Departments > Books

why do editors and agents hate prologues

(1/3) > >>

I have been reading quite a few writer, editor, and agent blogs lately. It seems like alot of agents hate prologues. The prologue to the Eye of the World sets up the whole series. It draws you and makes you want to read the entire book.

I am not really sure how a prologue is necessary all that different than a first chapter. You just call it a prologue so it stands out as setup material. Is it just that alot of people write them poorly?

Peter Ahlstrom:
Usually it's best if the prologue is separated from the rest of the book in some way, such as point of view, character, time, or place. Look at Brandon's books:

Elantris: The prologue is one page and is omniscient POV. Character introductions are saved for chapter one.
Mistborn 1: Kelsier doing something away from the city, where most of the rest of the action takes place; starts in someone else's POV.
Mistborn 2: There is no prologue. Go read chapter 1 and decide why it's not a prologue.
Mistborn 3: Marsh POV, 2 pages; we don't hear from him again for a long time.
Warbreaker: Vasher POV a while before the rest of the action: We don't get another Vasher POV for a while.
Way of Kings: Prelude is 4500 years earlier, then Szeth prologue is 5 years earlier, then Senn chapter 1 is 8 months before chapter 2. These are really 3 different prologues, but Brandon didn't think he could get away with calling them all prologues.

Some books just don't need prologues. If you can get right into the action, get right into the action. If there is no separation between the prologue and the next chapter, the prologue should probably just be chapter 1.

You don't want to have a prologue that is just a big infodump. Elantris's is about as long as you want for something like that: just one page. And is it actually necessary? It was the first book Brandon published, and he's said he'd do some things differently now. In fact, you could almost say Way of Kings has FOUR prologues: Brandon cheated and stuck the infodumpy one on the back cover, plus a tiny bit on the back flap of the book. On the Elantris hardcover, the prologue is also printed on the back cover. It might actually work better there than at the beginning of the book. Of course, back cover text is usually the domain of marketing and you have to be someone like Brandon to influence what it says.

Would be my guess that there are too many authors doing exactly that:  writing a "Prologue" that is indistinguishable from "Chapter 1".

My opinion?  Prologues should concern something that happens significantly apart (by time or distance) from the main sequence of the book, which either affects the main sequence directly or portrays concepts that will be key to the main sequence.

Very few authors do this, in my opinion, to decent effect.

The Prologue for the Wheel of Time is an excellent example of a prologue, and it fulfills the above-definition perfectly.  Well, in my mind that bit of writing was actually a Prelude for the series, and not a Prologue for the book.  And yeah, nuance in definition.

Prelude at the beginning of a series (apply above definition to a series)
Prologue at the beginning of a book (apply above definition to a single book)

That's just me though, and I'm kinda nit-picky.

My guess is if you have a prologue done right, one that pulls the reader into the story just as solidly as a good first chapter is supposed to (while still adhering to what it should be, as above) then you'll get an editor's attention, regardless.

(And, as Peter has beaten to the punch here, yet said essentially the same thing, I'll lean back in my chair and grin)

I've also seen a few editors and agents note that the prologue is often completely unnessary.

Peter Ahlstrom:
Prelude is by no means a standard term. I just suggested it to Brandon for using with the Stormlight Archive. The other option was to call it a prologue and to call the Szeth scene chapter one, but that didn't seem like a good idea. So prelude worked fine. I don't know that any other series has used the word prelude in this manner.

But you're exactly right, WriterDan. The Wheel of Time prologue is more like a prelude. The "Ravens" chapter that was added to the YA split-book version of the Eye of the World is more like a prologue.

Completely unnecessary prologues: One of the Miles Vorkosigan books by Lois McMaster Bujold (I believe it was Dipolomatic Immunity) had a prologue from a different character's point of view that Lois eventually realized, after writing most or all of the book, was unnecessary. (All the information in it was later figured out by the other characters, and having it in the prologue like that kind of ruined the mystery.) So she took it out and later stuck it on her website as a deleted scene.


[0] Message Index

[#] Next page

Go to full version