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The more I do this interning stuff, the more I see why agents advise against prologues. 9/10 times you really don't need it. #pubtip
— Ava Jae (@Ava_Jae) April 29, 2014
Ah, the joy of the prologue debate.
The thing is, I’ve been finding more often than not, people need their prologues much less than they think they do. And it’s understandable—I mean, it’s tough to be able to look at your work objectively and decide what scenes you need and don’t need, and it can be even tougher when you’re talking about the opening of your book.
So without further ado, I thought I’d share seven signs that you may want to consider cutting your prologue.
- Your prologue is your main character’s birth. Listen, I know people say to start where you story starts, but we don’t mean literally. I can’t think of a time when I read a prologue recounting the protagonist’s birth that I didn’t think it wasn’t unnecessary. I promise you, we don’t need to know the details of your protagonist’s birth. We really, really don’t.
Also, in the spirit of full disclosure, I did this with my first manuscript. And it wasn’t necessary then, either (I just didn’t know it at the time).
- Your prologue is all (or mostly) exposition. Nope. Don’t start your book with exposition. Why? Because you’re telling. And if you start your book off with a load of telling, then readers are immediately going to think the rest of your manuscript has tons of telling. Not only that, but exposition tends to be a really slow way to start a book and not an incredibly effective hook.
I understand that you want to get information across—you should! But there are way more effective ways to get information across than with an expository opening. Consider sprinkling that information throughout your prose, instead—not only will it help you avoid the evils of info-dumping, but it’ll be much more interesting to read.
- Your prologue features not your main character. I’m not saying this never works—in fact, I’ve seen it work. However, this can be a very confusing way to open a book.
Think about it—a reader who opens up your book, knowing little to nothing about it, is going to read the first few pages and think that the character it’s focused on is, indeed, your protagonist. When they finish the prologue and learn that the character is in fact not your protagonist, it can be a little jarring. Very jarring, if we’re being honest.
- Your prologue isn’t directly related to your main character. If it isn’t clear how the events that unfold in your prologue affect your main character (and thus the main plot), then your prologue is going to not only be confusing, but most will consider it unnecessary (and so should you).
- Your prologue is a false start. I’ve seen prologues that are full of action and mystery and intrigue…and then the first chapter is incredibly slow and has little to do with the prologue. Don’t do this.
The reason you want to avoid false starts is it doesn’t accomplish what you think it does—sure, it might get people reading through the prologue, but once they reach the first chapter they’ll realize that the prologue was really just a bait-and-switch hook.
I get that you want to start with an interesting hook, and you should start with an interesting hook. But the answer isn’t through a super exciting and mostly unrelated prologue–the answer is to look at your real opening (that is, your first chapter) and figuring out whether you’re starting in the right place and how to include your hook in that opening scene.
- Your prologue features your antagonist doing something super evil. I’m not saying this never works, but it’s so painfully overdone, especially in fantasy novels. For me, they don’t give the dramatic effect they may have when this trope first started—now I just tend to roll my eyes and think thoughts that rhyme with “melodramatic.” And that’s not how you want people reacting to your opening.
And again, full disclosure, my first ever manuscript's prologue did this, too...yes it committed two grave sins.
- You’re not sure whether or not to include your prologue when querying or submitting. So this isn’t something you’ll see in your manuscript—this is actually your subconscious letting you know you don’t need your prologue.
If your book doesn’t absolutely 100% need the prologue to be understood, then you don’t need it. Period. Which means if you’re even considering sending your query off without your prologue, then your inner writer is tapping you on the shoulder and letting you know it’s time to get the scissors.
Do you need your prologue? Editorial intern @Ava_Jae shares 7 signs you may want to cut it. (Click to tweet)
Do you have a prologue in your MS? Writer @Ava_Jae shares 7 signs that you might not need it. (Click to tweet)