My WIP begins with a prologue that takes place three years before the main action of the novel but plays a significant role in the story’s conflict and plot. Chapter 1 begins with character action in the year the novel takes place.
I have been doing a lot of research on the different ways to begin a novel and have read many polarizing opinions on prologue use from various players in the publishing industry. The most common is agents saying that they HATE to see novels beginning with prologues. The reasons are perfectly valid; they’ve seen it all – prologues that are information dumps full of backstory, prologues that have no connection to the main character, prologue action that has no impact on the story. I can understand how, after receiving multiple sample page submissions of these and other examples, most agents abhor prologues.
Knowing this about agents, I have the following question: If my prologue lacks backstory, shows (not tells) an important scene of story action, plays a major role in the plot, and introduces the overall character motivation (although MC doesn’t know it until later in the story), is it an acceptable way to begin my novel?
I have heard that some agents will go so far as to reject the submission as soon as they see the word “prologue” on pg 1. I have also heard that a counter for this is to simply title the prologue “Chapter 1” and re-number the rest of the chapters. This strikes me as mildly deceptive since I fully intend for the prologue to be marketed as a prologue.
What’s your take on the subject? Will most agents look past the dreaded “P” word if the opening line and sample pages are engaging? Or will the use of this controversial opening tactic win me a one-way ticket to rejectionville?
I am fully settled in the I Hate Prologues camp too. I go so far as to NOT read them in a manuscript.
My feeling is exactly as you've outlined above.
So, what to do?
If you leave the prologue OUT of your query, will the agent be able to understand Chapter One? If so, leave it out OF THE QUERY. Remember, you only have three-five pages most likely, or not many more, to catch an agent's attention.
A query is not the full manuscript and it's certainly NOT the finished book. Reading at the query stage is often skimming. It's NOT settling down on the couch with a cat and a cup of java for a nice read of an 800 page novel.
The query is designed to entice the reader (in this case the agent) to read more. Which part of the book is best suited for that? Your prologue or Chapter One? Be very critical in your assessment here. If I'm only going to read five pages, which ones are they?
And you don't actually have to put prologue you know. It's Chapter 0. Or Chapter 1. Don't get all caught up in "this must be a prologue" cause as soon as you do the editor at the publishing house is gonna say "hey, people don't read prologues, we always start with chapters" and that's gonna be that.