3 Reasons to Ditch Your Novel’s Prologue

By Maeve Maddox

The prologue is a legitimate story-telling device, but many readers admit that when they see the word “Prologue,” they skip at once to the page that begins with the words “Chapter One.”

Sometimes a prologue is the ideal way to present information essential to the reader’s understanding of the story.

Mystery writers, for example, often begin with a prologue written from the killer’s point of view, or perhaps that of the killer’s first victim. On the other hand, such a scene can be written as “Chapter One” as Martha Grimes does it in The Dirty Duck.

Writers of historical fiction may wish to provide background information to orient the reader in an unfamiliar period.

Writers of fantasy or sci-fi may write a prologue to equip the reader with unfamiliar assumptions held by the inhabitants of the strange world they’re about to enter.

Too often, however, what some writers call a “prologue” is undigested back story, mere scene-setting, or what should be Chapter One.

Ditch your prologue if…
1. …it seems boring even to you and you can hardly wait to get to Chapter One.

2. …it’s a lengthy narrative of back story that could more effectively be doled out in small bits as the story progresses.

3. …all it does is create atmosphere without having much to do with the story.

Reconsider that Prologue (Update: link no longer active)
“Prologues and Epilogues”

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9 Responses to “3 Reasons to Ditch Your Novel’s Prologue”

  • sudharm baxi

    Fantastic post!!

    Prologues certainly are very important for novels based on some past time or some research work.

    But many a times authors write so bad prologues that it actually kill the mood of the reader.

    I love the crisp prologues of Dan Brown in all his novels, they create a zeal to actually hold the novel tighter, creating that panic, that excitement which shouts – Hey!! something fantastic coming your way be prepared!!

  • Deborah

    Short prologues are fine. Long prologues—more than 300 words—no.

  • Johnica Davis

    V

    Your writing this story{what ever it is it’s awsom.

  • Johnica Davis

    yor witing is awsom.

  • Sarah

    touche.

  • alice

    I’ve seen prologues that work really well, but most of the books I read, the prologue will be the hook and chapter one is… background info.

    it’s a way to hook the reader when you know your beginning is going to be a little rough – if done incorrectly.

    don’t get me wrong, i’ve seen prologues that work so well. but there are those few…

    anywho, this article brings up great points. glad I read it!

  • Kyla

    Ahh! Okay, this is exactly what I needed to hear! I have a prologue in the current novel I’m writing, but it doesn’t fall under any of your 3 reasons to drop it.

    But should I?

    Hmm, this is something I’ll have to decide later on down the road, but it is definitely some food for thought. The whole story is about a war, you see. And the war us started because one character does something very stupid that no one else really witnesses, and he dies in that stupid act.

    I COULD tell this elsewhere in the story, but then my villain would talk too much. And that is a definite no-no. Decisions, decisions.

    Oh, well. First, I’ll finish the story, and then go back and decide which way works best. That’s what the second draft is for, anyway.

    Great article! Thanks for nourishing my brain. It was getting hungry.

  • Ed Zaruk

    Clive Cussler, when he actually did the writing himself, was the master of the prologue. I fully agree that there is a place for prologues in some fiction. My pet peeve is that most writers just use it for back story.
    To me it has to be an event that preferably took place before the time of the story. It is a hinge point, the relevance of which only becomes clear later in the book. By then the entire plot can be perceived to be hinged on this event.

    If you’re going to write back story about your characters, do not do it in a prologue. Use a flashback in the first chapter

  • Mason

    Hi, Sami! Not a writer so I can’t comnmet on that aspect, but as a reader, I like prologues and flashbacks and epilogues when they suit the story. Sometimes there’s something that you need to know about the character(s) or the plot that you need to have laid out up front, and that’s when prologues do their job. And flashbacks work to give the reader info on some background that you can’t cover in real time in the flow of the story. And I just like epilogues in general because I like a little peek at the couple after the HEA Or sometimes there’s a little side plot that deserves a little extra wrap up, and as a nosy reader, I like the author to lay it all out for me Hmm still not sure I answered the question ;p Write on, Sami!

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