The prologue. Ahh yes, the misunderstood template for writing. Why is the prologue so maligned in writing today? I guess we could start by saying that the average attention-span for today’s reader has waned to the point of non-existence. Readers today want to get right into the story, and the prologue constitutes a roadblock to bonding with a book’s theme or characters.
So is the prologue dead? No, at least not yet. I still use them sometimes in my stories. Now, before you hit the back button and start looking for another blog article, hear me out. Ok? Thanks.
The prologue in itself isn’t faulty, quite the opposite, it’s more like offering the reader a taste up-front. Like going into a candy store and sampling a taste of fudge before coughing up your hard-earned dough for a lump of your favorite flavor. Still don’t believe me? Ok. Let me explain further.
A prologue, if crafted right, can actually help your story. How you ask? Easy, by crafting an irresistible scene and putting your main protagonist in danger.
For the sake of relevance, let us look at my debut novel The Leopard Vanguard, which starts with a prologue and puts the reader in the mind of my protagonist, Tullus, a Roman officer about to lead his men into battle. He is quietly confident, yet like any good leader, he is concerned for the welfare of men, even though he knows many will be dead within the next hour.
Now I’ve received mail from folks who’ve criticized this opening, told me they needed to bond with Tullus, after all, they argued, how can you bond with a man about to go to war? We don’t even know what his favorite color is? Or if he likes his meat cooked well-done or medium-rare.
Now, how can you not bond with this type of character? Someone who’s compassionate, who himself has faced loss in his life. I used active backstory drops in the narrative, to tell us more about Tullus, yet refraining from overwhelming the reader with unnecessary detail. This keeps the reader engaged as we learn more about our protagonist, Tullus, and how he came to be standing on the battlefield, moments before the battle commences.
It’s tricky, but a prologue, carefully crafted, improves the reading experience instead of hampering it. Some of the best books I’ve read start right when the action begins. Yet the prologue has so much stigma attached to it, some folks don’t give many great stories a chance. “Skip the prologue,” they say, “give me chapter one, and make it snappy.”
Alright, fair enough, but let me conclude with this. A snappy prologue can actually set the reader up for an even better chapter one experience. Like I said earlier, all it takes is placing your protagonist (or any relevant character) in the scene, adding a conflict-laden backdrop for the character, and using active backstory within reasonable limits to get the reader to bond with the story and/or character.
So what do you think about prologues? Do you love ’em? Or think they’re yesterday’s fad. Please feel free to leave comments.