Go ahead, Google something along the lines of prologues in novels. I’ll wait.
Done? If so, you’ll have found links like 7 Deadly Sins of Prologues, The Worst Ways to Begin Your Novel: Advice from Literary Agents, The Dreaded Prologue, Question: the oft-maligned prologue, and so on.
Read these four pages. Did you see the following?
“The problem with the prologue is it has kind of gotten a bad rap over the years, especially with agents. They generally hate them.”
(Kristen Lamb, best-selling author and blogger)
“Most agents hate prologues. Just make the first chapter relevant and well written.”
(Andrea Brown, literary agent)
“Fact: Prologues in fiction should be avoided.”
(Carly Watters, literary agent)
“I am fully settled in the I Hate Prologues camp too. I go so far as to NOT read them in a manuscript.”
(Janet Reid, literary agent)
Trust me, there’s more out there in the ether, but I chose these quotes for two reasons:
1. For the most part, they’re unequivocally against prologues.
2. If you’re a writer, the names attached to the quotes will likely be familiar.
So how dare I sit here at my writing table with the springtime sun shining in and write a blog post in favour of prologues? Easy question. I don’t dare. I’m not a literary agent, I’m not an editor, I’ve never worked in a business remotely close to publishing, and, well, I’m not a published author (yet). I have no writing classes under my belt, no workshops, no conferences aside from the super-irrelevant academic ones like The International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (which I pronounce ICK-FISS, or in IPA [ɪkfəs]). I hold tenaciously to the idea that everything I need to help me write can be learned from reading Stephen King and not fearing fragments.
In legal-speak, I have no standing. No standing at all.
But here I sit, after a quick comb-through of my own library and a few “Look Inside this Book!” adventures on Amazon, writing my thoughts on prologues.
On second thought, I’m not going to do that. I’ll simply take the A-List-Is-Worth-A-Thousand-Words approach and offer you seventeen books by seventeen different famous writers. And yes, each of these has — gasp! — the Dreaded Prologue.
- A Prisoner of Birth (Jeffrey Archer)
- From the Dust Returned (Ray Bradbury)
- The Lost Symbol (Dan Brown)
- Body of Evidence (Patricia Cornwell)
- Jurassic Park (Michael Crichton)
- All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr)*
- The Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco)
- A Dangerous Fortune (Ken Follett)
- Hannibal Rising (Thomas Harris)
- Winter’s Tale (Mark Helprin)
- Fallen (Lauren Kate)**
- ‘Salem’s Lot (Stephen King)
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Stieg Larsson)
- Twilight (Stephenie Meyer)***
- The Informationist (Taylor Stevens)
- The Bonfire of the Vanities (Tom Wolfe)
- The Book Thief (Marcus Zuzak)****
Four authors title their first chapters as follows:
‘In the Beginning’ **
‘Death and Chocolate’ ****
Who was it who said “A rose by any other name…?” Someone named Bill, I think.
So. There you have it. I’m sure you’ve heard of a few of these titles and the men and women who wrote them. If they’re all strange to you, maybe you need to get out more. I mean that in a nice way.
As for me, I’m going back to writing. And yes, for the record, two of my books have prologues.