Raise your hand if you remember watching The X-files.
I watched the hell out of some X-files. The first scene of the show would always be the introduction to the story, really. I loved it every time. But if you missed that opening scene, did it matter?
No. Same story. Same timing of the story. The same process to let Scully and Mulder figure out the mystery or not. Another of my favorite shows, Breaking Bad, did something incredibly similar with their opening. Ironically, with a bunch of the same writing crew from the X-files. The opening shot would do something intriguing, but the story worked without it.
To me these were the equivalents to a prologue of a novel. They worked by themselves but added tone and context. It’s something you take with you into the story, an extra layer that is provided. You can take it out, because it works without it, but why would you do that?
Nowadays when I read a prologue, it’s usually the stronger beginning of the story, or an item missing from the story that the author couldn’t work in properly, or even worse, a summary to get the reader started. Sometimes, I see prologues because the beginning of the novel is slow, and the author or whomever wants more gripping content up front. Basically the opening of the book is boring and they’re trying to cover it up.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly fine with an introductory scene, but why not attach it to the ensuing sequence of events to get the novel going?
Because of how prologues are done these days, when I see the word prologue I just flip on by it. With that being said, off the top of my head, I can’t think of a prologue to a novel I like. I’m sure I’ve read one or heard of one, but it’s not coming to me.
Here is my suggestion: be compelling, not necessarily exciting. Action doesn’t always mean movement. I understand the pressure to try and compete with television and movies and YouTube and social media, but the best way to do that is with good writing, not finding shortcuts like a prologue to get the reader into the story faster. It’s high time to realize identifying with the reader will win the day, if the writing is authentic, timely, and has purposeful style. To say it differently, the idea is to engage the reader on multiple levels rather than to pacify on only one.
So here’s the thing. If you like a nice prologue go ahead and let me know. I’ll tell you why you have issues. Just kidding, but seriously, point me to good prologues. I want to see what they look like.
And don’t even get me started on an epilogue.