To Prologue or Not to Prologue

On the Sisters in Crime listserve, a big discussion has been going on about whether or not to use a prologue.

Most authors say, "No, just start with chapter one."

Some said they never read prologues. That one I can't imagine. Sometimes a prologue sets the tone for the whole novel.

Frankly, the last couple of years, I've been hearing that prologues are no longer acceptable from nearly everyone in the publishing business. On the other hand, one of the authors in the discussion said neither her agent nor her publisher had ever told her not to use a prologue.

I guess this is one of those "rules" and you know what they say about writing rules, once you know them you can break them.

Have I ever used a prologue? Four times that I can remember.

One I did in Wishing Makes it So which is about a really evil little girl. The prologue was from the point-of-view of the girl and sets the stage for the rest of the story. All the rest comes from the POV of her foster mother.

In my first mystery, The Astral Gift, I wrote a prologue from the main character's POV when she was a child. The rest of the book is all told in third person but in the same character's POV as a young woman.

The third was in a Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery, Intervention. The prologue is in the villain's POV because it was the only way I knew to get some important information about this person across. The rest of the story comes from Tempe's POV.

The fourth was a similar situation, also in Tempe Crabtree mystery, Invisible Path. It sets the stage for what is to come. Frankly, I think it works.

So my answer to this pithy question of whether to use a prologue or not is do what works best for you story.



Michele Drier said…
Hi Marilyn, Don't know if you've heard about it, but the Sacramento chapter of SinC, Capitol Crimes, is holding a one day workshop on Saturday, 4/13 with speakers Simon Wood and David Corbett, just back from LCC in Denver. Registration form is on our website, Should be a great day!
JL Greger said…
I'm glad you wrote on this topic. Some of my favorite books have prologues. A good prologue can create mystery that isn't solved until the final pages. Other times a prologue, as you noted,allows the author to give an alternate point of view.

Sometime I think modern editors, writers, and agents worry too much about endless rules and forget the most important one - use what works.
JL Greger
Absolutely, but only if it sets the stage and is out of the timeframe of the story. Some lazy writers use them instead of just starting the story. One of my writing partners did this, and our group told her it wasn't t really a prologue. It was the beginning of chapter one.
I wrote one for SNOWFLAKE SECRETS, our first romance anthology. The prologue takes place in 1958 when the sisters are Little girls. The rest of the book is when they are adults.
Maryann Miller said…
There is a time and place for a good prologue and I cannot imagine reading a book and skipping one. But like Lorna said, it must truly be a prologue and not just a scene that could be in chapter one.

I have written prologues for my suspense novel and my mystery series. Each prologue sets a tone and introduces either the murder or some inciting incident that is integral to the story.
Evelyn Cullet said…
You've really given my something to think about, Marilyn. I have a prologue in the manuscript I'm working on now, but I may go back and just incorporate it into the first chapter. Or maybe I should leave it up to my editor. (Sigh!)
Dr Bob Rich said…
Marilyn, I fully agree with you.
David Eddings' Belgariad series, and Isaac Asimov's Foundation series depend on the prologue of each book 100%.

My latest book, Ascending Spiral has a brief (1600 word) prologue. The book simply doesn't make sense without it.

In fact, I made it up in response to feedback from the reader of an earlier version who pointed this out to me.

Thank you, everyone for your comments. For awhile I couldn't comment on my own blog--seems to be okay now.

For those who say they don't read prologues--I don't understand. I not only read prologues, epilogues, and any other written word in a book.

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