What a relief it was to find out that prologues are okay for certain books and within certain parameters. Some agents and editors still say prologues are out, period, and some readers skip them entirely when reading, although I can't imagine why. When I get a new book I read everything including the copyright page. I want to find every trace of blood, sweat, and tears that a writer put into the book, but maybe that's just me.
For my Seasons Mystery Series, the books start with a prologue, mainly because that's the way the stories came to me. The prologues are written from the POV of the victim of the crime, and I have a hard time starting a new book any other way. I liked that approach when I read Barbara Parker’s Suspicion of Guilt, where the reader meets the victim, "The night she was murdered Althea Tillett had hosted a party for her best girlfriends."
That was a great opening line that introduced an innocent young woman in such a way that the reader was outraged at her murder. Right away Parker invested the reader in the story, so you just had to read the rest to make sure there was justice for Althea.
Another effective prologue was cited in an article Marg McAlister wrote for Foremost Press. In The Prologue - When to Use One, How to Write One, McAlister shares from a contemporary novel, Mary Stanley's Revenge that opens with, "Millicent McHarg sat on an iron chair on the patio in the back garden where the Buddha with its green lights resided."
The rest of the short prologue introduces the theme of revenge and sets up a sense of the drama to come, while establishing the central players in the story.
Both Kristen Lamb and Marg McAlister gave pros and cons for using a prologue and had similar tips for if you decide to write one:
- Keep it short - the 23 pages that introduce Canterbury Tales no longer works
- Don't use it just for an info dump
- Make sure it connects to the main story
- The writing style should match the rest of the book
- It must have a hook of its own, while connecting to the main story
I'm curious. How many of you skip prologues entirely? If you are a writer, do you utilize them in your own work? Do you have any other tips to share?
Maryann Miller is a novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent release is Boxes For Beds, a mystery available as an e-book and paperback. It does start with a prologue that passes the Kristen Lamb test of effective prologues. Stalking Season is the second book in the Seasons Mystery Series. The first book, Open Season, is available as an e-book for all devices. To check out Maryann's editing rates visit her website. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas.