For today’s Writing Wednesday (another clever stupid alliteration), I wanted to talk about prologues.

Now, I could write up an exhaustive list of agents and editors who have recommended writers stay away from prologues. And I could give you a ton of links to interviews with agents, explicitly warning writers against them (like here and here and here and here).

But the problem is, you, as a writer, may not even realize you HAVE a prologue. You might read that advice and think, “Ha! I’m smarter than those writers. I certainly don’t have a prologue. My book starts right where it’s supposed to start – with Chapter One.”

I know this because I was one of those writers. My first chapter was clearly labeled CHAPTER ONE. And you know what?

It was a prologue.

I just didn’t realize it was a prologue.

So, how can you tell if your chapter one is a prologue? Well, try asking yourself these questions:

  1. Does your first chapter take place more than one week before chapter two?
  2. Does your first chapter introduce information about the world or characters that the reader needs to know first or else they won’t understand the rest?
  3. Is your first chapter a flashback, or a flash-forward?
  4. Have you ever gotten a rejection from an agent and thought, “Man, if they’d only read all the way to chapter four… that’s when things really get good!!”

If you answered YES to one or more of these questions… your Chapter One may in fact be a PROLOGUE.

I wrote earlier this week about rewrites, and in my (many) manuscript rewrites, I kept cutting out more and more of the beginning. I kept starting the book further and further ahead in time, and then sprinkling in background information as needed. And while I am certainly not the last word in good writing (in fact, what’s the opposite of that? Is it possible to be the first word in good writing?), I must say, it worked for me. Every time I cut stuff from the beginning and started further ahead in the story, the manuscript got better. Instead of saying to critique partners, “But just wait until chapter seven!” I was saying… well, nothing. Because my CPs were no longer telling me that the beginning was too slow.

Are there exceptions to this post? Sure. Are you one of the exceptions? Well, only you know the answer to that. All I’m saying is: if your Chapter One feels a little prologue-y… you might want to give it some thought.

xo Elizabeth