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Writer’s Tip #35: Avoid Prologues

When you read your story, does it sound off, maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know you’ve done something wrong? Sometimes–maybe even lots of times–there are simple fixes. These writer’s tips will come at you once a week, giving you plenty of time to go through your story and make the adjustments.

Today’s tip: Avoid Prologues.

I found this one on the Guardian. The author builds a good case, but I don’t agree with it. What do you think?

Avoid prologues: They can be ­annoying, especially a prologue ­following an introduction that comes after a forward. But these are ordinarily found in non-fiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want. There is a prologue in John Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday, but it’s OK because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: “I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks.”

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Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing TeachersCisco guest blog,Technology in Education featured blogger, IMS tech expert, and a bi-weekly contributor to Today’s Author. In her free time, she is  editor of a K-8 technology curriculumK-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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11 thoughts on “Writer’s Tip #35: Avoid Prologues

    • I worked mightily to remove the prologue from my current WIP–removed it, added it back, removed it again at the urging of someone I respected, and finally returned it to its rightful plce. The story simply reads better with a prologue.

      I’m not pulling it again!

  1. Back story is always tricky. I certainly agree that a prolog can be taken too far, end up being boring and drawn out. However, depending on the plot and situation, a prolog can add suspense and mystery to a story. For example, an historical thriller often has a prolog to set up the event in history that leads to the modern quest. Without it, the rest of the story wouldn’t make as much sense.

    But I agree: don’t use a prolog simply for character back story.

  2. I love a good prologue and have used this in one of my novels because the story didn’t really make sense without it (and it added a great twist to the end!) I’d do it again in an instant :D

  3. My not quite finished novel starts with a prologue, which sets up the story which takes place over a 50 year period of time. The event actually occurs near the end of the novel, so am not sure if by starting it that way gives away too much of the story, or if it peaks the readers interest to learn the long, relationship involved story which leads to the conclusion.

  4. Prologues have a purpose in historical novels as they establish the place and time without necessitating a whole string of period ‘clues’ in the first chapter.
    *I sighed and folded away the gazette. Emperor Napoleon – defeated despite all his efforts.*
    The same could apply to High Fantasy, but I enjoy the process of learning all about the peoples and the geography.
    I chose to include an Epilogue in ‘A Construct of Angels’ because an critical event took place at the close of the book that was beyond the knowledge of the First-Person main character, but delivered closure to the reader.

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