Tip Thursday: 3 reasons to Ditch your Novel’s Prologue.

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Here’s a great article I found here about prologues.  We’ve always been told we shouldn’t include them, but time and time again we see them in published books.  So, I asked myself, “What gives?  Why shouldn’t we write prologues, if every one is always doing them?”  Here’s what I found:
The prologue is a legitimate story-telling device, but many readers admit that when they see the word “Prologue,” they skip at once to the page that begins with the words “Chapter One.”
Sometimes a prologue is the ideal way to present information essential to the reader’s understanding of the story.
Mystery writers, for example, often begin with a prologue written from the killer’s point of view, or perhaps that of the killer’s first victim. On the other hand, such a scene can be written as “Chapter One” as Martha Grimes does it in The Dirty Duck.
Writers of historical fiction may wish to provide background information to orient the reader in an unfamiliar period.
Writers of fantasy or sci-fi may write a prologue to equip the reader with unfamiliar assumptions held by the inhabitants of the strange world they’re about to enter.
Too often, however, what some writers call a “prologue” is undigested back story, mere scene-setting, or what should be Chapter One.
Ditch your prologue if…
 
1. …it seems boring even to you and you can hardly wait to get to Chapter One.
2. …it’s a lengthy narrative of back story that could more effectively be doled out in small bits as the 
story progresses.
3. …all it does is create atmosphere without having much to do with the story.

10 Responses to “Tip Thursday: 3 reasons to Ditch your Novel’s Prologue.”

  1. Pam Harris says:

    >Great tips! 🙂

  2. aardvarkian.com says:

    >Thanks, Jessica. This is good to know.

  3. MJ Heiser says:

    >Whew. I feel vindicated. I write fantasy, and my prologues don't fall into the three no-nos. Yay!

  4. Janet Johnson says:

    >Very good tips! I was really surprised when an agent I had a critique with RECOMMENDED a prologue. We sometimes forget that they do have a legitimate purpose when done right. 🙂

  5. jasouders says:

    >Glad to know that every one is liking the tips, so far. 😀

    @Janet: Yes, I would have been surprised, too! But then, like you said, they're there for a reason and if used responsibly can be a great device. 😀

  6. Bekah says:

    >I am a reader who skips prologue. I figure if it were important, they'd put it in the first chapter.

  7. ravenclark says:

    >These are great tips and so true. In the rewrites of my novel, I desperately wanted to avoid a prologue, but then realized I couldn't. Mine doesn't fall under any of those categories, and it's great to see them in a comprehensive list I can check off.

    I also heard it put another way. A properly used prologue gives information the reader needs at the start of the story, without which important context is lost, and the information is disconnected from the main story, so it can't be used as chapter one. Ie, it doesn't have the MC in it.

    Thanks for sharing. And now I have the topic for my next blog. lol!

    Raven

  8. Amie Kaufman says:

    >Great tips! To the point, and I love the approach of having a checklist to run your prologue through.

  9. jasouders says:

    >Thanks for commenting, guys! And I'm really glad you found it useful!

  10. Eleven Eleven says:

    >I can't remember where I read it, but another post about prologues said that if the reader isn't MORE excited to read the first chapter by the end of the prologue, you should ditch it. There should be excitement, intrigue, and it should link strongly to what's up next.

    I've got a prologue-y sort of beginning, but the story makes no sense without it, it sets up interest for the next chapter, and it's too juicy to be chopped up and sprinkled during the actual story. That's why I keep it.

    I like the list of no-no's you have. Makes it easy to see which prologues should make the cut and which shouldn't.