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Let’s Talk About Prologues . . .

In every class I’ve taught over the years someone raises the question of editors “hating” prologues.

once upon a timeThis usually pops up when I’ve suggested they begin their book with a prologue. I don’t know why this perception of “no prologues” exists because honestly, I’ve written for five different publishers over the past 20+ years, had seven different editors and indirectly had many more involved in projects, and I’ve had four agents. Not a single one of them ever said a word about my prologues.

I do not use a prologue all the time, but I have used them in probably a dozen of my 50+ books. Of those books, seven have been more mainstream than romance, although all have had romantic elements, and I used a prologue in four of the seven because there was no other way to hook the reader quickly, orient them to backstory, and keep them interested without sacrificing something necessary. the past 20+ years, had seven different editors and indirectly had many more involved in projects, and I’ve had four agents. Not a single one of them ever said a word about my prologues.

One of my critique partners, Colleen Thompson, who writes terrific thrillers and romantic suspense, writes prologues all the time. She’s never mentioned any problem with an editor, either, nor has she ever had to eliminate a prologue.

And, as a reader, I love prologues and epilogues. I’d certainly much rather read a good prologue than have the author do a long flashback in the first chapter because I, as the reader, need to know about something that happened before the present-day story begins. Once I’ve started reading the present day story, I resent being thrust back. And I resented it even before I became knowledgeable about writing and understood what the author was doing. Even worse is when the author doesn’t explain anything that happened beforehand and the reader starts to frown because he/she doesn’t understand what’s going on and why. This is not “creating suspense” as some writers see

m to think (one of my students actually told me this as her reason for doing what I suggested she not do). This is instead “creating confusion” — one of the two no-no’s in writing. And by now, you should know what they are: Never bore the reader. Never confuse the reader. ☺

All that said, everything in writing depends upon execution. You can do anything as long as it’s done well and gives the reader a great story. It’s when it’s not well done that you might receive the suggestion of doing away with the prologue. Sometimes editors will say something similar because they do not want to say what’s really at the heart of their rejection — that the way you’ve written something is boring or amateurish. Now I’m not saying that’s always the reason. Perhaps the information you felt was necessary really isn’t, so you’re told to ditch the prologue. What I am saying is that there’s no rule about prologues. If your story is better told using a prologue, then you should write one. And if you do, make it exciting. Make it immediate. Make the action unfold onstage, just as if it were taking place then. In so doing, you will draw your reader in, make her want to keep reading, so that she will buy the book.

I do a whole lesson on prologues. It’s part of the class I call Making a Scene.

Copyright 2014 Patricia A. Kay
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