Prologue Problems

A Friday Free-for-All [in which our heroine obsesses about writerly things]

I’ve been reading literary agent Mary Kole’s blog, Right now she’s doing a series of critiques on story beginnings and her first critique post caught me by surprise. The author wrote one word: Preface, and Kole stopped immediately to comment “Ah, our first problem! Just kidding. Sort of. I think, in a lot of instances, a preface or a prologue is a crutch. It’s the author’s way of showing the reader something gripping in the hopes that the reader will then read through some less exciting backstory…” To me, this is very bad news. I love prologues, and I especially love writing them.

A brief history of my prologues:

House Red: The prologue is a total crutch, but c’mon, it’s my first novel. In this case, Mary Kole is right.

Savage Autumn: The prologue is not so much a crutch per se…but I’ll admit Chapter One starts off more slowly than what is currently popular in contemporary fantasy YA fiction. The prologue’s there because someone had to die before the story begins, so the reader can believe the antagonist is capable of killing.

The Black City: Brand new prologue, I fell in love with it immediately (which is a sure sign that something is very wrong). Buoyed by my success with the prologue, I started the first chapter. And it’s terrible. It’s really, absolutely terrible. It starts off slowly, with too much explanation and even more backstory, as well as very dull description of the world. So in this case, my prologue didn’t start off as a crutch, but I used that beginning as an excuse to let everything fall to poo-ness.

Granted, this is my very first draft for The Black City, and there will be plenty of time to fix those issues later on. Thank heavens.

Prologues aren’t always terrible, right? I mean, I’ve read plenty of  novels where they work beautifully. I find them all the time in my favorite mysteries and contemporary fantasies. A couple of fantasy examples I can come up with off the top of my head are: Fallen by Lauren Kate, Frostbitten, and Stolen, both by Kelley Armstrong. Hmm, looking at this short list, I realize that in order for a prologue to be successful, the novel’s title must end in “en.”

That’s easily remedied. Savage Autumnen. The Black Cityen.

All better!

Seriously, though, I will go back to my Chapter Ones and pretend the prologues don’t exist. Tighten up the chapters, bring in tension and whatever else is needed. Fireworks. Amorous alligators. Really angry toddlers with kicky feet.


  1. Sevennblue · March 26, 2010

    That is hilarious! Maybe I should change mine to The Innocentsen and add a prologue! Ha!

    I actually think the Prologue for Savage Autumn is so well done. I think it’s when they are weird prologues that the beginning of the story doesn’t sound at all like the prologue. That always confuses me. I think that’s what Mary Kole may be referring to without specifics…

    How about you call the Prologue “The Dead Girl” and call it a day! Let’s stop calling Prologues prologues! Yay! A good fix!

    • bethhull · March 26, 2010

      I like your idea for not calling the prologue a prologue. Sneaky. 🙂 But I also like the idea you sent via email, for the beginning of the novel. I might try that–what’s it going to hurt?

  2. Rachel · March 27, 2010

    I don’t think prologues are necessarily a problem, and I liked the prologue for Savage Autumn. The reality is, with so many books out there (and such short attention spans) these days, a catchy and action packed prologue is a perfectly legitimate way to suck your reader in.

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