Why I Actually Prefer Stories With Prologues

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From Writer Unboxed:

I’ve been thinking about how many readers say they dislike prologues; how they routinely skip them or even refuse to read them. Are you one of these readers?

I’ve been thinking about how damn near everyone recommends against including a prologue when you’re trying to sell your story. If you’re wondering why prologues have been on my mind, well, I suppose I ought to get it out in the open, right at the top. The newest version of my WIP has one.

In light of that disclosure, you might think I’m biased. But in thinking about prologues—how many say they don’t read them or say not to include one when submitting—I still came to this simple conclusion:

I don’t just love prologues. I actually prefer stories when they begin with them.

. . . .

Perhaps we should start with a definition, so we’re all on the same (first) page: A prologue is a separate introductory section of a literary work. Simple enough, right?

My conclusion regarding my preference began with a quick survey of my own shelves. Even I was surprised by how many of my favorite books and series begin with a prologue. Or at least some version of one. Not all of them are labeled as prologues, so for the sake of my survey, I went back to our simple definition of a “separate introductory section.” For me, being “separate” implies that the story itself does not rely on the content of a prologue in order to begin or to reach its resolution. In other words, the story would make sense without them. Often, prologues take place in another place or time than the story’s starting point. Often without the protagonist present.

Let’s look at a few of the examples from my shelves that helped me reach my conclusion. My survey included (but was not limited to):

*The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien—Labeled as a prologue, this is really nothing less than a twenty page dissertation “On Hobbits,” and oh, how relatable they become. All one has to do to understand its importance is imagine having no idea what a hobbit is (not so easy for those of us raised after the books achieved popularity). Tolkien manages to make hobbits so much more than fairies, gnomes, or any other preconception of fantastical “little people.”

. . . .

*The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan—The series-starting prologue features a dystopian cataclysm, from the POV of a character whose identity and relevance is not fully revealed for several books! We have no idea if it’s a glimpse at a distant past or a terrifying future.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

1 thought on “Why I Actually Prefer Stories With Prologues”

  1. Prologues give you a chance to write with another voice, in a different time period, or any other details you want to be at odds with the main timeline of the story. A frame fits well a prologue/epilogue combination, for example.

    There are rules for prologues – short, self-contained, relevant, and please, not all in italics – and they are regularly broken.

    Some readers hate them. Therefore, it should be possible to skip the prologue entirely, and still get most of the story.

    I don’t care for prologues that contain characters I don’t know yet, and will never get to know – the incognito victim of the serial killer before the actual story starts is as exciting as a newspaper statistic.

    But they’re an excellent place to hide a clue, or in my prologue’s case, to reassure a reader as to a possibility that will affect the characters they may come to love. Even if readers read the prologue, they are not likely to remember the details – which comes in handy for the writer trying to sneak something important in.

    And, of course, a prologue is a writing sample: can the writer tell a complete story in a small space?

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