To Prologue or Not to Prologue?
That is one of the most confusing questions facing any new author. Should you use a prologue or jump right in to Chapter one? A prologue is defined as:
A separate introductory section of a literary or musical work.
There are multitudes of websites warning writers not to use them unless you really know what you’re doing. It’s like handing a five year old a newly sharpened samurai sword and saying, “Don’t play with it honey, you’ll cut yourself.”
Below is one of the many websites explaining exactly why some agents aren’t fans of the prologue and what you need to know to write a great one.
Writer’s Digest says this about prologues: “Almost every agent agrees that poorly executed prologues are the quickest route back to slushville. Prologues reflexively cause agents to skip to Chapter 1 without a look back. Most have backstory that is too often “told” instead of “shown.””
When I first began writing – headstrong and just foolish enough to think that I could succeed in anything– I wrote a brilliantly crafted, lengthy prologue to The Unraveling of Kirin Lane that made Gone with the Wind look like a paragraph. I wanted my fabulous reader to know everything that I knew about these interesting characters – the whole backstory – in the hopes that they too would fall in love with them. I worked and snipped and cut at it until it felt like a giant paper snowflake and finally realized that my clever readers didn’t need all of that information. I ended up tossing it, rather forcefully into the trash, but without giving up on the idea of a prologue – because, well…I’m a rebel when it comes right down to it.
Prologues aren’t meant to be a wordy information dump. In my opinion they are meant to add an element of suspense or put doubt into the reader’s mind or even spin the story in a different direction by using a different POV or by layering the plot for a later reveal. My advice; use the samurai sword if you must, but only after you’ve learned how to wield it.
I promised to start posting parts of my first novel, The Unraveling of Kirin Lane, so take a look at the prologue. Be sure to leave comments, I’d love to hear them!
Until next time,
Prologue to The Unraveling of Kirin Lane
Trudging slowly down the dimly lit back hallway of the Italian restaurant as if I have a car tied to my leg, my only focus is calming my nerves and controlling my erratic breathing. The only noise rattling in my head is the slow, rhythmic thud of my faded boots on the red carpet and the mantra repeating in my head; what the hell am I doing? And why am I risking my life for a girl who doesn’t even know I exist?
I stop just short of the large red door where all of the operatives are gathered. Angry muffled voices waft through the cracks in the old door and above all of them, his booming voice rings out and makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Closing my eyes and running my fingers through my hair, I breathe in the smell of oregano that permeates the walls. Sonny, my mentor, is dead. This means they will come after her and just as I promised him, I will have to protect her. Get it together, boy, I tell myself. If I don’t play this just the right way, he’ll figure out my game and kill me, torture her and the mission to end his reign of crime will be lost. He knows me too well; all my life it seems, and although I’m very capable of gently coercing any female to believe my every word, I never could convincingly lie to him. Nervously, I interlace my fingers and hear the faint popping of my knuckles. Protecting her isn’t going to erase all the bad things you’ve done, you know? My subconscious sneers. Why do I feel the need to protect a total stranger?
Here goes… Turning the golden door knob, I shook my head, took in a long shaky breath, and opened the door…