The Puzzling Prologue Problem
(originally posted on ryanlanz.com)
Go ahead, Google something along the lines of prologues in novels. I’ll wait.
Done? If so, you’ll have found links like 7 Deadly Sins of Prologues, The Worst Ways to Begin Your Novel: Advice from Literary Agents, The Dreaded Prologue, Question: the oft-maligned prologue, and so on.
Read these four pages. Did you see the following?
“The problem with the prologue is it has kind of gotten a bad rap over the years, especially with agents. They generally hate them.” (Kristen Lamb, best-selling author and blogger)
“Most agents hate prologues. Just make the first chapter relevant and well written.” (Andrea Brown, literary agent)
“Fact: Prologues in fiction should be avoided.” (Carly Watters, literary agent)
“I am fully settled in the I Hate Prologues camp too. I go so far as to NOT read them in a manuscript.” (Janet Reid, literary agent)
Trust me, there’s more out there in the ether, but I chose these quotes for two reasons:
1. For the most part, they’re unequivocally against prologues. 2. If you’re a writer, the names attached to the quotes will likely be familiar.
So how dare I sit here at my writing table with the springtime sun shining in and write a blog post in favour of prologues? Easy question. I don’t dare. I’m not a literary agent, I’m not an editor, I’ve never worked in a business remotely close to publishing, and, well, I’m not a published author (yet). I have no writing classes under my belt, no workshops, no conferences aside from the super-irrelevant academic ones like The International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (which I pronounce ICK-FISS, or in IPA [ɪkfəs]). I hold tenaciously to the idea that everything I need to help me write can be learned from reading Stephen King and not fearing fragments.
In legal-speak, I have no standing. No standing at all.
But here I sit, after a quick comb-through of my own library and a few “Look Inside this Book!” adventures on Amazon, writing my thoughts on prologues.
On second thought, I’m not going to do that. I’ll simply take the A-List-Is-Worth-A-Thousand-Words approach and offer you seventeen books by seventeen different famous writers. And yes, each of these has—gasp!—the Dreaded Prologue.
A Prisoner of Birth (Jeffrey Archer) From the Dust Returned (Ray Bradbury) The Lost Symbol (Dan Brown) Body of Evidence (Patricia Cornwell) Jurassic Park (Michael Crichton) All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr)* The Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco) A Dangerous Fortune (Ken Follett) Hannibal Rising (Thomas Harris) Winter’s Tale (Mark Helprin) Fallen (Lauren Kate)** ‘Salem’s Lot (Stephen King) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Stieg Larsson) Twilight (Stephenie Meyer)*** The Informationist (Taylor Stevens) The Bonfire of the Vanities (Tom Wolfe) The Book Thief (Marcus Zuzak)**** Four authors title their first chapters as follows: ‘Zero’ * ‘In the Beginning’ ** ‘Preface’ *** ‘Death and Chocolate’ ****
Who was it who said “A rose by any other name…?” Someone named Bill, I think.
So. There you have it. I’m sure you’ve heard of a few of these titles and the men and women who wrote them. If they’re all strange to you, maybe you need to get out more. I mean that in a nice way.
As for me, I’m going back to writing. And yes, for the record, two of my books have prologues.
Guest post contributed by Christina Dalcher. Christina has a Ph.D. from Georgetown University in Phonology and Phonetics.