Yesterday I finally decided my story needed a prologue. It’s called “Prologue: Eye of the World” and it really helps set the stage and pull the reader in. My first chapter begins in a region similar to Eastern Asian in culture. The secret warrior order I throw you into is not far removed from the Shaolin Monks of China. It could be a start that would turn some readers off. I had one reader tell me it was a little weird. I needed some impetus for the reader to progress beyond, what I believe, is a perfectly interesting and involving first chapter. However, I do realize it is not a standard environment for the opening of most books. It’s a bit “spiritual” and “transcendent” in nature. It has that Eastern feel.
So I journey back in time to a moment that would set the stage for the rest of my series. I journey back one thousand years to the last moments of an enormously important time in the history of my world. In my prologue I give massive foreshadowing and, hopefully, the reader more to draw from as they turn to the first chapter. I believe the prologue I wrote could be a masterstroke. Based on what I’ve read of prologues, they are either a masterstroke or ruin the beginning.
If you do not have a prologue, chapter one is perhaps the most essential part of your book (the climax challenges for first, but what good is a climax if the reader can’t make it past chapter one?). It will decided whether the reader will go on or not. If you have a prologue, it becomes more important than even chapter one. Based on my reading on the net, I’ve found that prologues get hard reviews. Editors and professional writers are extremely skeptical of using them. And rightly so. It can be the trademark of a young and/or inexperienced writer. Often, your prologue should simply be labeled chapter one, if you get my drift. Unless, of course, you are going back in time, to the future, or are dealing with a totally different POV (point of view) and/or character than your main character. However, if the tone of your prologue differs greatly from the rest of your book, it will fail.
Also, never use a prologue to give a backdrop for your main character. This will bore your readers beyond belief. They want to experience and learn about the character as the story moves along. If you are not growing and expanding your character in your readers mind as the story moves, they will become disinterested. “Show” don’t “tell” your reader about your character.
All in all, prologues are generally not a good idea. Start with chapter one. A good beginning can be as simple as starting with the beginning. That is what I did until I realized there seemed to be a need for a prologue and some foreshadowing early on. In defense of prologues, I would like to say when done right, they can be powerful tools. Most of the prologues I have read in published books have benefited the story.