The Prologue War

Photo credit: tonyetone on Flickr
If you’ve been paying attention to the realm of writing for any lengthy amount of time, I’m sure you know about The Great Prologue Debate. It’s a war that’s been going on for ages and undoubtedly has many casualties.

To prologue or not to prologue, that is the question.

So before we start throwing punches and whipping out weapons of mass destruction, let’s take a look at the core of the matter: What is a prologue?

According to, the definition of a prologue is this:

Since we’re talking about writing, the definition I’m most interested in is number four: “an introductory scene, preceding the first act of a play, opera, etc.” (emphasis added)

The keyword there (as I’ve emphasized with certain slanty letters) is “preceding.” Prologues, by definition, happen before the action—before the story really starts.

So now you’re thinking, yes, ok Ava, we know what a prologue is—what’s your point? Well, my point is pretty simple: most of the time, the story should start where the story starts. You’d think that goes without saying, but prologues break that rule.

I’m not saying that they never work—in fact I'm guilty of writing a prologue myself (albeit, in my first ever WIP) and I've read prologues that I liked. But prologues are used and abused and oftentimes they aren’t necessary.

Sometimes they give the readers valuable background information or set the mood or a dozen other functions. And sometimes the only way to accomplish that goal effectively is indeed through a prologue.

However. If you have a prologue and there is any other way to get that information in, to set the mood, whatever you’re trying to achieve by writing a prologue, then you don’t need it. Could you conceivably tell the reader that your story's version of magic only works during the day and that faeries are actually fatally allergic to mushrooms within your prose? Yes? Then cut the prologue.

Maybe you need the prologue to slap some tension in the beginning of your novel because your first chapter starts off a bit slow. In that case, yes a prologue works, but it’d be even better if you inserted tension in your first chapter instead of relying on a prologue. Just a thought.

So, to prologue or not to prologue? Truthfully, it’s up to you. But if you must include a prologue, my advice to you is simple: make it snappy, make it interesting and make it important. Then finish writing the rest of your story.

Now it’s your turn to weigh in, my lovely readers. To prologue, or not to prologue?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...