Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Prologues

Writers have a long-running debate over the question of whether to prologue or not to prologue (if I may twist Shakespeare and turn a noun into a verb). Some readers skip prologues. After all, it's asking a lot of a reader to invest mental energy in imagining a world and getting to know characters who then vanish after a few pages, possibly never to reappear. But prologues, like any other writing tool, can work sometimes.

I think prologues should be careful not to tip the writer's hand too far. The prologue shouldn't introduce the very piece of information that the main character will spend a whole book seeking: the identity of the jewel thief; the answer to what's-in-the-mystery-box; the truth about where the MC came from. Those mysteries can be hinted at, but if they're completely solved in the prologue, then we have little motivation to read on. It's no fun waiting too long for a main character to catch up with us.

A good test for a prologue is this: If I cut it out altogether, does the book hold together? Actually, that's a good test for the necessity of any chapter, any scene.

2 comments:

  1. I agree prologues shouldn't reveal too much. I know I'm reading a good prologue when it teases me into jumping to Chapter 1. It should also be short enough so I can quickly glance through it if I'd just picked up the book at a bookstore.

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