People Who Don’t Read Prologues Suck

When you go to a fast food place, you expect people to adjust their food. They may want more or less salt, pickles on or off, or dressing on the side. Fast food joints are run by kids and frequented by people in a hurry, looking for a grease fix, or just low on funds. If you have the time, the cash, and the inclination, going to a better restaurant is always preferable. You get better food prepared by better trained staff in an environment that is usually more comfortable and more relaxing.

If you’ve ever been to a truly fine dining establishment, you’ll notice that there are rarely salt and pepper shakers on the table. Candles? Yes. A plate in front of you that you’ll never use (they take it away or set other plates on top)? Yes. But not salt, pepper, ketchup, Tabasco, or any other condiment. It is expected that the chef will never let a plate leave the kitchen that is not perfectly seasoned.

I expect the same with authors and their books. So it was with some horror when I read on a writing forum that other writers routinely skip prologues. Just skip them as if they weren’t part of the story.

I expect an author to be like a chef. Nothing leaves their literary kitchen without it being as perfect as possible. Will small errors occur (a comma out of place or the wrong number of nuts on the salad), sure. But they should strive for perfection. According to Wikipedia (I’ve known people who will stop reading anything that uses Wikipedia as a reference…so…see ya), a prologue is “an opening to a story that establishes the setting and gives background details, often some earlier story that ties into the main one, and other miscellaneous information.”

Now that doesn’t sound important enough to read, does it?

The problem, or so I am led to understand from the discussions on various forums, is that anything important to the story would (should) be in Chapter 1. Prologues, therefore, become background information that, at best, sets the tenor of the story or, at worst, are simple information dumps.

In the history of me, I’ve never considered skipping a part of book sight unseen. Other than books I haven’t finished (a new thing for me), the only book I haven’t finished completely would be Atlas Shrugged. When I hit the huge John Galt sermon at the end, realized it was going to go on for ~50 pages, and that it was just rehashing everything already said, I skipped ahead. I also routinely skip the end of books with the huge family trees often found in fantasy books (though I use them for reference when needed).

Only recently I started not finishing books. This is a new thing for me. But some of these free ebooks are in such bad shape I just can’t force myself to finish them. In the past, I’ve not only finished books I wasn’t enjoying, but went on to finish whole series (Twilight, Kushiel’s Legacy). But I’ve still never considered pro forma not reading any part of any book. It’s disrespectful to the author and, to me at least, disrespectful to the art form. At least give them a chance to disappoint you before you skip ahead.

The author put in the effort to write that prologue. On top of that, the author, editor, publisher, and everyone in between thought it worth keeping in. Who are you to say, “Sorry, I don’t do prologues?” Honestly, it makes me want to put a prologue in every book with information so vital that the rest of the story won’t make sense without it. That’ll show those non-prologue readers.

Oh wait, they probably don’t read ebooks either. Or anything not bound in leather. The stuck up jerks.

4 thoughts on “People Who Don’t Read Prologues Suck”

  1. Back before I decided I’d be better off going the indie route, I did the agent querying thing. A lot of agent blogs and whatnot said “If an agent asks for pages, do NOT send a prologue.” I was pretty suspicious of that advice, so I went ahead and included it when sending the first three chapters or whatever. Of the requests for full manuscripts I got, almost all of them said something along the lines of, “Love the prologue! Send more!”

    So, yeah–now I’m convinced that a well-written, relevant prologue can add to the story and be a great hook besides.

    I think some authors–epic fantasy authors are the worst, as far as I can tell–tend to throw in a prologue that doesn’t obviously have much to do with anything, and those are the ones that give the whole thing a bad name as far as readers are concerned.

  2. That’s funny, You were writing this comment as I was checking out your site. Our Internets were crossed. 🙂

  3. This is just a new a foreign concept to me. Why would anybody not read a prologue? Why would anybody be “against” prologues?

    It doesn’t make any sense to me. Is it just the name “prologue” that people object to? What if it were called “Chapter Zero”? Would everyone read it then?

    To me, a prologue is like the sequence in a movie that takes place before the opening credits roll, or maybe the images that are played during the opening credits. Sure, a prologue ought not to contain any information that is utterly vital to the main story – it wouldn’t be right to call it a prologue in that case! But the prologue is where the writer can establish tone and setting, or introduce some history or backstory that will inform the main story.

    Am I really supposed to believe that it’s about saving time? Most prologues are shorter than a full chapter: they’re often just a page or two! So there are people out there who are perfectly fine with reading 200+ pages of a main story, but 2 pages of a prologue is just too much for them? Over the line? I just don’t get that. At. All.

  4. Rob – That was exactly my reaction. I was like, “What? Are you serious? I’ve never even CONSIDERED such a thing!”

Comments are closed.