Prologues: Do or Don’t?

Today I am opening up the comments for a debate! I’ve said time and time again that I am unpublished, and that until I have several published books under my belt, I’ll try to avoid the whole This Is What You Should Do to Write a Good Book spiel. But I do know that I have a fair amount of experience when it comes to reading, so let’s all put our Reader Hats on and consider an age-old question: Is it okay for authors to write prologues?

To be completely honest, my own novel has a prologue, and I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t including one just because everyone else is doing it. I was doing some research, trying to figure out if there are any blog posts out there that say: “They’re okay as long as it does this, this, this, or this.” (The answer is yes, by the way, but that’s not really the point of this post.) While in the middle of doing this research,  I came across an unusual fact.

Apparently, some people hate prologues so much that if they see a book has one, they’ll either not pick it up or they will but they’ll completely skip the prologue and just hop over to chapter #1.

I understand the appeal. There’s the whole I only want to read what is happening RIGHT NOW, not what happened a hundred years ago argument. And I think that a lot of authors, especially newer ones, only write a prologue because it seems like a good way to hook the reader or whatever. I’m pretty sure I am guilty of doing this too, although I am trying to make sure that my prologue is either necessary or cut out.

So the argument is that, all too often, readers pick up books that have prologues that don’t necessarily need them, and they don’t really want to waste time reading poorly-written or irrelevant information about something that happened awhile ago (or whatever the case may be). Since there are only a certain number of circumstances where a writer should use them, and since a lot of authors want to write them regardless of whether they’re necessary or not, it makes sense that people might get sick of reading these things.

Fair is fair.

Still, plenty of authors write good prologues, and include them because they actually are necessary. Prologue doesn’t necessarily equate to bad writing, or inexperienced writing. Setting a book aside simply because an author wrote a prologue seems like a good way to miss out on a potentially-amazing read. Or, if you do pick it up and skip the prologue, well… then you run into the problem of potentially missing some vital information later on.

And now I turn the argument to you. What’s your opinion of the prologue debate? Are there any instances where you feel like prologues are or are not necessary?

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7 thoughts on “Prologues: Do or Don’t?

  1. At the moment my story has a prologue. If it had to happen, I could take it out, but the resulting story would need far more backstory than it survives on at the moment. The notion of people putting down books for a prologue, poor opening line, slow first chapter belongs in the past. All we ever hear about is “you have to hook the reader” or ” get to the point fast”. I’d disagree. Some of the best stories ever told are slow or have a prologue. We should fight to keep our right to a prologue!

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    1. Well, to be fair, I think it also depends on your audience. Adults might not mind a slower-paced book, but young adults and children need to know it’s worth reading. The book I’m currently reading, for example, has a lot of promise, but its tendency towards slow pacing makes it hard for me to convince myself to pick it back up and continue reading.
      But I do agree with you that snap judgments on a book based simply on the tools that an author used to write it can mean that you potentially miss out on an epic read. Prologues are like chapter titles and even improper grammar, in my opinion. There’s a time and a place to use them, and setting down a book simply because some authors misused these tools seems a bit premature.

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      1. Nah, I wouldn’t be too worried. I think there is less of a hatred for chapter titles than there is for prologues. The biggest argument with that is revealing too much of the chapter’s content in those titles.

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  2. I wondered about that myself. I originally had a prologue in my fantasy novel then realized by removing it, the novel begins more “in the middle of things” and, thus, heightens the drama. Hopefully.

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    1. Hey Joel, thanks for commenting!
      I think the important thing is to just do what your novel needs doing, whether that means prologue or no prologue.

      Liked by 1 person

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