Prologues – The Pros & Cons Part 2

In part 1, we looked at the advantages of having a prologue, so in part 2 we will look at the disadvantages of using them, and why they now proving unpopular with agents and publishers.
What are the disadvantages of a prologue?

The simple truth is that prologues are seen as unnecessary. They form a great chunk of text at the beginning of a novel, which readers might either ignore or skim read out of boredom, or it puts the reader off reading the rest of the novel altogether because it’s just too much of a chore.
The idea with the opening chapter of your novel is to get right in at the heart of the action or defining moment in your main character’s life, so why spend so much time constructing an attention-grabbing opening chapter, only to stall the whole thing with a large piece of narrative stuck at the front? 

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.

Another drawback is that sometimes prologues are misplaced or ill thought out; in other words, they have very little impact on the story whatsoever, or don’t relate to the main plot in any substantial way.
Other times, writers unintentionally let the prologue turn into a preamble of boring explanations without realising that it will stifle the integrity of the story, and that will be a sure fire way of instant rejection from publishers.

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.

So how can a writer tell if including a prologue is the right action to take? 
In order to answer that question, a writer should ask a few more questions in return:-

  • 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?
Have a good look at the novel and decide if there really needs to be a prologue, when instead you can do away with it and get straight into the action with a gripping opening chapter. 
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. 

For the most part, prologues are just not necessary. They’ve fallen out of favour over the last decade, simply because readers now want everything instantly.  They don’t want to wade through a couple of pages or two of preface before they actually get to the novel.
And from an editor’s point of view, if it’s the difference between getting noticed or heading straight into the rubbish bin, then leave out the prologue to improve your chances of publication.

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.

Next week: Are writing rules made to be broken?


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