Perplexing Prologues (And Dragons Too!)

Prologues can either be a hit or a miss. On one hand, you can have an amazing backstory put in place very early on that will later hit the reader like a freight train stuffed with cantaloupes. On the other, slightly less exciting hand, your prologue could just be you spouting nonsense that the reader won't be able to understand later, or if at all.

I was just reading a book called Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. Never heard of the title or the author before, but, it involved dragons and I thought the cover was cool, so I gave it a shot.

This book starts out with a prologue, written by the main character. It's a really odd prologue, that gives you a scene about when she was born and the events that trailed off from here. I found it hard to follow, and I wasn't sure why the author was telling me this at all. There wasn't much of a backstory evident here, and I wasn't sure why the author felt like she needed to put this there at all. Especially since, much to my dismay, she added another few chapters that she devoted to more backstory and prologue-esque things. But why? Why would she give me background information and then heap on even more background things in the first quarter of the book?

For some books, prologues work. Like in Harry Potter, if we hadn't known really how Harry got to the Dursley's home, then it wouldn't be the same later on. However, in Seraphina, the author tried to tell me the backstory, but she did a sloppy job with it.

I myself have created prologues to things I've written, but the thing you have to watch out for is too much prologuery (I say that's a word, but spellcheck seems to disagree). If you do a chapter of information about how Henry bought magic mayo the day before, and then go into the story of Henry and the Magic Sandwich, that's fine. That explains why you wanted to tell me about the Magic Mayo. But if you tell me about the magic mayo, his dog's broken chew toy, and the neighbor's left toenail, and then proceed to tell me about how Henry got his hair cut, that's not the way to go. We don't like having useless information dumped on us when we read. Readers want a purpose to explanations and backstories.

Even if your prologue sets up the story for Henry's Magic Sandwich, if you add too much extra useless information on top of that right at the beginning, it's a big turn-off for a book. If you feel like you need a prologue, and you just can't weave the backstory into the actual novel, then by all means have one. But be very careful that you don't accidentally wind up with too much word-sludge and it makes the whole thing hard to wade through.

That is all.



  1. I agree with you when you say that some prologues can be unnecessary. In a lot of cases, it fails to amuse me and I just read on and on some babbling about nothing. But I never full-on ignore them, because they can sometimes relate to the whole story (e.g. Paper Towns by John Green).
    Wonderful post! Everything you said is so true.

    1. Usually prologues don't make complete sense, and that's what can either hurt or help a story. If they're really atrocious, then like you I page skim a bit, but I can't ever bring myself to full on skip it. (Speaking of Paper a towns, is it good? I've been wondering if I should read it.)

      Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it. (:

  2. i actually have my own copy, but just couldnt break through the prologue. when does ths story actually 'begin'?

    1. Hmmm, I'd have to say you really don't get into the characters and the story until you're about 1/3 to halfway through the book. It took me ages to finally plow through all of the boring things and get to the exciting, less confusing things. Some of the concepts are really cool later on.

  3. This is very true, I have never written a prologue as I do find them a bit of a book turn-off ... but of course, they are often necessary, and well done, as in Harry Potter. That book *does* have a cool cover .... I would totally have picked it up. But I'm glad I had someone to ward me off excess prologuery! (Which I agree is certainly a word, or at least certainly should be.)

    1. The cover is what dragged me in because, really, dragons are cool. (: Normally I don't mind a good prologue, but when you add more and more of it, it's not quite as fun. The book was fairly good, so if you can make it past the prologuery, it's easier from there.


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