author, creative writing, writing

The Pros and Cons of Prologues

Prologues can be a contentious issue. Everybody has a different opinion on them. I’ve known of readers who love them, agents who hate them, and everything in between! The last novel I wrote started with a prologue, even though as a reader I’m not a huge fan of them. Sometimes you just have to do what works for your novel. But for anyone who’s not sure, I’ve listed some of the pros and cons of prologues below.

The Pros:

You can hook the reader
Prologues tend to be short and sweet, and so it gives you the opportunity to really hook the reader with a gritty opening. You don’t need to introduce the characters involved in any depth, which gives you the chance to create a real air of mystery.

Chance to use a different POV
The prologue doesn’t have to follow the pattern of the rest of your story. So if you know which characters’ point of view you’re using to tell the story, this is a great way to use someone else as a one off. It can be used to show the antagonist’s perspective, or that of a character who won’t be revealed until later on in the story.

Clever foreshadowing
If you do it well, your prologue can be a great way to foreshadow other aspects of the story. You’ll need to be clever about it, so as not to give away too much or ruin any of your surprise twists and turns. If it works though, you could create a really satisfying reveal, giving readers a ‘wow’ moment when they realise it was foreshadowed from the start.

Setting the tone
Above all, a prologue can really set the tone for the rest of your novel. It gives readers an immediate insight into the type of story they’re about to read, the setting or themes that will come into play. Some readers love prologues as it’s a quick way to delve into story, and doesn’t require too much time to establish the voice.

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The Cons:

Some people hate them
This is just the fact of the matter. Some readers hate prologues. At a writing event I attended once, an agent said they found prologues unnecessary. Everybody has a different view of them. I’m not a huge fan of prologues myself, but I always read them. However, I’ve heard that some readers skip them completely.

They can be boring
Nothing worse than a boring prologue. This is your chance to make that all important first impression. If it’s too slow, too long, or full of too much information, you’ll bore the reader. Prologues shouldn’t be info dumps. And some readers will always prefer to dive right in at the first real chapter.

They delay the start of the story
Is there a reason you need a prologue, rather than using that scene as the first chapter? Using a prologue delays the start of your story, by giving readers something to process before the real start of your story. If you’re going to use one, it needs to be for a really good reason.

They can be distracting
As with delaying the story, prologues can also be a distraction. After reading a prologue, readers may spend the early chapters trying to work out how it relates to the prologue. You want to immerse readers in your book from the off, and if the prologue isn’t completely necessary, you could be making it harder for them to get into the flow of your storytelling.
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At the end of the day, there’s no right or wrong answer. You have to do what works for you and your story.Β  Do you like to read prologues? Do you write them? I’d love to hear your thoughts on them, so do comment below.

Until then,
Keep writing,

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26 thoughts on “The Pros and Cons of Prologues”

  1. I am in the ‘let the story decide’ camp. As a reader, I don’t think I care that much if it starts with a prologue or chapter one – and I definitely don’t skip them. What matters the most is how it ties to the story as a whole.

    As a writer, my WIP has a prologue (though I completely changed the concept of it two times) – a scene way shorter (1000 words) than a chapter (~5000 in my case) that gives some hints about the backstory while setting up two of the main characters. It also sets up for a ‘full circle’ as the book ending happens at the same place.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Agree with the pros and cons. As your ‘con’s indicate, prologues are hard to do well. Foreshadowing should be subtle but in an attempt by the writer to create a hook, I sometimes feel I’ve been hit by a brick of melodrama.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I don’t mind reading prologues and I’ve never had a problem with them as a reader. It was only as a newby writer that I found out so many people have a profound dislike for them. I probably won’t be using them in future for that reason. πŸ™‚ Nice post! πŸ™‚ ❀

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I don’t tend to find prologues necessary, but for my first novel, I wrote one. It was an event that happened 10 years before the main story and set up the protagonist’s goal. I wanted to show why he is so insistent on his views and actions.
    The prologue was short so I don’t think too onerous to read. Without it, the protagonist wouldn’t have been as understandable. I dislike flashbacks unless they’re very, very short I didn’t feel I could convey the same feeling in a flashback.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I enjoyed reading your post. I feel that writing or not writing a prologue for a novel is an instinctive thing. Something told me to do it for my last novel, and I did it. I used it to set up what we can call “the macro conflict” of the environmental crisis twenty years from now.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hmm… this is something to consider. The project I’m working on for Nanowrimo this year is outlined with a prologue. It’s not totally necessary for the story, but the intent is for this to be the first of a series. So it kind of sets up the season but not necessarily the episode.

    The way I like to think of it, the Prologue has to act like a kind of mini-story with it’s own hook and small arc. And then the first chapter after it also has to have a hook, because it’s kind of like you are starting twice, really. Especially if you have a time-jump or switch perspectives.

    Good post. Lots to muddle over here.

    Liked by 1 person

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