Prologue or Antilogue?

In my oh-so-brief quest to secure an agent, a few things really stood out:  1) they all want to know how you’re going to promote your own book (which made me wonder if I wasn’t better off promoting myself in the first place) and 2) many of them dislike prologues.  No, perhaps dislike isn’t quite the right word…detest, loathe, abhor, those all may be closer to the truth.  In fact, most of them hate prologues so much, they pretend they don’t even exist.

More than one said if your book starts with a prologue, they’d refuse to read it, so submit starting at Chapter 1.  What is it about prologues that makes them so unappealing?  Granted, they often serve as a flashback of sorts, a snapshot of events leading up to the main conflict.  Usually, they focus on ancillary characters and not the main group the readers will be following throughout the story.  And sometimes, especially in genres such as Fantasy, they can be a bit of an infodump, a way to get 1,000 plus years of history across without trying to find a way to interject it into your perfectly arranged narrative.

I fully admit prologues can be a bit of a drag.  Especially in the form of the infodump (world building is great, but who really wants to read a history text based on *fake* history?).  But if a prologue is poorly conceived or badly written, isn’t it just that?  Why can’t bad writing be bad writing?  Why do they single out the prologue as unnecessary when, in the hands of a skilled author, it can be a very useful tool to introduce events/characters/the tone of the writing to the readers?  I don’t care if it’s called the prologue or Chapter 5 or hell, even a rambling blog post, the name doesn’t dictate whether it’s worth reading or not.  The writing does.

To relate this thread to my own writing, of the three books I’m currently offering (well, one is soon to come), only The Four-Year-Old Guardian has a prologue.  Originally, it didn’t have one, but I found people were confused about the overall tone of the book.  They thought it was supposed to be a murder mystery, which wasn’t how I envisioned the story at all (though their confusion was easy to understand).  So I wrote up a prologue that blatantly revealed the murder (which, by the way, is another thing agents say they hate; no deaths in the prologue!  You know, the prologue they refuse to read, anyway) and definitely set the tone for the rest of the series.  Lo and behold, I received numerous praises for the prologue.  Readers told me it drew them right into the action and made them want to read more (no, I didn’t pay money for those responses).  Too bad the agents I submitted FYOG to would have skipped right over it.

I also wrote a prologue for Ascension, but ultimately cut it because *I* didn’t feel it fit.  This is part of the empowerment of self-publishing.  I’m not writing to suit one individual’s tastes (read: the agent).  I’m writing for myself.  I will frame my books and pace my stories the way I deem best.  I will succeed or fail based on my own decisions, not those of someone who’s looking for “the next big thing”, so long as it fits their particular mold.

The number of agents who refuse to read prologues is so prevalent, it makes me curious if this is merely a *professional* opinion, or if casual readers share the same outlook.  So, I ask you, my loyal reader(s?), what are your thoughts?  Do you groan when you seen a prologue, skip it,  or plunge in, trusting the writer knows what they’re doing? (and yes, this question is in part, a cheap ploy to get *someone* to comment here). 🙂



3 thoughts on “Prologue or Antilogue?

  1. The short answer to your question is that they ask you to skip out the prologue because they want to bite into a story and judge a book based on that. It’s the story they care about, not the frills. And, let’s face it, prologues and epilogues are fluffy, melodramatic frills, more often than not.

    And let’s be honest here. If an agent or editor or reader tries chapter 1 (or the prologue, or chapter nine) and puts the book down, then either the book isn’t good, or the book isn’t good for them. With either scenario, you’re better off continuing the search.

    If a book is good, it shouldn’t matter where I open it. Quality shouldn’t hinge a few small paragraphs. I often hear beginning authors say, “No, no, keep reading. It gets better!”

    And I say, “That’s nice, but why must I wait for it to get better?”

  2. First off, congratulations to being the first one to respond to one of my posts (other than myself). I should have brought punch.

    Second, I agree with everything you say, but I’m not sure it disproves my point. Shouldn’t an agent want an author to submit the book the way they see fit? If the prologue isn’t good, the agent should judge it just as they would any other part of the book. Maybe most prologues and epilogues *are* fluffy, melodramatic frills, but that doesn’t make for good writing. It just seems as arbitrary to me as saying, “I tend to skip Chapter 3. After all, the main characters have been introduced, the set and setting described…how good could Chapter 3 possibly be?”

    BTW, I checked out thecanaryreview and became an instant fan. Great stuff!

    • Thanks! Glad you liked our feathery bastion!

      Well, I absolutely get what you’re saying. After all, if the author wants the prologue, why shouldn’t the agent give him all that rope to hang himself with? Why demand chapter 1?

      I think the reasoning is that most agents realize that prologues are usually not representative of story, style, or the writing.

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