I was reading an article the other day which claimed that many people dislike prologues. It wasn’t exactly a surprise, but what did shock me was that they hated them so much they skipped them all together!
To me that doesn’t make sense. It’s like starting a novel in the middle. The whole point of the prologue is to give the reader essential information that cannot be woven into the story in any other way.
I’ve even seen instances where so-called experts recommend that the author should simply make it chapter one. Surely, the whole point of a prologue is that it gives the reader material that is out of sequence. To simply rename it would confuse the reader when she or he turns to the following chapters expecting the story to flow on. Not only will there be no continuity of time or characters, but it is also – at least in my case – in a completely different tone.
These days I read more crime novels than any other genre and here the use of a prologue is quite common especially in mystery novels. Unlike most police procedural novels where the body is discovered almost at the start, in the opening chapters of the majority of mystery novels the reader is far more likely to be introduced to the main players who will feature in the story and get a feel of their personalities and relationships. Equally important is the setting which also tends to be introduced long before the actual murder takes place.
I must admit my defence of the prologue is prompted by the fact that all my mysteries begin with one. They have an important function. Take my Aunt Jessica and Harry Mysteries which are all written in the first person. The prologue sets the plot in motion. It’s the only way to let the reader know what will drive the story and it also contains information of which Harry is blissfully unaware as he begins his holiday. Much the same could be said for my Fiona Mason novels and although these are written in third person viewpoint, it takes some time in each mystery before Fiona is aware of the high stakes involved.
An important feature of a prologue is that it is short and to the point. Where they are long and rambling or simply an information dump where the material could easily be drip-fed through the story, I draw the line!
Another of my pet hates is when a major dramatic scene or whole chapter – often the one where the murder takes place – is taken out of sequence to act as a hook. True, it needs to persuade the reader to turn read on, but the real hook come as in always at the end of chapter one.
I’ve had my rant. What do you think?
PS A reminder of this year’s MysteryFest
Saturday 6th March 2021 10am-5pm on Zoom:
In case you missed my earlier email, here is the timetable.
10.00-10.05: Introduction Carol Westron and Clare Forsyth
10.00-10.30: From Oil Rig to Author – Nick Morrish (shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger) interviewed by Carol Westron
10.30-11.15: Linda Regan and Alison Bruce in Conversation: Writing a Police Procedural
11.25-11.55: Dot Marshall-Gent: Early highwaymen through to Bonnie and Clyde – Crime poems and songs
11.55-12.55: Expert Witness, Dr Nick Pamment: Using forensics to combat Wildlife Crime including the Ivory Project
1.20-1.50: Carol Westron: The Emergence of the Elderly Female Sleuth – Miss Marple and Miss Silver
1.50-2.35: Guest of Honour, Million book bestseller Leigh Russell interviewed by Linda Regan
2.35-3.05: Peter Tickler: Recycle and Re-use – Lessons from a Crime Writer in reusing discarded work
3.15-3.45: Judith Cranswick: Writing Travel Crime during Lockdown
3.45-4.30: From Pirates and Praetorians to cozy murder and international conspiracy: Alison Morton and Helen Hollick in Conversation
4.30-5.00: Jeff Dowson: Inspiration for Crime – Detectives who have influenced my Detective
The link for Portsmouth Library is https://portsmouth.spydus.co.uk/events and to book simply click on the MysteryFest (centre of the second line of events).