To Prologue or Not to Prologue

I’ve never met a Prologue I didn’t hate.

I’m in complete agreement with Elmore Leonard on this.  In his 10 Rules of Writing, “Avoid Prologues” is number 2. Leonard goes on to say “A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.” Exactly. He says a few other things but this is what annoys me most about these pesky Prologues.

For me, they utterly and completely ruin the story, take away the reason for reading the book in the first place, and spoil all the surprises. I cannot imagine why any author would do this to their readers.

When I pick up a book with a Prologue, the first thing I think is:

  • this author doesn’t trust me to want to discover the backstory of these characters

and that generally means:

  • this author doesn’t trust her/his writing skills and/or:
  • this author doesn’t want to bother to work the backstory into the novel.

A prologue is a shortcut. It tells critical information right up front so the reader doesn’t have to bother to read carefully. The first time I came across a prologue that did this I put the book down and decided the rest of the story was never going to be as interesting as what that prologue spoiled. I would have read the book to find that intriguing backstory, but no, the author wanted that sticky bit out of the way.

So, if you’re contemplating putting a prologue where it should never be, rest assured that I won’t read it and if the backstory isn’t in the rest of the book, I probably won’t think much of your shallow, one-dimensional  characters.

Otherwise, I have no strong feelings on this issue. Happy writing.

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