Thursday, January 20, 2011

PRO-logue or ANTI-logue

When I finished writing my book, The Christmas Village, it didn't have a prologue. I put together my query and sent that off with the first chapter(or whatever an agent specified) to about 10 agents. Within a day, I had gotten four "no thank you's." I immediately wondered if my query was falling short - I mean, how can we ever capture all the fabulousness of our book in a paragraph or two? And, I wondered if the opening chapter didn't give enough of an indication of all the fabulousness that lay ahead....

Not long after, I flew to Montreal, and on the flight I began reading The Shadow King, a young adult novel. It has a prologue, a scary scene that lets you know that some fun hair-raising stuff lies ahead. I liked this prologue very much and said to myself, "This is exactly what my book needs!" I was very excited! For my next round of queries, I would have this terrific prologue that would grab the agents' interest and give them a preview of excitement to come. So, I took a scary and suspenseful dream scene from chapter nine and moved it to the front of the book, creating, TA DA, a Prologue.

A few weeks later, two agents asked to read the full manuscript of the story. Mind you, these two had gotten the original query - the one WITHOUT the prologue. But now that I was submitting the full manuscript, it had my wonderful prologue in it, and so that's what they got.

Now in the sooner had I created my prologue, than I read an article in Writer's Digest that said that agents and editors hate prologues! I won't go into all the reasons why, but suffice it to say, they apparently do. Then I went to a workshop at which I had signed up for a first chapter review, and the reviewer asked, "Why did you add this prologue? I thought your first chapter was great." Big. Fat. Sigh.

Back to the two agents reading the manuscript. Both eventually offered representation. Yay! I chose my agent, Kate Epstein, with whom I had worked through some revisions that definitely enhanced the book. So far, neither Kate or the other agent had mentioned anything about the prologue being a problem, so I was feeling quite pleased with myself for having added it.

Once we had a contract, Kate began the process of line editing the book. When I got her proposed edits, the first thing she said was, "I think we should get rid of the prologue. Editors really don't like them, and I think it gives the impression that the mood of the book is scarier than it really is."

I scanned through the rest of her comments and got to chapter nine, which is where the dream scene in the prologue had originally been. Here she had written, "Hey, this would be a great place for that dream scene that you have in the prologue!" I burst out laughing.

Now just because your agent suggests a change, that doesn't mean you HAVE to do it. But I had originally created the prologue mainly to grab agents' interest, because the prologue to The Shadow King seemed to work, and because I have always liked prologues - they are like a preview of coming attractions. But I do agree that my prologue implies a mood that is darker than the overall mood of the book. And,I think the first chapter really does stand on its own. AND,I don't want to annoy the nice editor at the publishing house that is going to publish my book (whoever he or she may be). I am saying goodbye to my dear prologue. :-(

So, the moral of the story, Dear Writers, is: When it comes to prologues, Proceed with Caution. I have absolutely no clue whether prologues are a good idea or not. I happen to like them. I think readers like them. I think they work especially well in children's books. But if agents and editors hate them, then we may as well not go out of our way to annoy them.


  1. I can't remember which books I encountered prologues in, but I remember liking them as a child! They kept me hooked. Now that I think of it I think Madeline L'Engle used them in a couple of her books. Figuring out what editors want these days is crazy!

  2. I know! Thanks for the comment - nice to know I'm not crazy regarding prologues. I think maybe it's more of a problem with non-fiction books, with authors putting a bunch of background stuff in up front. But I can't remember a novel where I didn't love the "tease" of the prologue. I think a lot of mystery writers use them effectively too. Oh well!

  3. This is really interesting - I have a friend who is wrestling with this very problem, so I will pass this along to her.

    BTW, your blog is now listed on mine as well!

  4. Thanks Moira, I will soon post about how I found my agent and how I chose my agent, in case your writer friends are interested. Thanks for adding my blog.


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