Prologues: Are they Necessary?

When I read advice on writing fantasy novels, one thing I hear often is that if you want to get an agent do not write a prologue. If you do then they will skip right over it. One of the most honest articles I’ve found on it is from the blog of Literary Agent, Carly Watters. (Please follow her it’s a well written and informative blog that is helpful to those hoping to submit their work to an agent.)

In her post, titled The Dreaded Prologue, she mentions five simple truths about prologues and why they can be an issue. In a later post she also explains the other side of the opinion on prologues and how, if written properly, can be a benefit. The conclusive advice with both opinions is that a prologue isn’t necessary for your story and should be able to stand on it’s own without it.

I have read some prologues where they have completely turned me off from reading the book because I felt like it made no sense in the story. There also have been prologues that were more like a chapter one and had an easy transition into the story. With that, it can be confusing whether to use a prologue or not.

Normally you see prologues used in fantasy. It’s supposed to give you a sense of a built world and entice you to read more, but more often than not, it doesn’t do that. If you want to establish a world the last thing you want to do is info-dump it on the reader. Build the world in the work itself. Weave the details into the exposition.

The hooks used in a prologue can be placed into the first chapter. I mean isn’t a prologue really a introduction to chapter one? Why not go ahead and get to the story? That is why the reader picks up the book in the first place. The first page of the work belongs to the beginning of the story, not the events leading up to the beginning of the story.

The one thing about prologues that I’ve understood is that when I read one I think of those crime shows on television where they show you a clip of the crime before the actual show starts. I don’t like those clips because I feel like it gives too much away and plot twists aren’t surprises anymore in the rest of the episode. If you are going to start the story, start it at the actual beginning of the plot, not the backstory that leads up to it.

For fantasy, prologues may be the standard but they probably aren’t necessary in the first book. For the following books in a series, maybe. Just to refresh the last book in the readers minds, but even with that you can go wrong.

What do you think? Do you have a stance on prologues?

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