When writing a novel, there are various ways to start it. You can start with the scenery like Steinbeck or in media res like the Greeks and Romans. You can start with dialogue or action. “A dark and stormy night” or a bit of poetry. Or you can start with a prologue.
By prologue, I mean anything that isn’t Chapter One. You can call it a prologue, an intro, a preface, a foreword, or what-have-you, but it’s still the same thing. It’s a scene or two that happens outside the bulk of the novel. And I have some issues with them.
First off, let me be the first to admit I used to adore writing prologues. They are a great place to info dump. They’re also generally easier to write than Chapter One because who stresses over writing the best first prologue line? But they also present a trap for writers. While the writer might adore her prologue, readers are more prone to loathe them, or worse, they skip them altogether.
I’m wrong you say? Perhaps you are an exception who likes prologues. Perhaps you’ve only read good prologues that serve an actual purpose. But more often than not, they’re a cop out. Go ahead, think back to the last few books you’ve read that had a prologue. Did you skip the prologue? Was it a gimmick? Did it make the book stronger or annoy you?
While I am not actively opposed to them, prologues usually annoy me nowadays, especially the kind that make you go, “what?” and are all action-y and give you nothing but a snippet of the future. Those are gimmicks, not prologues. You may get someone to read on out of curiosity, but they are certainly not reading on because they actually care about the character or like your prose.
There are awesome prologues out there, don’t get me wrong, but they are not the norm. They must add something that would otherwise be left out, something that enhances the story, that is strikingly necessary. Which brings me to my present dilemma.
I think I wrote a prologue for my novel.
I know! I sit here and bash prologues, and then admit to having one. I am entirely unsure if it necessary to the story, to make the rest of it stronger. Which brings me to what I am hoping will be the cure, whether it ends up killing this prologue or not.
I’m going to take it with me to the workshop in two weeks and let some fresh eyes tell me what they think. I am not an objective player where my writing is concerned. I don’t think any writer is. When you get to that point, when you feel so lost, so confused, and so utterly out of your league, that’s when letting a stranger read your work is critical. Yes, they may hate it, or they may love it. Either way, find out what they loathe or love about your writing. And then ask someone else’s opinion.
But for now, go ahead and write your prologue. Get it out of your system. Maybe you’ll need it. Maybe you won’t. I have no idea about my own, and I think I can be okay with that for now. I still generally think they are unnecessary, even the one I’ve written. But sometimes you have to write the wrong stuff to find the right stuff.