I’ve just been doing some rewrites for my latest novel, which is book three of the Riverhill Trilogy. Although (to me anyway) this novel screams out for a prologue, originally I didn’t include one. The book’s opening is a departure from the rest of the book as well as from the first two books in the trilogy. It takes place in a different year and setting from the rest of book three, and a different setting from the first two books. However, its relevance is revealed as the book progresses.
Feedback from my beta readers was mixed in relation to what was then chapter one. They commented on its detachment from the rest of the book but said that it was an effective device in terms of what follows later. This reaffirmed my belief that it should in fact be a prologue rather than a chapter.
So, why didn’t I go with my gut instinct and make it a prologue in the first place?
I’m embarrassed to say that I bowed to outside pressure. You see, prologues are on those lists of things to avoid, which the publishing industry are fond of producing. Although I’ve already sounded off about this topic in my previous blog post Breaking the Writing Rules, I still avoided having a prologue when it was clearly the right thing to do. Silly me.
In fact, the publishing industry are so emphatic when they set these rules that I was still hesitant. I therefore carried out some research about prologues. Apparently, the reason they fell out of favour was because many authors weren’t using them to good effect. One of the cited examples of poor use of prologues includes using an excerpt from a later part of the book to stimulate reader interest. Publishers and agents have now dubbed prologues as ‘overused’.
During my research I read several articles about how and when to use a prologue. These all agreed that prologues can still be effective if used in the right way. And the good news is that my prologue fits in with many of the stated guidelines for effective prologues. It is set in a different time and place and it carries additional information which is relevant later in the book.
Once I had established all this, I felt more confident about using a prologue. But really, I should never have doubted it. After all, I’m an independent author and therefore don’t necessarily have to bend to the will of traditional agents and publishers. Isn’t that part of what being an independent is all about? My prime considerations should be my readers and what works best for the book.
In terms of readers, those who have read the first two books in the trilogy are used to reading books about feisty females from council estates battling against the extreme challenges life throws at them. Therefore, they will expect similar from the third book.
My readers aren’t necessarily into reading about all action heroes in war zones. So I don’t want to put them off by giving them the impression that the whole book is about a group of soldiers in Iraq. Therefore, the way to achieve this is to use a prologue. That way, it will be more evident to readers that the opening of the book is additional background information rather than part of the main setting. It comes into play later in the book as it helps to explain the motivations of one of the main characters.
I’d love to hear views from other authors and readers regarding prologues. Do you like prologues? If not, why not? Have you used a prologue in a book? If so, what made you use one?
12 thoughts on “Why I’m Using a Prologue”
I’m a firm believer in breaking every one of the “rules” that the traditional publishing industry tries to foist on us. It sounds like the prologue works well for your book. Mine has two epilogues, so who am I to judge?
Thanks for your feedback. I like your outlook, and I think I need to change my mindset so that I do what feels right rather than following the ‘rules’.
Heather, as a reader I love prologues. A good prologue is like a yummy appetizer to what’s to come and usually hooks me right into the story immediately. Forget the so-called rules, which are just someone else’s opinion, and go with your gut. You will come out on top way more often than not!
Thanks for your words of encouragement, Chris, which are very much appreciated. 🙂
That sounds like a good plan Heather. I don’t come across many books with prologues, but there’s evidently a time and a place for them.
Thanks, Guy. Yes, I think it’s definitely the way to go. 🙂
I agree with the ‘There are no Rules’ of indie writing and this is interesting about prologues. I had a prologue in the third part of my trilogy Heather but then saw something about them not being liked and ended up incorporating my prologue in a different way. I think this has worked, no one has said it hasn’t and in fact it ratcheted up the tension of the first few chapters so it worked out ok. I think you just have to do what feels right for your book, and only you can decide that 🙂 Interesting post, thanks for sharing 🙂
Thanks for your feedback, Georgia. I was also going to incorporate it into the rest of the book and make it chapter one but it just didn’t work for this book. I agree with what you say, I have to do what feels right for my book. 🙂
I like prologues. I like writing and reading them. As Guy says – there’s a time and a place. Thanks for an interesting post, Heather.x
Thanks for your comment, Judith, and for your words of encouragement. I think it’s another one of those things that the publishing industry like to dictate, but they probably base these articles on their own opinions rather than reader feedback and the latter is far more important.
I think it’s worth knowing what are considered to be the rules, but that doesn’t mean we need to follow them. I have mixed feelings about prologues in the novels I read but I’ve also included one in my next novel which is about a man who keeps someone locked in a cellar. I wanted both to start the novel gently from the beginning of a relationship but I also wanted the reader to know this was going to happen – so I have a very short prologue of him going down to the cellar. I think it works but it’s for readers to judge!
Thanks for your comment, Anne. Yes, I think they definitely have their place, and I can’t understand current thinking, which suggests we cut them out altogether. .