Daniel’s Journal #22 – Prologues: A Rebuttal to Alexis
I’d like you all to take a moment to thank Alexis Ames for continuing her discussions on social media about her negative opinion on prologues. I respectfully disagree with her that they are completely unnecessary, but I see her point (kind of).
This blog piece are my views on prologues. If you want Alexis’s point of view on the subject, you’ll have to ask her.
I will quote one of her tweets directly, though.
“I skip it 90% of the time, and the other 10% of the time I’ll close the book and never pick it up again. Like, write them if you want to, but I’ve never read a prologue that I felt was necessary 😂 ”
Alexis has taken this stance on prologues dozens of times before, and I’ll throw a counterpoint every time I see it. It’s not a fight, just a friendly disagreement between writers.
I’ll agree with her on some of her points. A prologue isn’t always necessary. There are books where I don’t write one if I don’t feel it adds to the story in any way, and I’ve read books where they weren’t needed and added nothing to the story. Adding a prologue just to info-dump is bad form too. I don’t like info-dumping at all unless it’s organic and subtle. I feel it beats your reader over the head, and doing it right off the bat is just asking to have your book tossed.
But unlike Alexis, I don’t think prologues are completely useless and should be abolished. I’ll use my own experiences from my finished and unfinished books as examples.
I like my prologues to tell a little piece of the story, to tease my readers’ mind. There was some fad advice floating around social media regarding when you should prologue (as a flashback from the end, from a different POV never used again, or as a history lesson). When used properly, a prologue can act as a hook. It should be a short tale in its own right within the realm of your full story.
My prologues are short, very short, less than half the length of my average chapter. In Blood Drive, my book about two vampires and a van of stolen donor blood, the prologue tells the story of the blood heist from the point of view of the hourly security guard. If you read it on its own, it could be a micro-fiction piece. My book Lost Women of the Admiral Inn also starts with a short micro-fiction that sets up the story and the reader.
I’m in Sci-Fi Hell is told in first-person by the protagonist from the end. So, the prologue is his build-up of the story, as if he was setting it up for a friend. There’s no info-dump, and he doesn’t give a history of his sci-fi world at this point. I pride myself on being more subtle than that. Again, it’s short, and it introduces the reader to Ray Samson and the story he wants to tell.
Coincidentally, Operation: Maximum Chaos is one my latest WIPs, and it’s told in first person. This story skips the prologue and goes right into chapter one. There’s no need for it here.
Kai the Swordsman takes an approach in showing the reader a scene from the other end of the book. We find Kai, our titular swordsman, standing against the emperor’s guardsmen, injured and desperate. The reader gets their first glimpse of Kai from another perspective before the slow-burning fantasy begins.
Finally, I began Excalibur Nights (my newest WIP), a book about a surly electrician who is whisked away to a fantasy realm, with a narrative prologue of sorts. The narration starts by explaining that Ralph is the brave and noble hero of our tale, and it ends with him beating the shit out of a thief with a piece of plastic pipe. It’s the shortest of any of my prologues, but it gives you a hard feel (not sorry) for what to expect.
So that’s my long-form rebuttal to Alexis. Prologues aren’t useless when weilded properly. I may never change your mind, but I hope your mind is a little more open to the magic of prologues.
If you want to discuss or debate, find me, and I’ll be more than happy. I do most of my interacting on Twitter (@Daniel_Aegan).