The Pros and Cons of Prologues

Prologues.

Love ’em or leave ’em?

There are those who are adamantly against the use of prologues, those who like them, and those who don’t really care either way. Which are you?

I tend to take prologues on a case-by-case basis.

When I read a published book in which a prologue works, I watch and learn.

However, I’ve read a number of contest entries that began with a prologue that’s unnecessary. I suggested those writers weave in snippets of backstory instead, doing so only when the information was essential for a reader’s understanding.

One of the classics in the inspirational historical romance genre is Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love. The story begins with a prologue. And what a prologue. It’s 34 pages! But then again, the book is 464 pages long.

The prologue in Redeeming Love takes place 15 years before the main story begins and gives the reader a picture of the main character’s life before it was radically changed.

If you’ve read Redeeming Love, what do you think of the prologue? Do you feel it is essential to the story? Do you think it was the right length or too long? If you’d been Rivers’ editor, what would you have told her?

I remember reading that prologue and wondering why I was in the POV of a young girl and why I needed the information. I was tempted to stop reading, but I’d heard such rave reviews of the book that I ignored my doubts, trusting that the reason for the prologue would become clear, which it did.

My experience with Redeeming Love makes me wonder about the value of a prologue and whether or not using one in my stories would be a good idea. The danger, as I see it based on this book, is that if the prologue doesn’t enable the reader to get to know and care about the characters, the reader could set the story aside before it’s even begun.

I’ve not come to any definitive answers. As I said above, I tend to take prologues on a case-by-case basis, and that would apply to my stories as well as those written by others. What I’d like to know is what you think about prologues. Care to share?

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About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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12 Responses to The Pros and Cons of Prologues

  1. I think Redeeming Love’s prologue is essential. I don’t mind prologues, but they have to follow the same rule that I expect Chapter One to follow: It better hook me and make me want to move to the next page. My TBR pile is rather large.

  2. I’m a case-by-case type person too, for prologues. I’ve seen some that I think were a waste of my precious reading time, and others that just made the whole story shine.

    Never read that one, but it does seem like a very long prologue.

    Happy Mother’s Day, Keli!

  3. I’m pretty leery of books with prologues, but seeing one doesn’t make me throw the book out without giving it a try. There are some that work well, but they seem to be the exception.

  4. I usually don’t read prologues. I used to read them. Time is precious. I’ve never read a book and thought at the end of it that I wished I’d read the prologue, but I’ve read a few prologues that almost caused me not to read the book.

    I agree with you, Keli. I won’t say there should never be a prologue, but I may never read a good one, since I’ve formed the habit of skipping them. I could be missing something really worthwhile from time to time. Blessings to you…

  5. Beth Vogt says:

    I’m leery of prologues too. Usually a prologue can be cut or changed in such a way that it becomes chapter 1.
    But, I’ve also seen prologues that work. So, like you, I take prologues on a case-by-case basis.
    And, while we’re talking prologues, I prefer shorter ones to longer ones. That may be the journalist in me, though. I prefer writing tight in just about every instance!

  6. Laura Frantz says:

    Keli, I’m like you and don’t think they’re always necessary. I’ve only written one for CML and recently wrote an epilogue for TCL. I did the latter to make sure the reader knew my hero was truly redeemed years later. Of the two I’ve written, I like the epi best as it has a happy ending.

    Last month I bought my first copy of Redeeming Love and am anxious to reread it as it’s been many years and I don’t know what happened to that first copy. Bless you for your beautiful blog! Love your big desk below! You are glowing:)

  7. I definitely think it depends on the book, and if the prologue would be beneficial or necessary to the story. I’ve never written a prologue for any of my manuscripts (so far!) but might find it’s needed in a story later on. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Keli – – and Happy Mother’s Day! 🙂

  8. Cindy R. Wilson says:

    I haven’t read Redeeming Love, so I can’t weigh in on that one, but I tend to stay away from prologues. Every single time I’ve used them in my own writing, I’ve discovered I didn’t need them, so I stopped using them. But there are times when I’ve enjoyed a prologue and found it used effectively, I’d just say most of the time they aren’t necessary.

  9. Keli Gwyn says:

    Thanks for all the comments. Sounds like many of you share my opinion about prologues. If a story includes one, it had better be well-written and necessary.

    If I think about my life story, the advice about prologues makes sense. You’d be sooo bored if I began with a prologue that included a boatload of backstory. My challenge would be to figure out where my life took an interesting turn and start there. Hmm. Wonder where that would be. I’ll have to think about that. Where would it be for you?

  10. Lori Benton says:

    I have a very short, one page prologue in one of my novels, but only because I have a reason for its being there. I’ve never included one since. Whether it proves to be necessary in the end, time will tell. 🙂 Most books I read don’t have them, but I figure if they’ve made it past all the edits to be published with a prologue, there’s likely a reason, so I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt and read it.

    Could Redeeming Love’s prologue be given in flashbacks through the main story, as Michael gets to know Angel, instead of all together in the beginning? Maybe. But I’m not sure I’d have felt sympathy for Angel if I met her at 18 instead of as an innocent child, or felt the same depth of tension and expectation that Michael would be a catalyst of change in her life, or grasped the complexities of Angel’s carefully hidden soul, evident even in those first scenes after the prologue.

    And that last line of the prologue is powerful, even devastating, because of the weight of all that came before it. The whole section has the feel of an avalanche, slowly gaining mass and speed until it is unstoppable.

  11. Susan Mason says:

    You had the same reaction as I did with “Redeeming Love”! So many people had raved about it, I thought I’d better persevere through the Prologue. Glad I did! But I think the prologue could have been a bit shorter. If I had just picked up the book, I probably wouldn’t have continued.

    On the other hand, I just finished a book by Jayne Anne Krentz, who writes romance entwined with a mystery/murder type of suspense. The prologue was only 4 pages long – just the right amount of background info to start the story.

    So yeah, I think it depends on the story and the author!

  12. Diana Stevan says:

    As I’m struggling whether to keep the prologue in my novel or not, I found your post on prologues very interesting. Still don’t know what I’ll do in the end, but your thoughts and the comments that followed are worth considering.

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