Monday, May 31, 2010

Are Prologues Permissible?

I’ve read prologues are passé. Big name authors can write one, but us lesser mortals are warned. Repeatedly. I know first-hand a prologue is a detractor in contest submissions.
In Breaking into Fiction,Mary Buckham and Dianna Love define a Prologue as “an inciting incident that occurs a significant amount of time before you shift to the protagonist’s Everyday World in the first chapter. The prologue is considered your story opening and should not be used as an information dump to get your character’s Back Story started.”
Recently I read two prologues that completely confused me. Both puzzle pieces of information made sense only after Chapter 4. My ah-ha’s! arrived with a side of irritation.
They honored the definition. (Now that I think about it, one was more of a backstory dump.)
My prologue attempt was definitely character explanation. I thought of it like the scenes during the opening credits in the average independent film.
Now I’m in rebound. I wrestle too long with my opening line, my opening paragraph. In my next WIP, I hope I’ll relax and write, then follow the common wisdom to write, and then delete paragraphs (and pages) until I find where my story should start.


  1. I'm confused - what's the difference between an 'inciting incident' which happens some time before the story starts, and a backstory?

  2. They define Back Story as "Information on a character that gives the reader insights and motivation for why this particular character acts or reacts as they do, based on a past event or events. Back Story is meant to be filtered into your story in small doses or used as twists to the plot line."

    Inciting Incident: "A catalyst that puts the story into motion."

  3. But if a prologue puts the story into motion, how come it occurred a 'significant amount of time' before the story starts?
    Doesn't make any sense to me LOL.

  4. I've been thinking about this alot.
    A prologue could be an event that happened during a H/H's childhood that sets up the story where chapter 1 begins 20 years later. If the event happens in the now story time, it wouldn't technically be a prologue. It would be chapter 1.

  5. But an event in childhood is still backstory!
    I'm lost now - I simply don't understand the difference between an 'event' and backstory dump!
    For example, in my WIP, I could have a prologue all about the way the heroine's father abandoned his family when she was nine. It's caused her significant issues in her attitude to men. Should I have made that into a prologue then?
    See what I mean? I'm confused!

  6. Hi,

    Oooh contentious post is Prologues and debating their worth in novels.

    I used a prologue in a Romantic Thriller because there's a traumatic incident (see latest prologue posting) witnessed by the heroine, yet her story kicks in nine months down the line (chap 1)when unpleasant things begin to happen and her life and that of her children are at risk due to her husband's secret/covert past . . .

    There is backstory too, but in dribs and drabs.


  7. Francine,
    Can you do a better job than me on explaining the pro and con of a prologue?