Thursday, 6 January 2011

To Prologue or not to Prologue?

Am I the only person who skips prologues in novels? I’ve never really understood what they were for. There’s usually nothing in them that’s essential to understanding the plot, and I just want to get on to the real beginning of the story.

Recently, though, I’ve been experimenting with adding a prologue to the novel I’m working on. There’s quite a bit of moving around between different time periods in this novel (though it isn’t time travel or time slip) and the prologue establishes characters that aren’t part of the main, contemporary, narrative. It also (I hope) creates a greater sense of drama and mystery than the first chapter, which is when the story begins for the main characters. But it still would be possible to follow the story without reading the prologue. I don’t know, I might end up taking it out again.

Among today’s birthdays - King Richard II, born 1367, and Gustave Doré, born 1832. Yes, Doré was French, but he’s relevant because of his illustrations for London: A Pilgrimage, 1872. This is ‘Over London by Rail’. Search Google Images to see more.


  1. I am totally the opposite. I always read prologues and would never think of skipping them. There's always something in there that, if it doesn't add knowledge that's necessary to understand the story, puts you into the right state of mind for the story that follows.

    Assuming here we're talking about prologues in fiction, and not in non-fiction. I love those too as you learn a lot about the author and the story in them but that's another post entirely I guess!

  2. I suppose I must just be impatient! I suppose putting the reader in the right mood for the story is what I'm trying to achieve in my prologue. That's a helpful way of thinking about it.

    I was talking about fiction. I'm very cautious now about reading introductory material in non-fiction. Some years ago I bought the diary of Thomas Turner, an 18th century Sussex shopkeeper. The introduction, by the editor, gave away all the major events in Thomas Turner's life, completely ruining any suspense there might have been in the diary!

    (Most online sources for Thomas Turner also give away the story, which is why I haven't included any link here.)

  3. I love a good prologue, one that raises questions, makes you want to read on. I usually end up putting one in my novels even if i have intentionally left it out to begin with :)