the gate that swings open

the-fairy-treerichard-doyle

The Fairy Tree, Richard Doyle

Among agents, editors, and even some writers, the prologue (or preface) is much maligned. This is too bad and, in my opinion, not entirely justified. No tool in the writer’s arsenal of skill should be dismissed out of hand and its value wilfully disregarded. The reason so much prejudice exists against the prologue is due to its abuse in the hands of writers of clumsy and poor skill who use the prologue poorly, but that’s no reason to–well, baby and bath water, y’know.

The prologue, or the preface, is indeed a hook, a tease, a lure into the story. Just write it into the narrative is the common response. When the prologue is no more than backstory details, I agree. But the prologue’s intent is not to serve as the colander through which the backstory drains, but to present a dramatic moment that has significant repercussions within the story. In the hands of a skillful writer, the prologue is a wonderful and useful tool.

Despite all the groaning, growling, and disrespect heaped upon the prologue, a cursory survey of recently published novels show the prologue has not gone the way of the dinosaur. TWILIGHT by Stephanie Meyer opens with a Preface; DAUGHTER OF HOUNDS by Caitlin Kiernan opens with a Prologue (most of her books do); THE WINTER ROSE by Jennifer Donnelly opens with a Prologue, and the list goes on and on.

If prologues are a great big DO NOT DO, why are stories that open that way still being published? Because the masterfully done Prologue adds to the story, creates an attractive dimension for the narrative, and provides  story details (perhaps complex) best conveyed by this creative tool. I think the prologue has a valued place in fiction writing and should not be dismissed just because it’s a prologue.

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3 thoughts on “the gate that swings open

  1. I never minded prologues as a reader. I especially love the way Robert Jordan used to always begin his books in the Wheel of Time series, although seems like he had one really long one once! That might have been overdoing it a bit.

  2. Hi, Joely, yeah I think writers should be able to use every creative tool at their disposal. I don’t mind if a prologue is long, provided the reason for the length proves to be of substance to the whole story. Unfortunately, I could never get into Robert Jordan’s world. Maybe I’ll give his books another look one day. Thanks for the visit, d:)

  3. I had planned both prologue and epilogue for my novel but at a recent writer’s seminar they were shouting wildly “No! No! No!” when the topic of prologues was raised. So whether I should or should not do this I haven’t quite decided because I have noticed quite a lot of books still have them.

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