Prologues: Thumbs Up or Down?

I just began another workshop with authors Jonathan Maberry and Marie Lamba. This one is called Write Your YA Novel in Nine Months. Its focus is to get at least a first draft completed in nine months, as well as gathering and polishing marketing material we will need to sell the book once it is complete. We will also discuss craft as it specifically pertains to YA and Middle Grade.

Our group is a lively one, and we got into an online discussion about Prologues. While I had been under the impression that agents and publishers did not look favorably on them, others pointed to a plethora of prologues in current books.

We also discussed whether or not readers actually read prologues. I always do. Another person in the group admitted to never reading them. I have found this split among my friends, too. It seems to be a stark black-and-white policy—no one “sometimes” reads prologue. It’s all or nothing.

So today I open the floor to those of you who have been around the publishing block a few times, as well as the readers among us:

Thumbs up or down on prologues? Why?


  1. Nancy Keim Comley says

    I always read the prologue! Then again, I’m the sort of person that also reads the index. I probably need help. . .

  2. I don’t use them. I did but learned to incorporate the material into the body of the novel or else label prologue as Chapter one. I believe it’s more accomodating to agents and publishers.

  3. neptune1021 says

    I’m going to surprise you and tell you that I am a middle of the roader. Sometimes a prologue will have a deliciously chilling scene, and it will prep me nicely for the rest of the book. It has to be well written. I have seen prologues cluttered with backstore and exposition, and that was a turnoff.
    Sooooo….if it’s done right, I say, thumbs up on the prologue.

  4. I don’t read and write in the same genre so I have a mixed answer. I rarely see prologues in my writing genre (MG). (Do they not have them, or are they so well done, I don’t notice them?) I had one in my novel but have just removed it and I’m liking it much better.

    On the other hand, I love to read romance, and I always read the prologues just to find out later it is was nothing more than a snippet from the book and something I would not have missed had I skipped it. I wonder if prologue rules change from genre to genre.

    Still… to answer the question, I read ’em if I see ’em.


  5. The short answer is, I write one if the narrative structure of the book requires it. And I don’t if it doesn’t. I have heard readers who flat out squawk they will not read a book that has a prologue, which strikes me as an odd prejudice. I just finished Tim Powers’ On Stranger Tides (5% of which will end up in the new Pirates of the Carib film): Prologue. Necessary. Deal with it.

    From the writer’s point of view, however, the main thing I think you have to understand about a prologue is that, if you have one, you effectively must start your novel twice. And both openings–prologue and first chapter–must be very good.

  6. Thanks for the comments! I think, as many of you pointed out, genre does have a lot to do with whether a prologue is “right” or not. It works better in some than in others. And Greg is right – we should write to the need of the story, regardless of genre.

    Thanks for the insights!

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