Sunday, May 5, 2013

To Prologue or Not to Prologue

There are many opinions with regard to whether or not an author should include a prologue in their novels and there are many articles and blog posts written about this very subject.  From the research I conducted on the topic when I was writing my first manuscript, I would have to say many appear to be completely against prologues.  I just can’t say with certainty exactly why.  I’m guessing it’s due to the fact that some authors have misused prologues in some way or only use them to dump information, thereby alienating or misguiding the reader.

It’s possible some people just don’t like prologues.  Period.  While others really don’t mind either way.  Some authors wouldn’t touch them with a ten foot pole while others feel they are necessary to introduce certain elements of the story to the reader.  I’ve actually read quite a few articles where the claim is made that readers skip prologues completely.  As an author, it gave me pause…but only slightly.  As a reader, I was actually surprised by these statements.  I’ve never skipped a prologue if the author began the story with one.  If it’s there, I expect it’s there for good reason.

I was also surprised at how forceful some opinions were about the reasons authors should not use prologues.  While I took to heart what I learned from those opinions, none of the advice I read from others was going to change the way I planned to introduce the reader to my story.  When I first began writing No Mother of Mine there was no question the initial part of the story had to be a prologue.  After the book became available for sale, much of the response I heard from readers was that the prologue hooked them so that they wanted to read more.  From an author’s viewpoint, comments like that are encouraging.
While I would not call it a place I “dump” information, I am using the prologue to “provide” information to the reader that my protagonist, Jorja, will not learn for some time.  Even then, the reader is left wondering as they take part in discovering the truth alongside Jorja.

For me, using a prologue is what works with these particular types of stories.  I feel the prologue corresponds to how events play out in real life and I very quickly decided it is the best approach when introducing the story to the reader.
My reason for appreciating the use of a prologue has to do with my professional life as a private investigator.  Every single case I take on as a criminal defense investigator is after the fact.  After an incident has occurred.  After a crime has allegedly been committed.  After someone has been arrested.  Beyond those actually present during the initial event, only a fly on the wall can know the whole truth about the circumstances surrounding a crime.  The incident or crime itself is the prologue and not something the main character, in fiction or in real life, is ever personally privy to. 

That’s my reason for using a prologue.  While the reader might not be given all the information they need to understand exactly why something has happened, I feel a prologue gives them necessary information to become vested in a case before they tag along with the protagonist in their attempt to discover the truth.
As I dabble with other types of writing and stories that aren’t mysteries, prologues probably won’t be my first choice.  But as an author, I retain the right to do what works best for the story regardless of whether others believe I’m bending some sort of unwritten rule.  It is what makes writing such a great endeavor; through writing you get to create and through that creation you provide to others what is unique to you.

So what are your thoughts?  Do you enjoy prologues?  Or do you skim or completely skip them?  Maybe you have no feelings about the subject either way.  But if you do, I’d like to hear from you so don’t hesitate to share your opinion or your thoughts.


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