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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 Write Anything. In her free time, she is  editor of a K-6 technology curriculumK-8 keyboard curriculum, creator of two technology training books for middle school and six ebooks on 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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8 thoughts on “Writer’s Tip #35: Avoid Prologues

  1. Hi, Jacqui! I go back and forth on the Prologue thing. My first novel (The Truth About Cinnamon) has one, and even when I re-edited the book for the Second Edition, I left the Prologue there. The backstory set up in the Prologue really required some isolation from the rest of the book in order to create the hook I was going for.

    With Separation of Faith, however, what is now Chapter 1 was originally a Prologue. But in one of the later edits, I realized that the structure of the rest of the book established a rhythm that made that first section seem unnecessarily isolated when called a Prologue.

    The two books were very different in that regard, which turned out to be educational for me. So, rather than outlawing all Prologues as something bad, I now feel that Prologues are okay if they fit the book’s structure. Blanket rules and words like “never” don’t seem to work for me anymore in my writing.

    Hope all is well with you.


    • Very interesting, Cheri. That’s my gut reaction, too. I’ve read many authors–Clive Cussler for one–who make wonderful use of a prologue. Others, not so, but it seems to be a versatile tool in our writer’s kit.


  2. The prologue in my book isn’t so much back story as it sets the stage for the rest of the book. One piece of advice I always thought good, and that I still follow is, ‘if there is ever anything about your story you are always finding the need to explain, find a way to put it in the story.’ Since I was always explaining the timeline, I put it in the prologue.


  3. I like the idea that you get a chunk of backstory told without interrupting the rhythm and pace of the real story. If the backstory is not necessary, then yes, the prologue can be skipped, but the ones I’m thinking of set the tone for the book and/or plant seeds that resonate throughout the balance of the book.

    Having said that, my first (unpublished) action/thriller has a prologue which I think could be skipped. The sequel doesn’t have one. So maybe I’ve answered my own question.


  4. The question on this for me is – is it necessary?

    After working hard to make my 300 word prologue catchy, I discovered that I really didn’t need it. The back story was better hinted at in the story itself. That doesn’t mean that it’s always the case. Prologues aren’t fashionable at teh moment, but that doesn’t make them wrong. Same with epilogues. Does the story need it to conclude satisfactoryily for the reader?

    I do dislike long prologues, but 1 page ones are fine.


  5. I have to agree with you, Jacqui.

    Only this Monday, I wrote to one of my critique partners thus:

    In my everyday reading about writing, I read that an epilogue is now old fashioned and unnecessary, but I have to say, I enjoyed your epilogue and thought it apt and helpful to the story.

    I’d like you to keep the epilogue even though I know the so-called correct advice (see Guardian Authors article) would be to scrap it.

    Suggest you do some research on epilogues and see if you still agree to keep or toss it.

    So you see Jacqui, as always, I can only conclude we make our own minds up and keep reading ferociously.


    • Bucking the trend is a great way to stand out, too. If we look like everyone else, how will the agents and publishers notice us?

      I hadn’t thought about doing away with epilogues. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on that, too.


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