That symbol over there on the right tells you I am a member of the Independent Authors Support and Discussion group. An interesting discussion on our Facebook page the other day concerned prologues. One of the members is writing a sequel and wondered if a prologue would enable her to give readers who had not read the first book in the sequence some important backstory information.
The general consensus was ‘No, that’s not the function of a prologue’.
Several pointed out that it can be a device for letting the reader know something that happened years before the main story and which had repercussions which the main story is exploring. That’s how I began Strongbow’s Wife. Years before the birth of the protagonist her father did something that antagonised an enemy, thereby exacerbating a long term feud which became an important factor in establishing the course of events which determined her future and that of Ireland.
Early in her story she overhears part of a conversation referring to that event and is puzzled. This means the reader is party to knowledge which she still has to discover. Which she does, much later in the story, when her mother tells her.
I wondered what other writers had to say about prologues.
Agents dislike them.
Over at Writers’ Digest Meg LaTorre-Snyder begins her piece with this statement: “If you’ve attended a writing workshop, you may have noticed literary agents voicing their dislike of prologues.”
Readers find them frustrating.
At The Editors Blog, Beth Hill states: “readers want to jump right into the meat of a story and a prologue is a frustrating delay. Readers want to know the now of a character’s life, not what happened to his grandfather 60 years ago.”
An effective tool?
On the other hand, Belfast based Source Expert asserts that “it is universally agreed upon that a good prologue can be an effective tool in building your novel”
Readers skip them.
Claire Bradshaw at Writer’s Edit seems to sum up the confusion: “Some readers are OK with prologues. But some hate them, and will sometimes even bypass a prologue entirely on principle, skipping automatically to Chapter One.”
She continues by suggesting that “a defining feature of a prologue is that it in some way doesn’t ‘match’ or ‘fit in’ with the rest of the story. If Chapter One follows on directly from the prologue, then perhaps the prologue itself should actually be Chapter One!”
Maeve Maddox at Daily Writing Tips agrees: “Too often . . . what some writers call a “prologue” is undigested back story, mere scene-setting, or what should be Chapter One.”
None of the above will make me remove the prologue from Strongbow’s Wife when I upload a revised version in the next few days. What about you? As a writer, do any of your books have a prologue? How do the above opinions make you feel about it? As a reader, does the presence of a prologue make you sigh in frustration? Would you decide not to read a book if you found it began with a prologue? Feel free to join the discussion in the comments.