My friend Matthew Quinn got on my case about having not updated in nearly three weeks. I didn’t feel I had much to say lately, so I didn’t feel like padding things out just for the sake of it. Luckily, a recent conversation with some friends of mine gave me a good topic.
My current stance on Prologues is that if they are that important, just make it Chapter One. I don’t particularly see the different between naming something a Prologue and Chapter One.
During the discussion with my friends I mentioned that I’ve known people to skip Prologues. They were all appalled by this. Even claiming that they’ve never met anyone who has. But I think that’s more of an indication of the types of readers we associate ourselves with, as well as the types of books we read.
It has been my experience that Epic Fantasy and SciFi novels, on the whole, use the Prologue often. While more literary works stick to just chapters. But, I may be wrong about that.
So, why use one?
I did a little research and found these answers on Foremost Press.
1. To outline the backstory quickly and economically, saving the author from having to resort to flashbacks or ruses such as conversations or memories to explain the background to the reader. This is commonly done in science fiction and fantasy to show why a certain quest is being undertaken or what will happen in the future. The prologue is a better option than a first chapter bogged down in detail.
2. To hook the reader and provide the story question right up front, giving them a reason to keep turning the pages to find out the answer. Quite often the prologue relates to a scene near the end of the story, and the story itself then shows what has led up to this moment. When is this justified? Perhaps when you want to introduce your characters in a more leisurely fashion, and your reader’s experience with ‘meeting’ them will be enhanced by some sort of foreshadowing of what is to come.
And the first point kind of rankles me. It smells of info dumping which is something I try to avoid. I would urge anyone to find a way to sprinkle that information throughout the book in a natural way. Remember, you’re writing a work of fiction, not a history book.
The second point isn’t much further from the first. If you’re first chapter can’t provide a reasonable hook, then I would venture to say that you’re story is lacking to begin with.
Personally, if I were to ever use a Prologue, it would be to show a scene that is removed from the actual novel. Either by time or distance. Where the information provided is fun and supports the book, but isn’t necessary to know. I feel you should be able to skip it and still know what is going on in the book.
But, maybe I’m in the minority there. Maybe people love Prologues. They can’t get enough of them! And I’m some crotchety young man who wants to deny the reader the satisfaction of reading the first chapter titled Prologue.