Value of a Prologue

My writers’ group challenge for the next two weeks is to write a prologue. I am not so fond of long ones myself. Sometimes they bore me and I just want to get on with the story, but sometimes they entice me to read more.

I have two started for my WIP, but not sure if I will actually use one on this crime novel.

I do have a question for you though. (Or three or four.)

Would you rather read a prologue that gives you back story and history on a character that would give that character more depth, or would you like to see an action scene involving that character?


A)     Cara Kieu came from Vietnam. I thought about a prologue that tells her story. It was a perilous journey, which brought her into an even more perilous current situation.


B)      Cara is also an ancillary character (really one of the main characters of this particular book in the series, but she isn’t the MC or his sidekick). I could open with an action scene that demonstrates how she ended up at the gay club.

What do you think?

Her story, or the action scene?

C)      Do you think I should work on a scene that maybe includes elements of both?

What is the purpose of a prologue to you?

Is it different as a reader than as a writer?

 Entice the reader to read more, or fill in the blanks?

I know, I know, lots of questions. Always your student.

47 thoughts on “Value of a Prologue

  1. Entice the reader to read more. Personally, I don’t like prologues. In fact, often I’m tempted to skip them. However, if they are action packed– I’ll stay for the ride. I’m speaking as a reader now. As a writer, I don’t use them in my work. Agents and publishers shy away from them, especially with debuts. Good luck with your challenge!

  2. I personally prefer prologues (unless it is historical fiction) that open with a bang (that sounds funny considering the type of book you’ve written.) Anyway, I like prologues that give you a hint of the action that is to come later. I don’t think it is as much about filling in the blanks as it is creating an appetite for the reader. If you write a prologue that gives them something to look forward to chances of a sale seem more likely if they download a sample. Just my opinion.

    • Good point. This would be the first thing they see. The action scene would most definitely work to that advantage. I plan to self publish, so I am not so keen on enticing agents or publishers, but I do want to entice the reader. A prologue that sets up how Cara ends up at the gay club would give the reader hints of more action than how the story opens does, ie. opening with the cold case, IMHO, is not so dramatic.

  3. I am not a fan of prologues. Often what is written in them comes out in the work in a more natural fashion. Hmm, I am having a hard time expressing my thoughts on this, lol. Essentially if you can work in exposition, including back-story, without having to stop the forward flow of the novel is the best way to go about it (imo).

  4. I don’t mind prologues as long as they draw me in. I think a lot of the time they are overlooked, as sometimes they can set the scene for the book and characters really well. Of the two options, I think I would be more interested in option B, but that’s only because I like action from the first page 😀

  5. I’m strange, but I like prologues. All of them. The best ones go a different direction than the ones you’ve proposed. They plant a seed that builds tension. The old Conan stories were good at this. Child and grandfather talking. “If you want to find out how Craig destroyed Mars, I will tell you, but make sure you are prepared to learn the truth.

  6. I don’t like a prologue. It seems by the time I’m into the story, I’ve forgotten about it. Sometimes, though, I’ve read along and had to scratch my head because something doesn’t add up.and might find the answer in the prologue. I wonder why bother? They are for back story. I don’t see prologues as setup and prefer to start reading the first page, Chapter 1. 😀

  7. The thrust of my first book was a university student interviewing an ex-folksinger from the sixties, the information she gathered was to be written as a final paper for her journalism course. Originally there was no plan to write a sequel but I received enough comments and questions that I felt it justified at least preparing a follow-up. To introduce the second book I have used the paper that she wrote which defines all the characters as well as providing a skeletal outline of the first story.

    • That’s sort of how it is coming along as I write today. She is separated from her mother and sister for the first time, and flees her assailants only to be caught again. So a little of her history comes out. At least that’s where I am today…LOL.

  8. I used a prologue in my first thriller because I wanted to tell the reader that excitement was coming (especially since so many of us read the first few pages of preview before deciding whether or not to read the entire book). The historical nature of my story demanded the actual novel commence in chapter one with less attention-grabbing aspects necessary to set up the main character’s backstory. In the second thriller in the series due out August 1st I don’t find that necessary, so I have renamed the opening “chapter one.” Clever, no?

    Despite complaints from critics, agents and some authors, I believe our creativity invites us to break some “rules,’ including the one about avoiding prologues. And as long as I’m at it, what’s with the blanket condemnation of the passive voice? Which works better for you out there?: “They didn’t build Rome in a day.” “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” I’ll stick with the latter.

    • Rome wasn’t built in a day…most certainly. I loved your prologue in Corridor of Darkness. It was a foreshadowing sort of story in and of itself. I have a feeling that this is going to ultimately be: “Chapter One” also.

  9. I would say ‘C’. I use prologues to show what the villains, gods, and other secondary characters are doing that leads into the main adventure. For some, it’s the only area that I can use them due to the how the story is set up. Action is definitely a key point because I need to establish these characters solely through the prologue and a few peppered scenes in most of the books. This is why I would say ‘C’ where it could begin with action.

    • I loved both the prologue to Beginning of a Hero and Prodigy of Rainbow Tower. They were intriguing. Fantasy authors, like you, use them very well, I think, to set the stage and introduce the sort of world and action to expect.

      I have been working on this since early morning and it is coming together as both an opportunity to introduce Cara’s history and set up the crime org. aspect of the novel. I am passing this off to another beta reader when I am done. Mr. Alpha won’t get another go at it until I see what some others have to say.

      • Sounds like you already have a good plan for them. Prologues do seem to be big in fantasy due to world and scenario building. I guess a crime novel could use a short one to set up the crime.

  10. Interesting question.
    I was told when I was writing my novel that “people” don’t like them, they’re outdated, get right into the story immediately…but I went ahead with my idea of a prologue and it stayed. I think we write what we like to read. I like a tease, a taste of something intriguing to come. I think a novel is something that should be unwrapped, not all splayed out and mapped. I don’t like to be condescended to as a reader and this argument that people don’t read prologues any more seems ridiculous to me. As if we all read the same way. If a prologue’s written well, I’m not even going to be conscious of it as something somehow apart. Is an aperitif not part of dinner?
    I say trust your instinct. It’s never wrong.

    • “I think a novel is something that should be unwrapped, not all splayed out and mapped” I loved this. I also like that you insist that we, as readers, should not be condescended to. Too often, I believe editors and writers alike try to fit everything into a mold. They mean well…to guide writers to write what sells, but that’s not everyone’s objective…to be the next Donna Tartt. Sometimes we just want to write to be read for entertainment or philosophical value. I don’t know how this is going to come out. i have about 1000 words so far, and it reads like a good first chapter. I may leave it at that, rather than naming it “Prologue”, just to assure it gets read. It seems quite important relative to the rest of the story. We’ll see.

  11. I’m thinking a prologue with action. For me as a reader, that would grasp my attention and hold it. Just an historical prologue with lots of background might be too dry, which could lead readers to skip it altogether.

    • That’s the way I am leaning. I’ve been working on it all day. It is not quite turning out like I thought it would. It is more like an opening chapter in another POV. Don’t know if I’ll keep it.

    • Thanks, Chris! That’s what I’m thinking. Some people seem to have trouble with endings. I’ve written the entire novel, and both myself and my alpha reader love the story and the ending, but the critical beginning falls short. Being a crime thriller more than a murder mystery, it needs to come out of the starting gate with some serious action. So revisions are in process.

  12. Speaking as a reader I like a prologue if it has action that is relevant to the story. It can grip the reader and turn the pages quickly as it entices the reader to move forward to learn more. Each chapter should end with a hint of more action or dire consequences to come.

    As an author I think a prologue is important if there is something I need to tell to set the stage for the rest of the story. If there is no need I will forgo the prologue and get right into the story.

    My first novel, crime/mystery will be coming out this year. This is quite a different genre for me since I have published five children’s books.

    • Thank you so much for reading and the comments.I do understand the value of the prologue. I have decided one won’t work for my current WIP though. This crime novel is the first for me also, but from philosophical to crime is not nearly the leap you are making. I wish you the best and have every confidence you can make that leap. Warmest regards!

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