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  1. #1
    Josh Lemay
    Guest

    Why do agents hate prologues?

    Tried to post this before, but it seems the forums ate it. I apologize if it shows up twice randomly.

    Someone mentioned this in another thread. It got me curious, so I did a little searching and found agents for and against prologues. I'm wondering if there's any specific reason for this, or if they are more against the general things that people do wrong with prologues?

    I'm asking because out of most of the books I've bought within the past year, almost all of them have some type of prologue. Some are newer while some are a bit older, but most were published within the past 10 years or less.

    Just as some examples of different types I've seen:
    George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series has prologues for all of the books so far(usually around ~20 pages). I think they are done pretty well, but he might just cater to my preferences. Does he show a good example of what a prologue should strive to be?

    Audrey Niffeneger's The Time Traveler's Wife has a short section defined as a prologue(only a few pages), but she sneaks a lot of back story into the first(or few, I'd have to check) chapters that is very prologue-esque and not necessarily useful to the main plot. Is this a type of work around, or something that happened to work for her?

    Elizabeth Haydon's Rhapsody(first in a series) has a very long prologue(43 pages). It doesn't actually say "Prologue" before it starts, but chapter 1 starts after it so it's kind of assumed. I actually really liked how she set up the story, but the prologue doesn't come into effect until much later in the book(near the end) and you can only guess at things before that. If anything, I would consider this an example of a 'bad' prologue, except for the fact that I really enjoyed how she did it.

    Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Dart mixes in its prologue type back story with the first chapter. It doesn't have a definitive prologue, but when you look at it, a lot of the beginning pages/paragraphs/whatever are solely there in a prologue type of context with no other uses throughout the book save for setting up the 'world'. I think it's a good mix and I imagine this is what most agents want instead of an actual prologue, but I'm not one so I don't know.

    I realize I'm not any of these authors and I doubt anyone here is, either. I found that they all had widely varying ways of sticking in a prologue or its equivalent. All of them, at least in my opinion, are interesting. Are these ways the "acceptable" ways to do it? I assume that something like the Terminator or Star Wars movie prologues would be unacceptable(I thought both were really dull, but they only lasted a short time so it wasn't terrible). Or am I missing something else?



  2. #2
    junel ;-)
    Guest

    Re: Why do agents hate prologues?

    I didn't read the whole of your post, but going on the title, and assuming that there are a number of agents out there who do dislike prologues (i don't know this of course), I would say, maybe it is because:

    prologues are passive, and not active.

  3. #3
    Gary Kessler
    Guest

    Re: Why do agents hate prologues?

    I'd take "agents hate prologues" as a sweeping generalization that probably isn't true and certainly can't be evidenced.

  4. #4
    Gary Kessler
    Guest

    Re: Why do agents hate prologues?

    Opps. Should have added . . . so doesn't, I think, really need to be explained or defended.

  5. #5
    Josh Lemay
    Guest

    Re: Why do agents hate prologues?

    I agree with you that it might be a sweeping generalization. That's actually one of the reasons I found it odd that there were a lot of sites mentioning that agents hated prologues. Even Writer's Digest has an article about it <http://www.writersdigest.com/article/what-agents-hate/> , which although not gospel or anything, makes me wonder.

    I wouldn't want to inadvertently add something in that is going to turn an agent away from my manuscript without giving it a fair shot(especially if they liked the query enough to request seeing it in the first place).

  6. #6
    Jay S
    Guest

    Re: Why do agents hate prologues?

    I personally hate prologues and epilogues because to me if it's important enough to exist at all it should be in the work itself.

    My opinion.

  7. #7
    Gary Kessler
    Guest

    Re: Why do agents hate prologues?

    Writer's Digest has to gin up stuff to write about on writing or else they have no articles to put out there.

  8. #8
    Denis Bonner
    Guest

    Re: Why do agents hate prologues?

    The trouble with a prologue (in my experience) is that it is possible to go too far back to find the "beginning" of the story. I don't agree that prologues are necessarily passive. But maybe they should be short otherwise it gets boring.

    These days with some agents requesting the first 5 pages they are likely as not to get all or (worse) part of the prologue. It seems that the stories that "cut to the chase" are more likely to impress if there are only 5 pages to offer for a first evaluation.

  9. #9
    Gary Kessler
    Guest

    Re: Why do agents hate prologues?

    If agents/publishers ask for the first five pages and you have a prologue you're not comfortable about sending in that context, you're on pretty safe ground to send the first five pages of where the body of the text starts. The prologue is considered part of the front matter of a book.

    Conversely, if you are leery about starting off with an agent/publisher with the prologue, you probably should be leery about starting off with a reader with it as well.

  10. #10
    Chuck Shaw
    Guest

    Re: Why do agents hate prologues?

    JL
    I did an early draft with two hooks, inexplicable incidents that happened a year or so before the book started. Most people who reviewed the first five chapters liked them as interest grabbers.

    Unfortunately I had to use a number of later dialogs to fill in the gap between the incidents and the story. I finally incorporated the incidents into the story, scrapped the dialogs, and started over at the beginning, where I should have.

    I believe that it makes more sense to have the characters discover past elements. If there are many important previous elements, or they involve extensive detail, maybe the story started at different time than the author started relating it (my basic problem).

    IMHO prologs can (but don't have to) contribute to poor continuity unless they are used to cover a previous book in a set. I plan on avoiding them in the future, but not because I think they are an insta-reject criteria for some agents.

    CS

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