I get quite a lot of questions about whether prologues are necessary, whether agents frown or smile at them, and whether they should be included in partial requests.
So consider this a post on all things prologue.
What’s a 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.
It’s usually a scene that’s separate from the main plot of a novel that provides an introduction, often for atmospheric or tone-setting effect.
The most common question I get about prologues: are prologues necessary?
The prologue litmus test
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 indeed 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 prologue
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.
Agents want to see the first 30 pages as you want them to send them to the editor. They want to experience your novel as your ultimate reader would. If that involves a prologue… let’s see it.
Do you like when authors use prologues? What makes good ones work?
Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.
Art: In the library by Ludwig Valenta