Most agents, editors, and publishers frown on prologues because they claim that readers skip them.
Perhaps that’s true. I myself am not a fan of prologues. Some writers have the appalling habit of using a prologue as an information dump, telling readers things they think they need to know rather than presenting the material a bit at a time when it is needed. Some writers have the even more appalling habit of augmenting a poor beginning with a prologue that is not really a prologue but more of an interlogue, an excerpt taken from the middle of the book, copied and pasted into a prologue. While this excerpt might create suspense and keep us reading through a less than stellar beginning, it is not necessary to the story since the material is a duplication, and we feel cheated when we reread it during the course of the book.
I don’t even have much use for true prologues, which present events that happen before the story begins. The main rule in writing is “everything in service to the story.” If a prologue does not advance the story, if it is not as exciting as the rest of the book, then it should be removed and any essential information presented during the course of the story.
Sometimes, however, a prologue is necessary, especially if important events take place years before the main story. Occasionally, to get past the stigma of a prologue, authors will label the pre-story chapter “Chapter One.” To call a prologue “Chapter One” does not make it any less of a prologue, and it confuses readers, who think they are reading one story and find out they are reading another.
Despite the cautions about prologues, I used one in Light Bringer. It is a true prologue in that the events take place thirty-five years before the present day action, but I do something that is frowned on even by those who see nothing wrong with prologues: I introduce a character who does not appear in the body of the work, only mentioned in dialogue.
When I rewrote Light Bringer before submitting it to Second Wind Publishing, I considered getting rid of the prologue but I kept it for three reasons: I wanted readers to experience for themselves the events that precipitated the story, it was the way I originally conceived it, and I loved the image of tiny footprints in the snow. The prologue might seem like a darling, a word used by William Faulkner to describe the parts we love but that have no real function in the story, but without the prologue, the story loses some of its immediacy. Being told of a radiantly special baby being found on a doorstep is entirely different from experiencing it for ourselves through the eyes of the staid woman who found her.
And if readers skip my prologue? Well, there’s not much I can do about that. The truth is, there is there is nothing wrong with a prologue as long as it has a hook at the beginning, has conflict, and is written with immediacy as a scene, just as with any other chapter.
If you’d like to read the prologue, click here: Light Bringer by Pat Bertram
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+