Pro-logue or Against -logue

This week, I entered Wycaan Master/At the Walls of Galbrieth, the first of my Alliance series, into the San Francisco Writer’s Conference Indie Awards. In three weeks, I will submit it to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.

Both competitions require the first 5,000 words of the novel and abruptly I find myself needing to make a critical decision. I have written a prologue, a short but hopefully eloquent setting of the scene.

Prologues are not always acceptable. When I presented the prologue to my writer’s group, the jury was out and, though I was not hung, neither was I acquitted.

It seems that prologues are more acceptable in the fantasy genre than others. Critiques have suggested that a prologue is there to mask a slow beginning or a lack of a hook.

One ring to bind them all… opened the master and we were duly bound for three long volumes, cartoon series, and epic movies. Now the epic fantasy world waits with bated breath for The Hobbit movie, even though we all know what happens.

Since my novel is directed at the YA audience I made sure to begin the novel at a fast pace. I can imagine many teens skimming the prologue, though I hope they will value it in later years when they ritually return to the series as I, and many of you, return to read LOTR every few years.

So, a couple of weeks before decision time, I wish to ask:

How do you feel about a prologue for an epic fantasy novel? Does the reader want it, the agent accept it and the publisher allow it?

Your comments and advice are gratefully received. Wishing you all a happy and healthy new year.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first will enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in January 2012. More on Alon Shalev at on Twitter (@elfwriter).

9 comments on “Pro-logue or Against -logue

  1. Eric Storch says:

    Although I enjoy writing fantasy, I have yet to finish anything and certainly have no clue as to the inner thoughts of the publishing industry regarding prologues. I can only give my thoughts as a reader of fantasy fiction.

    For me, prologues are hit or miss. Sometimes they add sometimes they are just … there. A prologue that worked for me was the from Eye of the World (first book of the Wheel of Time). That scene described before the first chapter kept me wondering and thinking about the entire story. Was it a hook? Sure. Was it effective? It was for me.

    If you think your prologue works and adds to your story, leave it. Don’t deny your readers something awesome.

  2. Brian Fisher says:

    Prolouges aren’t always required, but if they add to the story I don’t see a problem with them. If this is the first novel in a series, then it might be more appropriate, but at the same time your world building and character developement should take care of anything that would be in the prolouge. I view prolouges as a short first chapter anyway, so I would have to advise against them.

    • elveswriter says:

      Thank you, Brian. I was thinking of a prologue that provides a background without being tied to the timeline of the first chapter. Does that change your opinion?
      Appreciate your feedback.

      • Brian Fisher says:

        Alon, I’ve read good prologues, and a few bad ones, so like Eric says: “They’re hit or miss.” If your prologue works well for your story, then go for it. I can definetly see where a brief history could come in handy, espescially for epic Fantasy or epic SciFi. I suppose that if it really sets up the rest of the story, and helps to flesh out the world without being cumbersome, then it could be a good thing. I think that I’ll try a prologue in one of my upcoming novel projects and see how I like it…
        Appreciate the dialog.

  3. Rob Adams says:

    Hi Alon:

    Regarding prologues–I think it depends on the story you’re writing. Not very helpful, is it?

    All I can say is that there isn’t a thing I can see that’s mechanically or stylistically “wrong” with using a prologue, as long as it adheres to the same basic rules as every other scene of your book: boiled down to a single phrase, “Is it critical to the story?”

    I suppose a good prologue would decrease the necessity for a large amount of exposition within the main narrative, which is a good thing. Some may argue, though, that it’s a lazy-man’s way of dealing with the issue, and that a skillful author would be able to weave the past and the present within the main narrative without interrupting the flow.

    I agree to some extent, but I have read prologues that have absolutely set the stage in a way that make the novel far more memorable that it would have been without.

    So, your choice….

  4. Curtis says:

    I’m pro-logue if it is done right. A prologue should add some background for the reader, but should not be required reading.

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