Any momentum, gravitas or excitement that you wanted to achieve in your opening chapter is completely wiped out by a plodding prologue. It’s not exactly the best way to thrill and impress an agent or editor, is it?
Another big negative is that many people also see them as info-dumps, the kind of informative narrative that just won’t fit into any chapter or scene within the novel, yet to the writer it seems necessary to the plot, so they end up writing a large chunk of information in a prologue that in reality becomes an info-dump.
Of course, writers don’t actually need prologues.
They can actually integrate the necessary hints, information, teasers and POVs into the main story without too much hassle. And they can do it because they take the time to structure the story and to fully understand it, and they do so through dialogue or action, character thoughts or flashbacks.
- Does the story really need a prologue?
- What purpose does the prologue serve?
- How does it impact the story?
- Does it accomplish what is actually needed?
- Does it enhance the story or does it hinder it?
- Can the same result be achieved through the main story?
If there wasn’t a prologue, would the reader still understand and follow the story? More often than not, the answer is yes.
Would the prologue actually prove a distraction? Would the reader remember the details in it while halfway through the novel and while confronted with revelations that refer back to it? If you think it would be a distraction, then don’t use one.
Don’t make it complicated to the point that it will distract the reader from the main events in the story.
Potential publishers or agents really aren’t interested in a huge info dump. They want direct access to the action, the story and the characters.
The prologue, however, may be too slow and not engaging enough for that to happen.
Prologues can serve a useful purpose, if cleverly written, but they can also destroy the impact of a novel’s opening chapter.
The general advice where prologues are concerned is to carefully consider whether your novel needs one. If you really must have one, make it count. Make it engaging and intriguing so that it grabs the reader’s attention.
And if you do choose to have one, make it memorable, just like your opening chapter.