said...

Thanks, all, for your thoughts.

Gina Conroy said...

I've read novels where chapter one starts several years/decades before chapter two. Are these really prologues in disguise? And how do you determine the difference?

~ Brandilyn Collins said...

Gina, without reading the novels you're talking about, in general I'd say yes, it's a prologue in disguise. It's probably the author or editor saying, "Ooh, not supposed to use a prologue, people don't like it. So let's just call it chapter one." But this is a cheat, I think. If the chapter/prologue isn't needed, don't use it. If it is, call it what it is. A first chapter far removed from the rest of the story seems jarring, whereas we expect that in a prologue.