To Prologue or not to Prologue?
I started off with epigraphs, and now I'm onto the very next page we sometimes find in books: the prologue. Here's the other addition to a story authors like to debate often. Are they even worth it? Are prologues really just a first chapter? Do they really turn readers away for just being prologues? Well, let's talk about that.
What is a prologue?
a speech, etc. at the beginning of a play, book or film/movie that introduces it.
(Thanks Oxford Dictionary!)
A prologue, by definition, is an introduction that introduces the more dramatic experience that follows it. It is the information you, the author, want to give the reader before they begin the actual story. What this introductory information is depends entirely on what you, as the writer, feel the reader needs to know before they begin.
In many books I've read, the prologue is an event that takes place before the events of the main story occur. Sometimes this past event is simply a blip of what's to come, or this fictitious universe's first taste of the end of days the readers will have to experience.
Other times, prologues are literally the end of the story and the entire journey that follows is getting to that outro you read on page 1. There are many different ways I've seen authors creatively play with prologues that definitely spice things up a bit when getting readers to pick up your book.
But do they always work? Well, you can ask the same question of any aspect of writing. Does switching P.O.V's (point of views) between characters make a story more interesting? Does an anti hero as your main character make the story more compelling?
Factors are the biggest well...factors when it comes to the success of utilizing any form of craft. The most solid opinion I have on the success of prologue use is that I believe that the genre you are writing in (and by extension the expectations that come from the audience of aforementioned genre) highly affect whether or not the use of a prologue chapter is worth the trouble. Prologues are practically a staple when it comes to fantasy and science fiction, as well as historical fiction. In my experience, prologues are rarely seen in noir detective stories or the thriller genre and so on.
Now, there's no inherit rule as to whether or not you are allowed to write a prologue because at the end of the day, it all depends on your story. It should be noted I may be a little jaded on the use of prologues because I faithfully use them for all my writing projects. Personally, I find prologues intriguing and an interesting jab from the author that encourages me to make sense of what I just read, before I even get to chapter 1. The convenience prologues offer in both enticement and informing my readers from the very first page make me feel like my writing life just got a bit easier. I will go out on a limb here and say, despite my jadedness, my point remains valid.
So if that's the case, why are some writers against prologues being written at all? Well, as much as I love prologues and depend upon them for my own writing, I will admit there is some merit to the counter argument. Let it go on record that I definitely advocate not writing prologues if they're not working for your story. Not all stories will need them. Not all of my stories have needed them. Here's a couple of fair reasons why you may need to consider skipping the prologue:
The truth is, there is a downside to prologues because they can sometimes be tricky. I say this from personal experience because there's a very simple reason why some of my stories don't have prologues.
Prologues can be boring.
I know, sometimes I write in contradictions for dramatic effect, but I mean it all the same. This is where prologues being tricky comes in, and the time when you need to decide if they're a good fit for your story or not, too.
Even to this day, I can struggle with a prologue here and there. In some stories, they are so necessary to my plot that they're the easiest thing in the world to write. Other times, they're the hardest things to write because they're info-dumpy and possibly just something I'm writing out of habit rather than necessity. Necessity is the biggest element of a prologue, in my opinion.
Prologues, for me, are often a necessity in my writing because I like to structure my stories in a way that demands having prologues at the beginning. It often surprises me when a story I'm writing doesn't require one because of how much I like the structure. However, having the occasional prologue-less story does open me to a piece of advice I often give my writing friends: if the prologue is proving to be too troublesome or flat out boring, then skip it. The prologue will only work if it's, well, working. If what you're communicating can fit in chapter 1, then forget a prologue.
If say, what you're writing takes place 400 years prior to chapter 1 with a completely different character that will constantly be referenced to throughout the story...then yes, keep that prologue.
It's not a bad thing to have a prologue. It's not a bad thing to not have a prologue. The point is, whenever you come across any of these debatable elements of a story, you should always include them in your story because of necessity, not habit or trend or any other arbitrary reason. Necessity is key and crucial to consider whenever you're debating whether or not you need to put in a chapter before chapter 1.