Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Prologue Poll

I've been thinking about first chapters lately. I posted the first chapter of my wip a couple of weeks ago, and so many of you were gracious enough to stop by and give me wonderful words of encouragement and helpful suggestions. But I've been thinking about that first chapter and wondering if it's enough to catch an editor's attention. The first chapter has to be so compelling that someone with seventeen ceiling-high stacks of manuscripts beside their desk can't put it down. While my chapter does what it has to do, I don't think it has the zing necessary to keep that editor reading.

I've often read/heard the advice not to start with a prologue, but I think that's what this book needs. So I started looking around at other books in the same genre. I consider Killing Kessler a paranormal romance, so just a quick survey of first chapters of books on my bookshelf reveals:

Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr - a one-and-a-half page prologue that describes an event that took place before the book begins and is connected to the rest of the plot, but still separate from it;
Tithe by Holly Black - a five-page prologue which takes place shortly before the events of the book and could have been called Chapter One;
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer -a one-page preface that describes the climax scene but isn't actually included in that later chapter, a snippet of something yet to come;
Fallen by Lauren Kate - a seven-page prologue that describes an event that took place before the book began and, like Wicked Lovely, is connected to the rest of the plot but still separate from it.

This is a sketchy list, to be sure, but it does reveal that prologues are very much in use today. So now I'm wondering how the rest of you feel about prologues. Do you use them or try to avoid them? Have you been given any good advice that you could share? I'd love to hear your thoughts!


Christine Danek said...

I have been told to avoid them. I have read some really good ones but I haven't written one for my book. I think I am staying away from it for now.
Great post!

MeganRebekah said...

I avoid them. I really do believe that they don't add much and are often a gimmick to grab readers attention, and then the real chapter 1 is different and not as exciting.

Twilight - there was absolutely no point to the prologue. At all. It didn't hook me, it actually felt off when I read. I was left going huh?

Fallen - terrible, terrible prologue because it gave away too much information. The reader was too aware of what happened in the past, whereas the MC was clueless and it made for an annoying read. You want to throttle the MC for being so dumb, but really we were just too informed. It also took away any sort of suprise toward the end when info is revealed.

Wicked Lovely - Not a bad prologue. The best of this list. But I *adored* the real first chapter and would have liked that to be the opener. The prologue was touching, and gave us insight into the characters and their behaviors, but it could have been worked in a different way.

And I've never read Tithe, so I can't comment.

Overall, I think there is always a way to do without a prologue. Let your first chapter stand on its own. If it's not hooking, then it needs to be addressed, not hidden beneath a catchy prologue. I've re-written my first chapter at least 20 times (much to the detriment of my alpha readers) because it didn't feel right and wasn't as compelling as it could have been. I'm now pretty proud of where I've gotten it.

Stephanie Cheryl said...

I've heard not to use them as well, but for my first novel I wrote one anyways. It was background information that I felt the reader needed to know--a crucial scene that the entire story is based around.

So, I say if you think it needs it, use it. If the story could work without one, throw it out.

Good luck!

Piedmont Writer said...

I write prologues and keep them in until I do revisions. I'm a lengthy writer and have to write EVERYTHING in, backstory, prologue, epilogue, dialogue that means nothing except to me, narrative that is just droll. When I finish the WHOLE book I let it sit for a month or so, then when I start my revisions, that's when I usually find my "grab'em hook" and start from there. My book that's out on query now, during the revisions, I cut out the prologue and first 2 chapters to find my zing.

I don't think you'll be able to find what you're looking for until the book is finished. But that's just my own opinion. Don't kill yourself on your first draft. Just write it all down. Once the story is cohesive, that's when you can worry about all the other stuff.

Susan R. Mills said...

I avoid prologues. Sometimes, in published works, I don't even read them.

Anonymous said...

I've heard tell that I should avoid them but I use them anyway. Sometimes they're necessary. My first novel won't work without it but my second novel doesn't need one. I try not to concern myself with it too much because everyone's going to have a different opinion; I don't think there's one right answer, especially when it depends on what's included in the prologue itself.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I like prologues when they have something to do with the storyline - like Hush, Hush. That one is important later on.

The most common advice is to avoid them. The book Hooked (on my blog today) talks about them. He says the problem is that most prologues are just a section of backstory or setup relabeled as prologue. He says exceptions are books in an established series (to bring the reader up to speed).

Hope that helps. :-)

Old Kitty said...


Oh dear. I've always been told to write them if you wish to initially then incorporate them into your first chapters but do your level best to for want of a better phrase "get rid of them". I think they're best kept to keep the writer some kind of background/grounding but once within the swing of the story to try your level best to either forget the prologue or to incorporate. I hope that makes sense!

Good luck with your first chapter writing - from what I've read you have all the ingredients to make it shine!

Take care

Susan Fields said...

Great discussion everyone - thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Christine - I'm glad to know other people have heard this same advice. When the first four books I picked up all had prologues, I actually started to wonder if I'd actually heard that before or if I'd just made it up.

MeghanRebekah - I found your thoughts on those other prologues very interesting. That's so true about Fallen's prologue giving away too much information. I hadn't thought about it before, but I do think it made the rest of the plot less exciting to the reader since we already knew that vital information. Thanks for pointing that out! And so true, Twilight's prologue really added nothing to the story. And I would recommend Tithe, it's probably my favorite of the above books.

Susan - that's interesting that you skip prologues! Definitely something to take into consideration.

Anne - I hope you're right and the answer will present itself to me when the book is more in its final form. I'll definitely be giving it a lot of thought!

Stephanie and E. Elle - I agree, each case is different. My previous novel did include one because I thought it was necessary, but this novel didn't include one originally, so I guess it can do without.

I'm really enjoying hearing what everyone has to say! Just from what I've read so far, I do think I'll need to work harder to give my actual first chapter more zing.

Talli Roland said...

I'm on the fence with this one. I know you're meant to avoid them, but I think sometimes they can be good things - of course, it all comes down to the story.

Useless answer, I know! :)

Joanne said...

I haven't written a prologue, focusing instead on that all important first chapter. But I agree with Piedmont Writer, get that first draft down, and you'll have a better feel for the story upon revision.

Clicked over from Talli's, enjoyed browsing here!

Myrna Foster said...

I like most prologues. I wrote one to go with my WIP, but I'm not sure if I'll use it or not. It adds depth and clarity but isn't absolutely essential. If you want to write one, write it. Even if you decide not to use it, you'll probably learn something more about your story.

sarahjayne smythe said...

I don't think I've ever really used prologues, but like most rules, I think it might be made to be broken, depending on the story and the writer.

Charity Bradford said...

I've wondered the same and decided to avoid a prologue personally. Mostly because I want to use it as an info dump. It is fascinating information, but I am trying to work it into conversations instead.

Good luck with your decision, and nice to meet you.

Theresa Milstein said...

I think some agents and editors say they're against prologues because they see so many bad ones. If it will have a hook and give important background to your story (or a foreshadow), then try it out. Good luck!

Susan Fields said...

Shannon - I just checked out your post, and I'll be looking into Hooked. I'll also check out Hush, Hush. Thanks for the good info!

Old Kitty and Myrna - you both gave similar advice, and I definitely see the wisdom in that. It can't hurt to at least write it out and see where it gets me, even if I take it out later. Thanks!

Talli - not a useless answer at all! I love hearing what you all think, and I agree - there are no absolutes, it all depends on the story.

Hi Joanne - thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

Sarahjayne and Theresa - I totally agree that while they may be frowned upon in general, that doesn't mean they can't work - I was so surprised when the first four books I picked up all had them!

Charity - thanks for stopping by and following! I'm off to check out your blog now! :)

Sharon Mayhew said...

Susan--Write your prologue, put it to the side until you are finished with the whole book, the incorporate it into the manuscript. Think about In The Seventeenth Year...It was stronger after you changed the beginning. It's all about what the reader will enjoy...You'll do a great job...I've read your work before. :)

Susan Fields said...

Aw shucks - thanks Sharon!

Kimberly Franklin said...

I know that everyone says to avoid them and that agents and editors don't like them, but if that's the truth then why do so many books have them?!

Personally, I don't mind prologues. But I'm easy to please. Good luck with your WIP.

Susan Fields said...

Kimberly - I totally agree! When the first four books I picked up all had them, I really began to doubt if I'd ever heard that advice at all, or if it was just a figment of my imagination.

Jemi Fraser said...

The current feeling seems to be not to use prologues. I don't mind them at all when reading, but it's so hard to catch the eye of an agent right now, it's probably better to follow what most of them are saying. Good luck :)

Susan Fields said...

Thanks Jemi, and thanks for the good luck wishes!

Terresa said...

Using a prologue depends many factors. Although I don't think I've seen many of 'em lately.

PS: Your blog roll! So many great writerly blogs. I will return!

Susan Fields said...

Terresa - Thanks for stopping by and following! I had a great visit at your blog today - still chuckling over the ice cream for breakfast. :)