Full disclaimer: I hate prologues. This isn’t to say I’ll hurl a book into a shark tank if it has a prologue*, but in most cases I’d prefer it if the author stripped out the prologue like the unnecessary husk it is.
(*Mainly because I don’t have a shark tank. Sigh.)
So, why do I think prologues are pointless? Let’s start by defining what a prologue is.
I’m using a Dictionary: Thusly, I must be Correct:
According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, a prologue is “a part that comes at the beginning of a play, story, or long poem, often giving information about events that happened before the time when the play, story, or poem begins” (My emphasis).
Let’s look at that again**.
“… before the time when the play, story, or poem begins.”
So, in short, a prologue is not part of the story. It might be related to the story, but it doesn’t start the story. Prologues, by their very nature, start too early. In fact, they start before the story does.
(**Repetition makes people believe you. Repetition makes people believe you.)
Enter Late, Leave Early:
No, I’m not talking about awkward family reunions. I’m talking about when you choose to start and finish your story and your scenes.
The Dark Knight showcases the importance of this approach. The movie begins at the start of the Joker’s bank heist. It could’ve started with the Joker getting his crew together and planning the raid. But this would’ve created a pointless prologue. By opening with the heist, the story starts when the movie starts.
And this here is the real takeaway: With a prologue, the story doesn’t start until after the prologue. This means you’re creating a redundant opening scene – an opening scene that probably doesn’t introduce the main character or jump-start the plot. You’re wasting readers’ (and publishers’!) time. What’s more, you’re showing a lack of trust in the strength of your main character and plot.
But I can think of 7 and a half prologues that do start the story!
If your prologue starts the story … then it’s not a prologue. It’s chapter one. Again, refer to the above definition.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen prologues that work. But like I said before, the story would be better if the prologue wasn’t there and the author drip-fed clues about the story world throughout the novel rather than info-dump it at the start (Looking at you, J.R.R. Tolkien).
As Hitchcock once said, drama is life with the boring bits cut out. Prologues are one of those ‘boring bits’ that most stories are better without. But if you really want a prologue in your story, go ahead. Heck, I might even like it! Just be sure to ask yourself: is it the best way to start my story?
Do you like prologues and think I should be thrown into my own non-existent shark tank? When are prologues acceptable? I’d love to hear your thoughts!