This is a great post from author Sean M. Chandler. I could have just tweeted the link, but I thought it only appropriate to steal his post and incorporate it into one of my own, since his blog is entitled “Words I Stole From Other Countries.”
I wholeheartedly agree with his take on prologues and agents’ rote dismissal of them. Prologues, like any other aspect of writing, can be abused or done poorly, but the concept exists for a reason: sometimes a prologue is appropriate.
My first book had a prologue. It is two pages long and lays out a triggering event in a political thriller. Chapter 1 begins the story two weeks earlier so that they key characters can be introduced in their “natural habitats” prior to the triggering event.
Without this, the agent (and reader) wouldn’t get the immediate “hook” they demand to keep reading. It often makes no sense to start a story in the midst of an action sequence because the agent is too lazy to wait for a climax to build. So authors are forced to pull something out of the story and shove it up front for instant gratification.
Movies and TV shows that begin with a high-speed chase, a shooting, or an explosion are, in-fact, using a prologue to hook the viewer. Then the action immediately returns to a normal pace as we learn who the players are and what their milieu is (job, relationships, flaws, crises, etc.)
The quality of fiction is being degraded by the fact that agents are too busy to read more than a page or two of any work before giving it a thumbs up or down. They want the excitement of a prologue without it actually being called a prologue.
My current novel, Senseless Confidential (to be released on August 1), does not use a prologue, but begins with prologue-like action nonetheless. It amazes me that by calling it Chapter 1 I’ve already gotten a much better response than I did with my first book.
Go figure. Thanks, Sean, for pointing this out.
Tell me what you think: do prologues ever work for you? Do you hate them as agents do? Are you indifferent?