Prologues: Do they prolong the story?

For years I’ve heard the pros and cons of starting your book with a prologue. The preference varies drastically among editors and agents, and that in itself doesn’t help when trying to decide whether to use them or not.

At a writer’s workshop, which featured a panel of editors and agents answering random questions, the inevitable prologue question was raised and the opinions ranged from lukewarm to frighteningly strong.

One agent detested them and stated, “If there’s a prologue, I won’t even read the manuscript.” Since I had a prologue at the time, I shrank down slowly in my chair and made a note not to send my manuscript to her. Other panelists didn’t mind as long as it was directly linked to the plot of your story.

In my first book, I struggled with having a prologue. At first, it was in Chapter 1, then it moved to the beginning of Chapter 3 and remained there for a while. But when I looked at it again ten months later, it seemed disjointed and out-of-place.

So, I went with my gut and put it back at the beginning of the book, making it the prologue. I also used one of my many references, “3 Reasons to Ditch your Novel’s Prologue” as a guideline.

The following is the beginning of my first book. The prologue is only 686 words, but it leads directly into the story and I couldn’t see it being anywhere else in the book. By the way, it may read like a mystery, but it is a romance!

    Prologue
    In a corner office of A& B Realty Corporation, the Chanel-clad woman sat in contentment as the shredder’s hum slashed through the after-hours silence of the flourishing company. Blinds drawn, she continued her work by the glare of a single lamp placed at the toe of her expensive black pumps, not in the least bit worried about any unforeseen visitors.

    She’d heard the scuttlebutt among her son’s employees. Of all the offices huddled amidst these ambitious walls, hers presented the most foreboding aura. So much so, the cleaning people were reluctant to enter, leaving her trash can seldom emptied.

    The smell of the overheated shredder filled the air with pervasive danger. But the stench exhilarated and empowered her. She felt in control, therapy almost as soothing as an hour with her therapist. She pulled back, lessening the number of pages she ran through to allow the metal contraption a chance to cool down.

    Its steeled teeth gnarled at the incriminating documents like a favorite pit bull, and she smiled with a sense of purpose. The ripping power of the blade was reminiscent of a knife poking holes into her problems—depleting them of their life blood, and eliminating potential troubles—like unwanted women in her son’s life. These troubles required shrewd planning.

    Mona Acevedo believed murder to be a reliable deterrent for complications and she regretted that she hadn’t killed Octavia Middleton when she had the chance. For that blunder she could just scream.

    A&B’s current undertaking was a high-profile project to construct luxury condominiums in their city and nothing could stop its progress—especially a conniving gold digger. Her diamond bracelet sparkled as her wrist twisted items down the mouth of the greedy shredder—copies of leases, titles, cashed rental checks—anything that would buy her enough time to remove the thorn from her side.

    Not wanting to be implicated in the matter, she needed to enlist the help of someone ruthless, yet desperate enough to do her bidding. Her relationship with her son, strained as it was, was at least civil. This project could bring them closer together. Her family’s legacy depended on it.

    She stifled a yawn with the back of her hand, her body starting to feel the effects of leaning and stretching from the menial task. The small, gold clock on her desk read one thirty in the morning. She hadn’t realized she’d been here so long. She should alert her driver to start the car. Standing, she straightened a pile of remaining documents and stored them inside a plain manila folder.

    With the key she kept on her person at all times, she unlocked the credenza behind her desk, and filed the folder under classified, before locking the drawer again. The overall project file, which contained all the data of current residents and businesses associated with the Brownstone project, was now void of any documents that suggested the Middleton woman’s affiliation. Aware of her son’s judicious work ethic, she knew he would uncover the information soon enough. But for now, her clandestine activity would buy her enough time to put her plan into action.

    She flipped open her phone, pushed a button and then spoke into the receiver. “I’m coming down. Have the car ready to leave.” Ending the call, she grabbed her black mink from the coat rack. A chill still lingered during the early May mornings. One swift kick to the paper shredder sent it flying underneath her desk. She would empty it later.

    Taking one last look around her office, she turned off the light and headed to the waiting car five stories below. She needed to rest and then prepare for the staff meeting taking place later on that morning.

    She would report to her son that this phase of the project—in which her team compiled information on prospective residents and business owners where negotiations may be required—was complete, and he should feel confident to move forward without any delays or obstacles.

    She would move forward as well, keeping the path to his success clear from unwanted complications. A mother’s work was never done.

What about you? Does your book have prologue? Would you consider using one?

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6 thoughts on “Prologues: Do they prolong the story?

  1. This is very interesting – I never really thought about the point of a prologue or even using one. I’ve read a lot of good books with and without one. I would think that it would need to immediately pull the reader in, or else why bother?
    As I head into NaNoWriMo, I’ll have to think about that. Thanks!

    • nettrobbens says:

      Hi thanks for commenting! Yes, prologues have been sensitive subjects over the years. I think it depends on the length and, as you said, if it pulls the reader in. Good luck with NaNoWriMo!

  2. R.A. DeFranco says:

    Hi Nett – I have a flashback in my current WIP. It is a hugely important moment to a 3 book arc that I have planned. Just yesterday I decided that it pulled the reader out of the immediacy of the scene so I’m taking it out and will just have the main character/narrator mention it. BUT…it’s REALLY important, more so to the 2nd book, so I’m dappling with the idea of making it the prologue to the 2nd book. The idea being that if the 1st book sells and is well received that a prologue in the 2nd will be forgiven. It is hard though because agents and editors will tell you that you can find a way to weave the importance of the information in to the story.

    • nettrobbens says:

      Hi RoseAnn,

      Exactly!! Adding a prologue to your second book sounds like a plan! But you’re right it, agents and editors will say weave it in. I’ve been back and forth with this prologue so many times, I became dizzy! Just when I thought I’d weaved it into the story, it stuck out like a sore thumb. Please let me know what you decide to do for your story. Or I can just wait until ALL your books sell and then read them in order!

  3. rebecca2000 says:

    I am a prologue whore. I love to read them 🙂

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