Prologues: Check yes or no?

There’s a huge debate about whether to add a prologue into your novel or not.  I’ve read where a lot of agents say they immediately disregard books that have a prologue, but there are a lot of published and popular books that do have one.  What do I do?  I, mean, seriously.  Do I put in a prologue and hope I find an agent who is okay with it, or do I skip out on it completely in order to more likely get published?

My first ever finished novel (which is oddly enough still in the revision process after nearly 6 years) had a prologue.  Then it didn’t.  Then it did.  Now, I’m not sure if it will or not when I get back to revising it.

The prologue is a pertinent story to the overall plot of the novel.  It could be revealed throughout the novel through dialogue, flashbacks, etc.  Or, I can suck it up and use it as a prologue.  But, if I’m honest, I feel like it needs to be the prologue.  Can I use it though given what A LOT of agents say about prologues?  Does it weaken my novel or strengthen it?

In my opinion, it strengthens it.  Of course, I’m kind of partial, but the story that I told in this particular novel needed to be told, and I wanted it first-hand.  I couldn’t do that in revealing what happened in the middle of the novel.  So, as it stands, I’m pretty sure the prologue will stay in that novel.  Blogging must be my way in “talking it out.”

But what about others?  I don’t know.  Read Me Dead doesn’t have a prologue.  It doesn’t need one.  My current WIP – I don’t know.  I want to add one in but I don’t want to it to be too Twilight.  You know, where Bella says something that happens at the end of the novel.  It’s almost identical.  I’m not going to rant and rave about Twilight.  In fact, I found the books entertaining but not all that OMG EDWARD!!!!! stuff.

I won’t discuss Twilight.  I won’t discuss Twilight.  I won’t discuss Twilight.

Back to prologues now.  What’s your opinion?  Do you like them?  Hate them?  Use them?  Any advice for this prologue-addled writer?


28 thoughts on “Prologues: Check yes or no?

  1. Jennifer J Randolph

    So, about Twilight… JK

    Anyway, it depends on how badly you need the prologue. If it hurts the story to leave it out, then take a chance. You can always modify later. But if you can live with out it, try to. There are so many ways to get a back story without dragging people down.

    You bring a good point tho. I am debating how to introduce my WIP and I want to start it with the birth of Arthur, when my heroine has already been living there a few months. The prologue will introduce some other key people and set the tone before that first chapter. Once I have everything written out I will see how badly I need it.


    1. I have re-written the prologue for the novel I was talking about three times. It introduces the murderer and a pair of his victims told from one of the victim’s POV. I really feel like it needs to stay. As far as my current WIP goes, seeing as how I’m debating like this, I probably should just let it go and dive straight into the story.

      As far as yours goes, that’s a good idea. Go ahead and write and see how it fits into the story, but it sounds like you might need it. I’m seriously anxious to read your novel now! I love anything Arthur related. If you need a beta-reader, you know who to contact! 😉


  2. Great post Emerald!

    I too am struggling with this dilemma with my current WIP. To prologue or not to prologue…

    My opinion as an unpublished author, is that if the story warrants the prologue, then use it and if it doesn’t then leave it out. I think it really says something about your quality of writing when say that you’ve written both with and without. I would think that if an agent heard that you had written it both ways and felt the version with the prologue was stronger then he or she might be a little more inclined to accept that. At the very least, if he or she didn’t like the prologue, they might ask to read the version without.

    That’s just my two cents. Something I contemplated was just leaving the prologue in, calling it chapter 1 and giving it a date/time frame in the beginning. Then when I get to the next chapter, I would put the present date/time frame at the beginning so that the reader knew the first chapter was a flashback. I’m curious what your thoughts would be on that.


    1. Thank you!

      That’s a good point about the agents. Hopefully that will be the case.

      Your two cents are very valuable. 🙂 I’ve seen books that way; chapter one being basically the prologue. After all, isn’t chapter one a set up as well? I believe that I’d still call it the prologue though. If you sent it to a couple of agents and don’t hear from them or hear from them saying to take out the prologue, then you could do it as chapter one. That’s just my opinion. But, to be honest, I’d probably have to see it and the chapter afterwards before making a decision that I could give you and it be my honest opinion. (I’m more of a visual person.) Have you tried it both ways? And if you want me to look at it, I’d be more than glad to. 😀

      Or maybe you could just put the date and time (don’t call it anything) and then in chapter one write the chapter title and put the new date under it and just keep it in the present time throughout the rest of the novel? That’s just an idea. I mean it’ll still technically be the prologue, but you don’t have to title it that. 😉

      I hope this rambling is somewhat useful!


  3. Do these agents explain their dislike for prologues? It seems a weird thing to get worked up about.

    That being said, I’ve never used one. I guess I’m a in medias res kind of guy. My first novel mostly went backwards in time anyway.


    1. It really does seem like a strange thing to get worked up about. But I would hate to be discriminated against because of a prologue. And no. I’ve never read an explanation. Just a “I skip over manuscripts with a prologue.” “Seriously? Explain why.” is what I want to yell at them.

      Was that A Sane Woman you’re talking about?


      1. I saw a rock citic in a music store many years ago. He asked the store owner what had come in since his last visit. The guy pulled out a series of singles (I told you this was many years ago) and played them one at a time. In most cases, the critic said, “Okay, let me hear the next one” after about two seconds. So, he heard the intros of some 20-25 new songs, but with only a couple did he hear any more than that.

        I’m sure some of his quick dismissals were justified, but I was sure glad my band’s single wasn’t one of those.

        Yes, A Sane Women, though U-town starts in medias res as well. I’m always aware of trying to get the reader curious and hooked at the beginning. But I would definitely do a prologue if the story needed one.


      2. I’m glad your band wasn’t one as well! But I can understand how he would dismiss some of them.

        That’s a very good comparison to the writing world too.

        And, you definitely hooked me at the beginning of A Sane Woman. It kept me guessing the whole time and boy, were my guesses wrong! 😉


  4. Personally, if you make your prologue good, then it is important. But other times I read this really boring factual Prologue that turns me away from the book, so it really depends oen how you want to look at it. I personally prefer prologues, because they add depth to my story. In my second book I have one because evry good book in a series should be written where you could jump in and be caught up from previous stories, and that is almost the purpose of prologues. Plus it sometimes gives out the plot which can make you excited to read the post 🙂 So, do what you want, your writing is so good Emerald, an agent would pick you up anyway 🙂


    1. Aww. Thanks, Spencer. 🙂

      That’s a good point about the series. I enjoy the prologues in series when it’s been a while between books, but then again, I usually re-read the previous book. (Like I’m going to have to do with the Inheritance Cycle since the fourth book comes out in November.)


  5. Can I disagree with what everyone else has said?

    To me, prologues scream “I’m a fantasy novel published in the 80s!”.

    A prologue isn’t the same as a first chapter. Chapter 1 is the start of the story. Yes, it’s often a set-up character, but it’s setting up the characters and getting the scene set for the inciting event. A Prologue often takes place with different characters, or at a different time, or with a different POV, or all of the above. The job of a prologue is to set up the world, or the history of the world.

    The trouble with prologues is that they often don’t work. Either (a) the prologue is so awesome that the reader feels disappointed when they start chapter one and realise the rest of the story has different characters or a different POV, or (b) the prologue is like a huge info-dump and the reader either skips it to get to the story or tries to plow through it without enjoying it.

    This isn’t to say that I think there should *never* be a prologue. Sometimes you need one. Sometimes you really do need to tell something about the world or characters before the story starts. But if the reader doesn’t need to know that information *before* chapter one, then reveal it during the course of the story.

    (As a note, my first few half-novels and novels all started with a prologue. I learned the hard way to cut them out. Many times, the information I was revealing in the prologue was more about pointing out how clever I was (look at the amazing background I created!) than it was about revealing necessary information to the reader.)


    1. You make a very good point, Jo. I never looked at it like that before. It’s definitely something to consider.

      And if you’re not careful with the prologue, it can end up cliched or even pretentious. Now that I think about it, I’m probably going to drop my prologue. Well… think about it at least.

      I’m still torn! There are so many ways to do this. How do you know how to make the right choice? Then again maybe that’s what beta-readers for. 😉


      1. Beta readers are the way to go. I’d suggest giving half of your beta readers the novel *with* the prologue and half of them the novel *without* the prologue. I don’t mean that you should rewrite it — just leave the prologue off. After getting feedback from each, you’ll be able to tell whether the non-prologue group had any difficulties understanding or getting into the story. Then you can show them the prologue and ask if they thought it would have helped to read that first.

        If everyone thinks the prologue would help, great. Leave it in. If not, rewrite to add the necessary bits into your novel elsewhere.

        That’s how I’d do it, anyway. 🙂

        As for “how to make the right choice”…. That’s what being an artist is all about. No one said it was easy. 🙂


      2. That’s a good idea. 🙂

        I was planning a rewrite anyway. Actually, I’m starting from scratch again and using that as my NaNoWriMo project. (Of course, I’m not using any already written prose according to NaNoWriMo rules.) So, that will give me the chance to work out whether I actually need the prologue or not.

        You are so right. No one said it was easy being an artist. 😀


      3. I tried to do a flash-forward type of thing (the end scene at the beginning) in one of my books and people hated it. My biggest fans, however, loved it. But my biggest fans like everything, so I can’t take their word for it.

        I just posted a bit about prologues on my blog today. I sense “hot topic”!


    2. I definitely agree, Jo, about how readers use prologues and view them and how often they feel more like stutter-steps before the real story begins. That being said, I did have a prologue in my finished novel, BODY COPY. It wasn’t a scene or a setup type of prologue–it was a one-page voice piece of the protagonist talking directly to someone she was interviewing.

      At some point I realized I could chop the word prologue and stick the page right into the story, since I do have similar close-in voice pieces in the manuscript. It didn’t fit the concept of a typical prologue, anyway, so why call it that and risk alienating an agent or reader?


      1. That, too, is a good observation, Laura. What you and Jo said have me wondering about my prologue. I’d love for someone to take a look at it though and tell me what they think. Of course, I’m about to re-write the entire novel (again), and I may not even need it. Although, I’m still seriously considering it because it’s a victim’s perspective of the murderer, and well, they won’t be around to tell their own story later. I don’t know. Writing shouldn’t be this difficult. haha!


    3. Oh, Jo. You make me laugh!

      “To me, prologues scream “I’m a fantasy novel published in the 80s!”.”

      I’ve been finding a lot of YA novels begin with a flash-forward full of shocking events, for a few pages, and then Chapter 1 begins with the most average of average scenes. Getting ready for school in the morning. Eating breakfast. Talking about how boring life is. I think the *real* problem is when then tension is at 8 or 9 in the prologue then drops to 2 in the first chapter.

      I think I’m going to write a novel that begins with a prologue, but then the prologue doesn’t end until 2 pages before the end of the book, then it cuts to epilogue. Or wait, no, Chapter 1 has a single sentence. I think that would be awesome! It’s a high concept novel!


  6. I like them, and have bought many a book off the shelf at the bookstore from reading one.

    I’ve ready varying opinions online about their use, and I think it depends on where you are in the process. I’ve also read that the very first chapter of the very first page can determine whether or not one is required. If you take your time with your characters and you’re not diving into plot immediately, then you may not need one. If your first chapter is full of suspense and lure and is action packed pretty quick, back story is probably in order.


  7. Pingback: The problem with prologues | Tamara Paulin – Writer

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