The Dreaded Prologue

Can readers coming to your work for the first time get past your prologue?

Fact: Prologues in fiction should be avoided.

This may be unpopular advice but there are reasons why agents and editors alike refrain from keeping prologues once they begin working on material.

  1. Prologues are often backstory and backstory can be added anywhere.
  2. They can be distracting when the reader doesn’t know the characters yet and so the reader may skip it entirely.
  3. Prologues often show that the writer doesn’t know where to start the story.
  4. If the material in the prologue is important, why isn’t it in the body of the work?
  5. The prologue may turn readers off from the novel before it even gets moving, so why put yourself at a disadvantage?

You might wave your most-loved book or WIP at me and say, it worked for so-and-so therefore it can work for me too! Alas, this is very rare. It’s a subtle strategy that needs to be reworked countless times, not a writing tool that can be tacked on for clarity. Are you the rule or are you the exception?

Tip: Use an epigraph instead! If you are trying to set up themes or a frame of mind when readers enter the novel an epigraph is a great succinct way of getting this information across.

Further Reading:

Agent Kristen Nelson discussed prologues on her blog PubRants.

(Image via)

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

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