Last month, I saw a Twitter Interaction about adding prologues when sending out query sample pages. A writer wanted to know if agents were open to prologues or not. The answering tweet was from a writer who felt prologues are entirely pointless and that books do not need them, therefore they shouldn’t be added to queries. This interaction gave me the inspiration for this post because of an experience that backs my POV up!
As a reader, I’m honestly not a fan of reading prologues and in historical romances, prologues are quite common. For years, I sort of felt like reading prologues was compulsory if I wanted to understand the entire story. But then, when I realized that some prologues actually don’t affect/influence books much, I stopped reading most of them; my semi OCD self prefers everything in a tight order, and I’m honestly discomfited by ‘prequel chapters’.
When I joined the writing community, I realized prologues and epilogues were a real point of contention in the industry.
- Are they necessary or not?
- Are they annoying to read or not?
- Should they be included or should prologues be wiped from existence?
While I don’t enjoy reading them, my stance on that debate was that writers who want to write them should have the freedom to write. I’m quite sure there are readers out there who are intrigued by prologues.
And that’s still where I stand on the topic. The replying writer had said she’d advise writers to never write prologues because they add nothing to a book (Using Six Of Crows ‘Joost’ chapter as an example), and on reading further I saw that she was also speaking from personal experience. She’d added a prologue to her sample pages when she’d first started querying but her prologue hadn’t been essential. Ultimately, that query round hadn’t worked out until she removed the prologue—and that’s what birthed her belief that all prologues are frilly and unimportant. Understandable. I also agree with the Joost example for unneeded prologues. I honestly never read Joost’s chapter in Six Of Crows—I’ve tried and can’t get into it—and never have I felt like I missed key info in that awesome book, so I see why one can think it’s unnecessary.
BUT, that’s not always the case.
There are prologues—such as in Children Of Blood And Bone—that builds the foundation for a story or share important facts. Often these facts are better known before you fully dive into the book, or work better as prologues because folding it into the story will be too ‘info dumpy’ and slow the pacing. Those kind of prologues that you’ll be completely confused by a story without.
Clearly, those are important.
My experience with the former agency I was with was that with one of my books, the agent and editor (who works in the agency) read part of the manuscript. The history of the world was explained in about Chapter 4, after the inciting incident, for pacing. But then the feedback I got from them asked me to make Chapter 4 a prologue so that the inciting incident would be more climatic. This example is to point out that some agents/editors are open to prologues if it’ll enhance the story.
I didn’t take the suggestion though because I skip most prologues, so of course I don’t feel confident making my world’s foundation a prologue as people might just skip the essential detail; if I did make the change, then the depth of the History Scene would be lost because as a prologue I would have to change the setup of the scene into ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’; they aren’t big on epic fantasy so they were going for what was technical rather than what was most creative for the genre; it would have been an annoyingly long info dump. Still, no suggestion is baseless so what I got from it was that more world building was needed in the very early moments before the inciting incident unfolded, so the inciting incident could be understood better and have more impact. So rather than write a prologue, I took some facts from the History Scene and embedded them in the earliest dialogue to make the event clearer, and it ended up working that way.
So if your storyline or world does need a prologue to be understood, don’t worry that it’ll repulse every agent. Some might not be open to it and I’ve seen this stated plainly in wishlists or guideline pages. For others though, as long as they see the essence of your prologue and are captivated by the style of it, then they most likely won’t be bothered by it.
Prologues And Queries
With querying I will advice that prologues shouldn’t be included in a query package. For instance:
- If the submission guideline asks for your first three chapters, don’t send: prologue, chapter one, and chapter two. Send: chapter one, chapter two, and chapter three.
- If the guideline asks for the first three pages of your manuscript, do NOT send your prologue as the three pages! Start with chapter one.
- Leave the prologue out of the query package.
To make this work, write first chapters that stand well on their own. If your prologue explains events in your story, don’t worry. Agents don’t expect to see your entire story in your first pages. They know there will be more to come, and this includes the details of your prologue. From personal experience and research, what I believe is that the main essence of first pages is for agents to gauge styles. To see if they’re captivated by your storytelling and interested in your writing style. So write first pages that are comprehensible, even though they don’t tell the entire story.
When the full requests come, then you can send the entire manuscript with the prologue included!
Leaving Out The Prologue
A way to get rid of the whole prologue drama, is to make your prologue your chapter 1 if it’s possible. Don’t do this if the prologue is a full narration of your character’s background or the creation of your world (for SFF). Because that will most likely read slowly and feel like an info dump, especially because these type of prologues don’t have inciting incidents. But if your prologue has a deep POV, is showing and not telling, or is structured interactively (just like with Joost’s chapter for Six Of Crows and most historical romance prologues), then you can make it a chapter 1!
In summary, while I feel prologues can be important and done right, I don’t think they should be added to query sample pages. Rather, your first pages should be written to read comprehensibly even without a prologue. And if you’re truly bothered that your prologue is hindering your story/query, then consider just weaving it smoothly into your story!
L.O. Nobi is an avid writer, with numerous novels constantly blinking at her on her laptop. She’s a lover of words, reading, and Disney. You can find her tweeting here, or visit her personal blog here.