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Upon returning from a writer’s conference, a member of my writer’s group informed us that editors and agents hate prologues. Since my WIP had a prologue, her revelation made my heart sag. I was quite pleased with what I had written. I introduced vital back-story in a pertinent character’s viewpoint, which was the one and only chance for this character to express himself before his demise would silence him forever.
That got me to thinking—and researching—about when we should use prologues in our fiction. The online consensus about the nasty little setup pages brought me to conclude that more readers *and editors* are against them than are for them.
But why? I love a good prologue. I never skip them. I’m afraid I’ll lose out on vital information the author wants me to know to understand the plot. If done well, they can enhance a story.
I imagine editors get tired of reading misfit prologues. One editor said she could count on one hand how many necessary and successful prologues she has read in her years as an editor. Another suggests a new author avoid using a prologue if he really wants his manuscript considered. So when should a writer use a prologue? Or should they avoid them altogether? My research uncovered the following.
A writer may include a prologue if it:
Provides critical information – You should never use this information elsewhere, and it should provide necessary enhancement to the plot. If you can weave that information throughout the rest of the novel then eliminate the prologue. If the story makes sense without the prologue, you don’t need 3-5 pages more to bog it down. If you hold doubts about whether the information is important enough to stand on its own, consider making it chapter one, even if it takes place in a another time period.
Provides more than mood or action – If your purpose is to set the mood or hook someone into the story with action, then get rid of the prologue. You can do those two things in the body of your story.
If you do use a prologue, make sure it is short, relevant, and in the same style as the rest of the book. Using a prologue is asking the reader to start the story twice, make sure this addition is brief and supplies the missing elements that make the plot clear as it progresses.
After all this advise, I still love a good prologue. As I rush to the completion of my manuscript, I'll consider whether to take my prologue out. Even if the setup pages are well written, I have to be willing to sacrifice them for a sale.