Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Prologue Conundrum

As a reader, I dislike prologues.

I know. I know what you’re thinking. If you’ve read Aurelia and Academy 7, you’re thinking, You hypocrite!

Bear with me. We’ll get to that.

As I was saying, prologues build tension, get you wrapped up in the story, and then leave you hanging. Ahhh!

(Now as a writer, that’s not really not a bad thing. Is it?)

I have to admit, as a reader, that I can’t really think of a single book in which I’ve stopped reading directly after the prologue.

Because—you know—sooner or later, whatever left you hanging is going to have to come back into play, right?

At least, I hope so.

Though sometimes one wonders . . .

On to the writer’s perspective. There are a number of excellent reasons to have a prologue.

Reason 1: Begin with the action.

This is one of those little pieces of advice you learn at writing conferences. And in How-to-Sell-Your-First-Novel-books. And when you take your novel to a critique group, or pay to have it critiqued.

It is also one of those things you can ignore.

Unless you hear it, as Aurelia and I did, several times. In which case you might want to pay attention.

You see, most chapters build. They build and build and build toward the climax, then drop you off the cliff. At least they do if you are raised to believe, as I was, that Mark Twain was the ultimate story-teller.

But at the beginning of a book, this is a problem because the reader doesn’t have a cliffhanger yet to push him or her through the build-up.

So . . . think of the prologue as the final scene in a chapter. The climax, without the build-up.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

FYI, this is exactly what happened with Aurelia. The Prologue was always there. It just used to be at the end of chapter one.

Until it moved to become “The Prologue.”

Reason 2: Prologues are short.

I always had this image of Aerin, from Academy 7, lost, flying in space, and getting rescued.

It made sense to put the scene into the beginning of the book. Since, you know, it’s kind of cool.

The problem was there was nothing cool about what happened immediately after Aerin was rescued. She’s in a total state of panic and won’t say anything for at least a month. There was this other scene that I cut—because it was boring and didn’t go anywhere and required two characters I really didn’t need. And well, when you cut half a first chapter, you’re left with . . .

A "Prologue."

Reason 3: The Prologue is in someone else’s head.

The beginning of the book I’m writing now starts out in the head of a secondary character. There are reasons for this which I can’t avoid. Nor do I want my readers to fall under the impression that this character has been granted story-teller status. He hasn’t. He’s just volunteered to provide a different perspective.

For “The Prologue.”

And finally . . .

Reason 4: The Prologue simply happens before the rest of the book.

Salvation is about a school year. Senior year—to be exact. It starts off on the first day of school and works its way through Senior Skip Day at the end.

Except this one short scene in August.

You guessed it, “The Prologue.”

So . . . as a reader, I don’t care much for prologues.

As an author, I kind of ADORE them.


  1. I am a new follower! YEAY!!! Hope you will stop by my blog and follow back!

    Emma Michaels

  2. Oh, I LOVE prologues :) Both as a reader, and a writer. Prologues are kind of like a glance into the future for me, as a reader. If I'm not too sure I'll like the book, the prologue seems to always give that sense of "Oh wait! It'll get SO much better!" That way, I keep reading. :)
    Great post!

  3. Hi Emma,

    Great to meet you!

    Hi Savannah,

    So what are your favorite prologues then? From which books? The one that always comes to mind for me is this creepy Jack the Ripper murder scene in The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly. No idea why, but obviously, it left an impression.

    (who knows she should be blogging today but is reading Fang & REALLY can't set aside three hours from that to blog right now)