Prologues: Yay or Nay?

April 21, 2017     Michelle     Reading, Writing

One of my very goods friends and I find ourselves constantly revisiting this topic. So I thought I’d put it out there and get your thoughts, as avid readers, as writers, and as generally interesting people. What do you think about prologues?

The Pros:

  • They’re an easy way to give some background to your plot
  • They can be VERY effective in the right circumstance (What IS that circumstance? Don’t ask me; I have no idea)
  • They can be a useful tool to start in the middle of some action / give a good hook for the reader
  • They add some distinction and draw your attention to say “this is important”
  • They can reveal motives
  • They can establish the tone of a book very quickly

The Cons:

  • They can cause a bit of confusion: Why should I care about that character in the first 5 pages that I don’t see again for half the book?
  • They don’t always add a lot of value
  • It’s possible to give the same background info, motive, tone, etc in other more creative ways
  • They add some distinction and may cause the reader to focus on THAT instead of the direct storyline
  • They can often come off as an info-dump

My personal belief:

I like writing prologues as a tool for myself, but I don’t actually like to read them. For me they form a crucial part of the writing process, so I actually don’t really remember the last time I started a book without writing a prologue. And I use them almost as a thesis paragraph: this is the tone I want, and this is the impetus for everything that’s about to go down. And it’s something I revisit as I write.

But as a reader, they drive me nuts. Some are manged very well, and I like those. Anne Bishop’s intro to The Others books, with the background she gives of how The Others and humans came to live side-by-side was beautiful and needed. But most of the time they just serve as a distraction.

So when (if) I ever publish any of my books, that prologue that I’ve written will almost guaranteedly be cut. That means I’ll likely have to figure out how to rework my beginning, but that’s ok.

What do you think?

Are prologues something you’re a fan of? Or do they get on your nerves? If you’re a writer, do you work with prologues at all?

  • I feel the exact same way!! When I first started writing my book I started with the prologue and I felt it was the beast way to begin writing and it sort provided me with an outline of what I want to happen. As a reader I tend to skip the prologue or just skim it, the few time I do actually read the prologue I tend to find it confusing or I forget about it as I’m reading the book. When it comes down to it prologues can be extremely helpful during the writing process but I’m not a huge fan of them while reading.
    Great Post! 🙂

    • Michelle

      I used to LOVE prologues, but as my tastes matured, I found myself questioning their role more and more. I DO find them incredibly helpful for writing, depending on my project. But most of the time they just don’t feel NEEDED in a finished product, you know? As you say, I tend to skim over them anyway 😛

  • I think prologues are perfectly fine, but they should only be used when really necessary. The problem though is that it seems like 95% do not use them correctly, use them when it’s entirely unnecessary, just copy and paste something from later in the book, etc., and then they ruin prologues for everyone, for the authors who actually do need to use them. Because lots of people just skip them. But I never skip them unless maybe I’m 100% sure it’s not a necessary one.

    But see, people complain about prologues and many people skip them, so some authors have just started calling their prologues “chapter 1” and then everyone reads them and doesn’t notice or complain lol. Like the HP books? The first chapter in each book was usually about some other non MC or took place many years ago, etc. That’s what I’d call a prologue. But they’re just labeled as Ch 1 if I recall correctly.

    • Michelle

      I LIKE them when they actually add value. I just don’t like the random ones that don’t actually DO anything or contribute in a meaningful way. And unfortunately, there are plenty of bad examples.

      And in my mind … Call it whatever you want. It’s still a prologue 😛 HP is a great example! That first book TOTALLY starts with a prologue, even if it’s called Chapter 1. But that prologue really MEANS something! It gives us a visual on a backstory that we would never REALLY get through Harry’s POV throughout the rest of the book. I’ve seen others create a prologue that they call a Ch. 1, and it still is meaningless fluff that I don’t think is needed.

  • Greg Hill

    I don’t mind prologues, in fact I kinda like ’em unless they’re obviously extraneous. It gives writers flexibility to set the stage I think or do something different with POV or whatever. The one that always comes to mind for me is the Game of Thrones prologues- the first one definitely set the toe for the series, and he’s kind of unique in that after five books we can see pattern in how he does them, i.e. the POV usually dies lol.

    • Michelle

      Hmm, I actually don’t remember the prologue to Game of Thrones, and I haven’t read the rest of the books yet, lol. That said, when they’re done right, I don’t mind them at all!

  • Interesting topic, Michelle! I never really think about prologues actually, and can’t think of any that I’ve felt strongly about! Generally I don’t mind them as long as they actually serve a function for the plot and not just an info dump. When I started writing my current novel, I kind of did a prologue. I pulled up a document and wrote up the history of the society, stuff that I need to keep straight in my head as I write. Similar to you, I treat it as a tool for myself. Bits and pieces might make it to the story, but no one else really needs to read that level of details in one go. 😛

    • Michelle

      Thanks! I suppose if you don’t think about them then they don’t bother you at a;;! ;)It’s amazing how helpful they can be as a writing tool though 🙂