One of the first things I noticed when I started getting feedback on my writing, was that some people had been told something was always bad or had decided it was…
Prologues…they have been demonized in modern novel-writing. They may be overused but when used properly they can add a great deal of information to the story.
Places they help:
-Events before the plot that influence it and need to be explained so that the readers understand chapter 1. An alien attack on a base that starts a war…for example.
-Character back story that explain later interactions, trauma, failures, things that result in an unusual reaction to later events. A childhood trauma, the death of a loved one…but only if they affect the main character later.
-Non main character events that set up the progression of the story, villains, politicians, environmental factors. What your main villain did to start a conflict, war, or attack the protagonist.
Place they fail:
-Where they are really chapter one. No break of character, time, plot, or events mean that the Prologue could really just segue right into the story. In this case…rename it.
-Unnecessary back story, or the dreaded…INFO-DUMP. No Action, no Plot, no character development. These prologues are long, and just provide back story for the novel without adding any interest. They should be put aside as a back story for the authors use. Short references can be mixed into the story as memories, flashbacks, or facts in dialogue.
The main difference is whether that few hundred words adds to the readers experience of chapter 1. If not, take it out and rewrite it as either chapter 1 or as flashbacks later in the book.
Don’t ASSUME that your book needs a prologue. Most don’t.
Silver Strife had one, because it was the back story of her previous life. But I later integrated it as a flashback in Chapter 1. Then my publisher asked me to break the detail back out into a PROLOGUE! Because they felt it helped with clarity…
Bloody Tidings doesn’t have one. All the back story is added later as back flashes, because you can follow the conflict without it. Because it is a Vampire novel, most of the back story and creature rules already exist…
Just keep in mind that they need to have a distinct cut off. Many novels do NOT do this, but if you are trying to attract attention of a publisher or agent they will expect this kind of distinction…