Thoughts on Prologues

I came upon this post while going through my WordPress reader this morning. It’s Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules of Writing.

I liked the post; I think it nicely combined some of the most basic and (let’s be honest) cliche writing advice out there. I’m not saying it’s bad advice–it’s good advice. It’s just that a lot of other authors have basically the same list under their own names.

Whatever. Point is, Rule #2 reads “Avoid prologues.”

One of the least original suggestions, but also one of the most ignored suggestions in today’s published works.

It got me thinking about prologues. So I’ll just be here, rambling about them for a while.


I used to love prologues. It horrified me when I found out that one of my friends just skipped prologues. What? How can you do that? They’re part of the story!

Nowadays, prologues are pretty damn annoying. Which leads me to believe that either I’ve gotten more impatient over the years, or middle grade authors just write better prologues than young adult authors. It might just be that MG authors write less prologues.

I think prologues are a good idea. They can add mystery. They’re easy exposition. They can add that dramatic irony that we all love–when the readers know something the characters don’t.

But prologues are also boring a lot of the time. I’ve read the back of the book; I know what I want to–and should be–reading about. The prologue is not that story. Ergo, I’m impatient, rushing through a scene I don’t really understand to get to the story I want to be reading.

Prologues tend to be third person, even if the story is actually in first person, and removed from the story, usually taking place in a different time or location. They often use names that haven’t been introduced–usually in the name of that mysterious drama the prologue is there for. All of this adds up to prologues being boring and confusing. Neither of those are things authors want said about their book.

I often wonder: If this scene didn’t start with the word “prologue” written at the top of it, would it piss me off this much? Would I be as twitchy, frustrated by the attempt at drama, if I thought it was chapter one? I’ll probably never know, because people seem pretty attached to the world prologue. (Actually, Harry Potter sort of does this. The first chapters are sort of annoying with all their exposition…interesting.)

table of contents prologue bigger


My advice to anyone listening: If you can, avoid prologues. Put it in later, or just delete it. If you can’t, make it short. The prologue in Kristen Cashore’s Fire is great and really works with the story, but it is almost twenty pages long–waaaaay to much. When I reread the book, I always skip it.

I still don’t agree with my friend who skips prologues. Authors include them for a reason, usually to spread information. You need that information to enjoy the book.

So I’ll read your prologue. It will probably put me in a bad mood, but if chapter one is good enough, I’ll forgive you.

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