Along with vampires in my Inbox, I’ve also noticed an explosion of prologues in partials. I also get quite a lot of questions about whether prologues are necessary, whether agents frown or smile at them, whether they should be included in partial requests. So consider this a post on all things prologue.
What is a prologue? Typically it is 3-5 pages of introductory material that is written while the author is procrastinating from writing a more difficult section of the book.
Ah, I’m kidding.
The most common question I get about prologues: are prologues necessary? Personally I think the easiest litmus test is to take out the prologue and see if your book still makes sense.
If you can take out a prologue and the entire plot still makes perfect sense, chances are the prologue was written to “set the mood”. But here’s the thing about mood-setting: most of the time you can set the mood when the actual story begins. Do you really need to set the mood with a separate prologue? Really? Really really?
Sometimes the answer to those four reallys is: “yes, really.” Or the prologue is to be used as a framing device around the plot or to introduce a crucial scene in the backstory that will impact the main plot. So okay, prologue time.
What makes a good one?
Short, self-contained, comprehensible.
The reader knows full well while reading a prologue that the real story is waiting. A prologue makes a reader start a book twice, because it doesn’t always involve the protagonist, and starting a book is hard because it takes mental energy to immerse oneself in a world. You’re asking more of a reader, so they’ll want to make sure it’s worth it.
As for the more nuts and bolts concern of whether it should be included in partials sent to agents: yes. It should.
I want to see the first 30 pages as you want me to send them to the editor. If that involves a prologue… let’s see it.
Do you like when authors use prologues? What makes good ones work?