Prologue or No Prologue: The Debate
One of the biggest debates in fantasy writing is whether or not to include a prologue. While prologues are popular in certain subgenres, nowadays we are starting to see less and less of them. This stems from a large shift in opinion in the eyes of both authors and literary agents. Today’s post is going to summarize this debate and hopefully offer a few pointers no matter what decision you ultimately make.
The Argument For Prologues
If the prologue adds to the story, it can be incredibly useful. – Make sure that if you do use a prologue, it is going to add to your story. Introduce characters that are directly relevant to your story, and make it unique. Lead your readers into the main story.
Keep it short and sweet, and your prologue will stand out. – A short prologue (typically under 1000 words) can be a great tone setter for the rest of the story. Are you going to set up high intensity action or a tragic event? Make it match.
Prologues are great for switching point of view. – Sometimes you may want to introduce a character in first person or third person and then switch to the opposite point of view for the rest of the story. This can be great to get inside one character’s head and see what they are thinking before leaping into the story. Conversely, you may want to observe a character or event from an outside perspective before diving into the story.
The Argument Against Prologues
Authors often use prologues as an infodump. – If you’re using your prologue to get across vital information that you feel like the reader has to know before reading your story, nine times out of ten you can get rid of it. Part of being a great writer is the ability to weave vital information into your story seamlessly without sending up a blatant flare for your readers.
Sometimes your prologue will make a much better first chapter – If you’re introducing action in the prologue and then continuing on (even if there is a time skip), think about if your prologue can actually become the first chapter. You may find that it’s a lot better to start right away. People who may read the first few pages of your book (especially literary agents!) will want to know everything they need to know about if they want to keep reading your story without the prologue in the way to muddle things.
Readers often skip prologues. – Enough said. Why write them if readers might skip them anyway?
So which one is best? Well, I believe that’s entirely up to the writer. Do what you feel comfortable doing. Remember, during revisions, you can always change your mind. Writing is never set in stone. You can always build off of it or from it in different ways (just look at the popularity of fanfiction!).