I guess I’m just in the mood to pontificate. Don’t worry, I’ll be back to gerbil fair soon.
This one’s for you, TessaD.
If you read Romance novels you’ve probably read a ton of prologues and never even noticed. Reaching across my desk for my recently – read – and – not – yet – removed – from – the – house pile, I see that in the last two months I’ve read 17 books. Most are romances but a mystery and a couple of Science Fiction were thrown into the mix. Of those books the following had prologues:
A Whisper of Roses by Teresa Medeiros
The Music Box by Andrea Kane
The Lady Chosen by Stephanie Laurens
My Seduction by Connie Brockway
Marriage Most Scandalous by Johanna Lindsey
My Demon’s Kiss by Lucy Blue
Dark Secret by Christine Feehan
Princess Charming by Elizabeth Thornton
An Offer From A Gentleman by Julia Quinn
Skintight by Susan Anderesen
First you’ll notice that neither the Mystery nor either of the Science Fiction had prologues. If I’d read more of either genre no doubt a prologue or two would have cropped up, but not with the frequency of Romance.
Second, you’ll notice the ratio of prologue vs non-prologue. 10 out of 17 books had prologues. 10 out of 14 Romances had prologues. Of the ones that didn’t have prologues only one is an Historical. Another of those without prologues is an anthology of Cowboy Romances. Neither Cowboys nor Anthologies tend to run to prologues. The other two are Romantic Suspense. Notice that most of the books in the list with prologues are Historicals.
Keep in mind I tend to grab from my TBR pile in a somewhat random order. In other words I read heavily in the genre I’m writing but otherwise simply grab whatever I’m in the mood for. I never took into consideration whether or not a book had a prologue. However this sample could be a statistical anomaly. If you really need to convince yourself there’s nothing wrong with writing a prologue, head on down to B&N or Borders and go through the books on their shelves.
So it would appear the people who tell you to avoid prologues don’t know Romance readers very well. It’s the readers you have to please, not some critic. I’ve heard teachers, lecturers, and well-meaning critique partners all say you have to avoid prologues. I’ve been hearing how out of fashion they are for the last 20 years. I say phooey! If a book calls for a prologue, then write the silly thing and move on.
What else do How To Write books and pundits like to say about prologues? How about this one: “Keep it short.” Let’s go to the books and see for ourselves.
A Whisper of Roses had three scenes running for 10 pages total. By the end I had forgotten it wasn’t chapter one and was jarred by a facing page labeled Part One. Yet I found the book to be more compelling and the prologue more interesting than the one in The Music Box which only went on for 4.
The Lady Chosen was 2 scenes and 15 pages long and one of the best parts of the book. But then, she’s setting up not only the book but the entire series of The Bastion Club books. Likewise the prologue in My Seduction went on for 20 pages (longer than some chapters!) covered only one scene, and was used to set up a trilogy.
Marriage Most Scandalous was short and sweet at 9 pages with a single scene. My Demon’s Kiss went on for 26 pages (!) without a break. The prologue for Dark Secret only went 8 pages and did not serve it’s purpose as Chapter 1 would have stood better without it. Though it was part of a series, the prologue only attempted to set up the current book. The one in Princess Charming went for 3, didn’t include hero or heroine, and had minor repercussions throughout the book. Likewise An Offer From a Gentleman colored the rest of the book with only 11 pages, but I’m not entirely sure it added that much. The prologue in Skintight was only 2 pages long, as considering there was no change in character, time, or place, could have simply been part of Chapter one and been less confusing.
I’d say off hand you can throw out the book when it comes to “keep it short.”
The one truism I’ve heard over and over that does seem to work in Romance novels is use the prologue when there is a significant difference in time, place, and cast of characters. Though frequently the hero, heroine or both would appear in one of these prologues, they generally did so as children.
So what is the REAL beef about prologues?
Beginning writers don’t know what to do with them. They haven’t stopped to study the way prologues are handled by the writers they love to read, and overlook the basic cues writer’s use and readers pick up on instinctively.
Putting the word “prologue” in front of the section of your book is a way of telling the readers “this is a little different from anything else you’ll read in the book.” I’ve seen lectures, poems, songs, and scenes with characters that are later spoken of but never appear outside of the prologue. They all worked fine.
And that’s the bottom line, isn’t it? That the writer communicate as elegantly and effectively with the reader as humanly possible.
So when you revise your book don’t ask yourself whether or not you’re “supposed to” have a prologue. Ask yourself if it does what you want it to.