Prologues: Yea or Nay

**Jackie does happy dance**

Want to know what I got in the mail today? Was it…

A) A check for an advance for the German edition of HOTTER THAN HELL

B) The latest issue of RT Magazine, with a lot of reviews of my friends’ books

C) GHOST STORY by Jim Butcher

D) All of the above

If you picked D, give yourself a Tim Tam, because yes, you are correct!!! Now I have a little more money to buy a whole bunch of books listed in RT mag…and to buy some chocolate while I read GHOST STORY!!! **is giddy** Man, I do love me that Harry Dresden!

Yesterday, Dame Devon opened up the floor to questions from our readers. Derid asked the following:

“My question is about prologues, first chapters, and querying. I am probably about 6 months or so away from being ” finished” with my WIP (which may seem like a long time to many, but for me not so much) and starting to think about the query letter and the first two chapters that I have heard are occasionally requested to arrive with it, or requested by an agent should I be lucky enough to get a favorable response.

After paying attention to the first chapters of the first books in many series, I think I have at least something of an idea of what agents and editors are probably looking for. But what I cannot figure out for certain, is whether or not the prologue should be counted as the first chapter or if agents and editors look at it as something different.

So, should I send the prologue if requested and/or first two chapters are asked for in the submission guidelines? Or should I try harder to provide the context and setting details found in the prologue in the first two “proper” chapters?”

Thanks for the question, Derid! And a huge congrats on being so close with your WIP! That’s fabulous news. **glances at my WIP and cries**

I’ve found that prologues tend to be little more than a hint for the readers. More often than not, they’re a “but wait, there’s more!” hint, one that lets the reader know that even if things seem slow or normal at the beginning of the book, STICK WITH IT because the OMGWEIRD payoff will be there. Often, you’ll see this via a prologue that foreshadows some future event for the main character — the prologue is more of a future vignette than anything else. Let’s call it the Back To The Future prologue. I did this in THE ROAD TO HELL: the prologue was a one-page tease of the protagonist dying. (And no, that’s not a spoiler; it happens halfway through the book and is pretty much said on the back cover copy too.)

Other times, the prologue gives the readers a sense of the Big Picture — say, the prologue to A GAME OF THRONES, which was the only thing in the book until the very end that truly showed anything relatively magical or supernatural.

And then there’s the Previously On Hill Street Blues prologue, which shows events that happened before the start of the book but that are relevant to the actual book. AGAT fits this neatly, as does the prologue of my book RAGE, which took place months before the actual story, which occurred over four days. (And there was an epilogue to balance the prologue.)

Now…are prologues necessary? That’s a whole other ball of wax. (Ew.) Some people adamantly say that if a prologue was so darn important, why isn’t it called “Chapter 1”? Others swear by prologues. Some readers claim they never read prologues. **shrug** You can’t please everyone.

Frankly, I think that if you’re sending your material to an agent, you have to send your strongest work. You have to send the pages that make the agent hungry to read more of your book.

And those pages have to be the very beginning of your book…and stretch the entire way until you get to The End.

So what I’m saying is that if you’ve chosen to include a prologue, and you truly feel that it’s vital for the prologue to be part of your book, then send it. Start the page count at Page 1, and send. And good luck to you!

Now, if you’re not convinced that your prologue is strong…then why do you have a prologue at all? :)


  1. says

    I’m glad someone asked this question, because I’ve heard a LOT of agents say they don’t like or don’t want prologues, yet a bunch of published books have them, so obviously they’re necessary to certain stories.

    As a reader, I like a good prologue that either does some great foreshadowing (like the one in WICKED LOVELY) or the one in A GAME OF THRONES (great example, btw!) which hints at the magical threat and makes Jon Snow’s time on the wall seem even more precarious.

  2. says

    I read the prologue always. It’s part of the book whatever it’s called. GHOST is at the tippy-top of the Recorded Books wishlist and hope that I get it soon. James Marsters narrates….sigh…James Marsters….

  3. Derid says

    Thanks so much for proving such an excellent answer. The prologue question was especially thorny in my case, because in addition to providing “Big Picture” and “Previously On”, it also assists in relaying the general context of the story in regard to the type of world it takes place in. The context issue is probably the thorniest one for me to tackle, since I write fantasy and have created a world that does not utilize many established fantasy tropes.

    Getting a reader up to speed on a unique world without committing the “sin” of info-dump can be quite the challenge.

    Thanks again for the answer, and beware of opening the floor to random questions again: I already have a new one queued up and ready to go =)

  4. says

    I love prologues, mostly, and I see them all the time. That said, it’s important to start a story where the real action begins, and unless the prologue action happens in a geaographically or temporally distant location compared to the start of the main action, I prefer to just start at Chapter 1.