Prologue hate, what to do?

To be totally honest, when I first heard that many agents HATE prologues I kinda rolled my eyes. Oh great, something else to nitpick over. But when I read up on it a little more I got it, sorta. Agents and editors  must be incredibly discerning and prologues, unfortunately, are often done wrong.

This is terrible news because the book I am currently trying to pitch has a prologue that there is no way I can cut and is completely out of format with the rest of my book if I just make it into a chapter.

So what is a prologue supposed to do? Done correctly it sets the tone, gives a little insight on the story that is to come, outside of the general flow and format of the rest of the book.

Why do people in the publishing industry hate it? Incorrectly used, it acts as an info dump. All the backstory in a chapter that isn’t good enough to be a chapter. I have read there is a general consensus that people don’t even read prologues (I always do).

So if you’re trying to decide if you should keep your prologue, make it chapter one or cut it completely here are some things to consider.

-Is it an excuse for backstory dump? Cut it and incorporate the info into the rest of the story.

– Does it fit with the timeline of the rest of the story? If most of the story takes place in 1989 but the prologue is in 1488 keep it.

– Does it contain your hook? Make it chapter one.

-Does it tell a slightly related story that never comes up again? Cut it

-Is it a different format than the rest of your story but is very relevant to the rest of the book? Keep it.

So what’s the solution to that hate in the publishing world? How do you prevent your manuscript from being tossed before it’s even given a chance?

Well, in my case I know my prologue is needed. But it could well be that when it gets to an editor they decide to make it into chapter one. I’m not comfortable making that decision as the first part of my story follows a specific format with POV of characters and the character in the prologue isn’t one of them. But that doesn’t mean when I submit a sample with a query I have to label the prologue as the prologue. With only 10-25 pages submitted, the format isn’t established yet.

What are your opinions of prologues? Do you read them? Do you write them? Do you hate them?

 

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2 thoughts on “Prologue hate, what to do?

  1. L.C,
    I think a prologue is essential if it sets up expectations for the rest of the book. I went to a talk on the “readers contract” for short stories. The idea is that the first three paragraphs serve as the “contract” so that the reader knows the ground rules for the story. Science Fiction and fantasy is often so out of the ordinary that it needs these ground rules displayed in a separate prologue. I think some of the dislike for prologues is actual a veiled dislike of complex world building. These readers and editors dislike the type of story which requires a prologue. They prefer to instantly understand the world because it’s like ours and then move on to emotional depth or thrilling fight scenes–a different type of story. I’ve published two novels. Both have prologues and I was reluctant in both cases. With one I wanted a sex scene up front and with the other I didn’t want a sex scene up front. Doing this alters the expectations for how much sex will be in the novels. The primary purpose it to set up expectations. I’m self publishing so My concern is purely how readers will react. I’ve cut out the purchasing editor.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the insight! I agree the prologue is often needed to set up the story. In mine, the first chapters deal with the real world effects of a plague. It’s the prologue that suggests the supernatural element that is yet to be discovered. All my beta readers have noted that it set the mood and provided anticipation for the reveal. There’s no way I could cut it.

      Like

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