I’ve heard famous authors say never use a prologue as if it is a hard and fast rule you must follow. However, if this is a rule then I wonder why the concept and word exist. There must be a reason. Prologues are said to date back to the Ancient Greeks and exist to provide something important to the story that will help the reader understand an event or important background information.
Pondering this thought and the “never use” rule, a writer must remember that rules are meant to be broken, but thoughtfully. That’s right. You can break a rule if you have sound logic behind breaking it. If your beta readers or critique group challenge the break and you can’t get them to understand the reason, then stick with the rule and edit your work.
But wait, a really famous and successful author told you this and surely they know what works. Right? Yes and no. Writing is the art of stringing together words to form sentences, chapters, and books in a manner that conveys a story of interest to a particular reader. A poll of successful authors will reveal a list of rules they followed along with others they broke. If you document how they became successful you’ll quickly discover there are no rules, only tips, style, hard work, and maybe a little magic lightning.
If you want to be published by the big houses you’ll have to follow their rules by writing what they believe will sell. Writing in a style they prefer, with or without a prologue. Unless you can convince them to break their rules with a compelling reason.
In my Chalice Princess novel series, I brake the rule. I start each book with a short prologue opening the story with a tease of information that sets up a scene that will play out later. It is usually a planning meeting by the bad guys that needed to happen but isn’t a good fit in the flow of the scenes. For me it allowed me to set a darker tone for the opening and then hit the reader with a happy scene to start chapter one. This swift mood change is a tip that the reader should expect the stories to move between good times and bad like the dance of life.
If you want to use a prologue be sure you have a strong reason. Your editors and betas should agree with your reasoning. And if that big publisher says to cut it before they will print the book, then you must decide how important the prologue is to you. Faced with this choice, many will remove the prologue. But don’t throw it away. You can always use it as a teaser on your website to give readers insight into the story. Use it to your advantage just in a different place.
I chose to break the rule, use the prologue and take a chance. Who knows. Maybe that magic lightning will strike and it will be the secret sauce to my success. Check out the prologue in Chalice Moon and see what you think.