Ask Daphne! About That Prologue…

October 14th, 2010 • Kate

finalflourishanthropologieI could get addicted to this NaMaReMo thing. I feel so accomplished! In the spirit of getting back to you as quickly as possible, let’s dive into the mailbox, shall we? From Dan:

For the “first three pages” that we are to include with our query letters, do we consider the prologue? In the case of my novel, the “prologue” is part of the narrative, separated from the main storyline by time (in the tradition of Joan D. Vinge’s “The Snow Queen”). The protagonist is a writer, similar to William Goldman’s Mr. S. Morgenstern from “The Princess Bride,” so the opening of this book is styled as the “prologue.” Do you, as an agent, want the first three pages to come out of the “prologue,” or from chapter one of the main timeline?

In all honesty, I want the first three pages to be a valid and true reflection of the voice and tone of the bulk of the manuscript. Is that likely going to be a prologue set in a completely different time as the rest of the novel? Probably not.

That said, I can think of a recent manuscript I signed which did include a prologue that provided backstory to the novel, and put the reader in the head of a different character than the rest of the novel.

So yes, there are exceptions.

But I don’t make these grand pronouncements about what you MUST do in order to make things difficult for you. I’m trying to get a good sense of your novel in a quick email, likely one of dozens I receive every day. Trust me, I want to love your book. Help me do so by letting me connect right away with the main character.

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3 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About That Prologue…”

  1. Julie Weathers Says:

    I loved my prologue and it was the inciting incident in the MC's life, but it happened to someone else. Barbara Rogan finally convinced me to get rid of it. I found a way to work it in later and I like it much better.

    I love G.R.R. Martin's prologues, but many people don't even read them.

  2. Kater Says:

    Maybe a better question to the "should I include the prologue or not" is "should I have a prologue at all?"

    As a reader, I almost never read prologues. Very often, they are about someone completely different, in a different (ie. less readable) voice, and even if/when they have vital information, I forget that information by the time it comes up later. For example, the prologue will be about a time five years ago, when the main character had a different name, before she got amnesia. By the time it's revealed that the prologue character is the main character, I have entirely forgotten the prologue. My brain says "not main character" and puts the prologue into a forgettable short story bin.

    For me, prologues are like the short film at the beginning of Toy Story 3. I remember it was cute, but when I think of Toy Story 3, I think of the strawberry scented bear and the furnace pit and the escapades, not that little short film I barely remember. It was a completely different story, and once I got into the main story, it had information that didn't seem relevant, so I forgot it.

    If it's a high fantasy, and the prologue has poetic speech with "thees" and "thous", I ALWAYS skip it. I especially dislike when the prologue is some old person telling some young person about the hero who stole the nine jewels of blah blah to slay the demon of whatever.

    The feeling I got from critiquing manuscripts was that a writer often uses a prologue when he or she wants a giant chunk of exposition and doesn't know where else to stick it. I read so many of these on the Online Writing Workshop that I vowed to never do prologues.

    Except in the novel I'm working on now.

    I'm trying to get rid of it though.

  3. Mark R Hunter Says:

    I love prologues, always have — but from what I've been hearing, the publishing industry as a rule doesn't. That being the case, it's best for new writers to skip them altogether.