Thursday, February 21, 2019

Dear O'Abby: Are prologues good or bad?

Dear O'Abby,

I write fantasy, and my book has a prologue.  It's a very needed prologue as it sets up the entire system of magic and politics for the world my story takes place in. 

But I've heard a lot of agents hate prologues and that it is a bad idea to include one as pages with a query.  So now I'm wondering if having a prologue is going to spoil my chances of ever getting published.

Can you help?

Yours,

Fantastic

Dear Fantastic,

Prologues are tricky wee things.  Personally, I'm not a fan and often skip them when reading because I'm interested in reading the story, not whatever backstory the writer has chosen to tell me in the prologue.

I certainly would suggest not including a prologue with your query package unless your protagonist is a part of the prologue and it is an essential part of your story.  It sounds like in your case, the prologue is there to create context for the story and do some of the heavy lifting for your world-building, so I would not include that with your query package.

In terms of the bigger picture, think about whether or not you can weave those world-building elements into the actual story.  Do they need to be in a prologue people may or may not read before the story starts?  If people skip the prologue, will they still understand the story?

It's always better to show how the magic systems and politics work in practice than to tell a reader all about them in advance, so if you can weave the detail in with the action, I think you'll find the prologue becomes redundant.  Plus the way these systems affect your characters becomes clear within the context of the story.

So my advice is to think hard about what your prologue is actually doing and whether or not that work can be done within the main body of your story.

Hope that helps!

X O'Abby

5 comments:

  1. Coincidentally, agent Janet Reid covered this on Wednesday on her blog. She notes that since she asks for 3-5 manuscript pages with queries, you should not include the prologue, but when an agent asks for 20-50 pages with a query, you might be okay including it.

    I've never understood readers who don't read prologues. It's part of the book, read it! Do you skip epilogues, too?

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  2. The prologue debate is a classic! I generally concur with O'Abby.

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  3. This is great advice! I think prologues can be used only if it works with the story you're writing.

    www.ficklemillennial.blogspot.com

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  4. Yeah, I normally skip the prologues, but then sometimes find myself going back and reading them after I'm into the book. Most of what's in there is either not important to me or I've already figured out. I'm not a fan of them. I think in most instances the information in the prologue could be included elsewhere in bits and pieces. A prologue seems like an unnecessary info dump to me. However, there are exceptions. There always are...

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  5. I never skip a word. Even when Amazon starts a book a few pages in, I flip back to the cover. That's me.

    I didn't understand the anti-prologue debate until I watched "The Agony and the Ecstasy" (a 1965 American film). The movie is fine. But there's like twenty minutes of background or whatever before it starts. And I wasn't drawn in by that. It felt like something that plays during a museum tour. (Which is fine if I'm on a tour, not if I'm chillin with some cheesy nachos on the couch, you know?) So I can see how they could be distracting.

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