P is for Prologue


by Lillian Csernica on April 18, 2013

When I have occasion to go looking at sites where aspiring writers present their work for constructive commentary, I sometimes encounter the one piece of writing guaranteed to ruin a strong opening chapter.

The Prologue.

Eminent writers such as Euripides and Molière have put the Prologue to good use. These days, it seems to be the place where beginning writers want to unload all of their worldbuilding right up front before they let the reader get anywhere near the actual story. The writing that makes up such Prologues is quite often dull, unskilled, and irrelevant.

“Prologue” then becomes a fancy name for what is nothing more than the  Expository Lump.

A good story opens with action, with suspense, with the problem situation unfolding in all its messy glory. The archaeological pedigree of your civilization or the precise genealogy of your evil sorcerer’s bloodline are nothing but dull documentaries if they do not capture your reader’s sympathy and interest and make him or her want to go on reading.

I realize that a case can be made for the appropriate inclusion of a Prologue. I think that’s rare. I’ve yet to read a Prologue in a modern novel that justified its existence. Some of the best editorial advice I’ve ever heard applies here:

“Cut it ’til it bleeds.” Amputate that Prologue. You’ll be glad you did.

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5 Comments

Filed under Blog challenges, fantasy, Fiction, Uncategorized, Writing

5 responses to “P is for Prologue

  1. I think prologues are a holdover from the days when writers were paid by the word. I can recall reading some books with dreadfully long and boring prologues. Usually they don’t serve much good purpose.

    Lee
    An A to Z Co-Host
    Tossing It Out

    Like

  2. I’ve heard to avoid prologues as much as possible. Only one story of mine has used it. The rest of the time, I dive right in.

    Like

  3. Pingback: The Plagiarists–Prologue | Pioneers of the Shattered Waters

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