If you’re writing your first novel, and if you’ve read a lot of modern fiction, you may have the impression that your novel needs a Prologue. But does it?
As a freelance book editor, I see many novels coming across my desk with a Prologue included that doesn’t belong, that actually lowers the quality of the book.
A Prologue Is Inappropriate When:
- It’s a random word-for-word excerpt from the inside of the novel (Readers may feel cheated when this happens.)
- It’s only there in hopes of “hooking the reader”(Hook them instead with your first chapter!)
- It presents information that could have easily been worked into the first chapter (Start your book with the first chapter unless the plot demands that you do otherwise.)
- It has nothing to do with the rest of the book (This should be obvious, but when new authors think they’re obliged to include a prologue, they sometimes make this mistake.)
So when is a Prologue appropriate for your novel?
A Prologue Is Appropriate When:
- You want to provide back story (background information) that the reader needs to understand the plot—information that is awkward to work into the main body of the book. Perhaps something took place several years ago, or in a distant time, that directly affects the novel’s main story. A Prologue is a convenient way of providing that information.
- You want to shoot ahead in time to establish your main story question. Your main story question is the conflict at the heart of your plot: Will the mother break free from her abductor in time to rescue her infant? Will the band of rebels overthrow the evil king before he finds and slaughters them? It’s certainly possible to establish the main story question without a Prologue (you can use your first few chapters to do this), but if you want a scene that shoots forward in time, a Prologue can be useful.
Those are the only good two reasons for starting out a novel with a Prologue. Like foreshadowing, satire, or stream of consciousness, a Prologue is simply another literary tool. It should be used if and only if it genuinely serves the purposes of your story.
A Prologue isn’t a requirement for a book. Don’t write one out of the mistaken notion that your novel is incomplete without it. Write a Prologue if the plot calls for it. Doing it for any other reason can only lower the quality of your manuscript.
Jessi Rita Hoffman … book editing by an industry professional