Go ahead, use a prologue

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After more months and years than I expected, the editor-ready draft of my novel made its way off my desk. It’s been a fun three days working to craft a synopsis, and there’s certain to be more time spent. In this edition that a pro is working over, the book has a prologue.

Yeah, about that. The stock advice for years has been to skip the prologue, because readers will. But editor Dave King has a different opinion. Some prologues just don’t bear the burden of being called by that name. The first chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is essentially a mislabeled prologue.

You can mess up with a prologue. If your prologue focuses on events in the distant past, or on characters other than the protagonist, a prologue tends to diminish narrative voice and character appeal. That’s what Donald Maass, agent and editor, says in reply to King.

King says they’re handy, and I agree. Especially if the prologue is a separate, free-floating, storytelling bubble to show readers “some critical information or character background that you can’t work into the main story. Most often, this involves one isolated scene that happened in the past.” Or it did for JK Rowling. Don’t dismiss them until you’ve tried one. Keep your mind open for comments from your line editor about yours, too.

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