Teaser Prologues: What Do You Think?

Posted on 4th April, 2015

I gave up reading a couple of novels recently because of the prologues - well, no, I've got that the wrong way round. I stopped reading, not because of the prologues, but because of what came afterwards.


In each book the prologue was a teaser, showing something that was going to happen later on in the plot.


In one, the prologue plonked the main character right in the middle of an exciting and frightening situation that raised all kinds of possible outcomes. It made a gripping start and I was eager to find out what happened next.


Did Chapter 1 tell me? No, it didn't. Instead, it went back in time several months and began detailing the events that led up to the prologue. And it wasn't a few sentences of back story or even a couple of pages - it was almost 200 pages, of which I ploughed through 70 or so before giving up.


I didn't care about the back story. I already knew it. The simple fact that the heroine was in a certain predicament in the prologue told me as much as I needed to know. The only thing I didn't know was: with the book being set in Victoian times, was it her father or her husband who was the villain of the piece - something that could have been made clear in a couple of lines of dialogue.


The other novel's prologue introduced two familes, bound together by friendship and marriage. Certain questions were raised and the prologue ended on a mini-cliffhanger.


Did Chapter 1 contunue the plot? Or was the cliffhanger shown from another character's viewpoint? No, the story went back some 20 years to show how the families got together in the first place. I waded through the first 10 years and gave up.


When I started thinking about this blog, I was all set to say that the prologue as teaser is a bad idea. Then I remembered reading a Helen Van Slyke novel years ago. It opened with a prologue in the form of a letter written by the main character in response to the tragic death of another character, who wasn't named.


All through the book, it seemed clear, thanks to things said in the letter, who was going to be killed.


And then someone else died instead and the letter took on a new meaning.


It was a skilful piece of writing that packed a real punch - the best possible example of a teaser prologue.


As a reader and/or writer, what do you think of teaser prologues? Does your heart sink when Chapter 1 takes you back in time or do you relish watching the unsuspecting characters moving inexorably towards their doom? Do leave a comment and let me know.


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Comments (6)

I'm glad you made the right decision about keeping your prologue. You obviously thought hard about it and what it needed to achieve. And there's nothing like a favourable critique to boost your confidence. In the end, you have to make whatever decision is the right one for your novel.
My novel also has a prologue which has been added and deleted so many times. I do know of a few agents who don't like prologues. In the end, it is in. My prologue is set in the past and is necessary in order to prepare the reader for the present day. It's main purpose (I think) is so that the reader doesn't feel cheated. The novel has recently been professionally critiqued and the prologue does its job, YAY!! I think writers do need to be careful with prologues and my next novel starts at chapter 1 - prologue not necessary :)
Don't say that, Wendy! Remembering the Helen Van Slyke novel reminded me that each book should be taken on its own merits. Having enjoyed your short stories, I look forward to reading your novel.
Now I'm worried, Susanna. The novel I'm writing has a teaser prologue! That's one less reader!
I know just what you mean about information dumps, Jen. The teaser prologue is just as annoying, though for different reasons. And yes, we're always being told to avoid the dreaded prologue!
Unless crafted by a very accomplished writer, I don't like prologues. All too often they seem to be an excuse for the dreaded information dump and recounting of back story which would have a greater impact woven through the story from Chapter 1.

I've also taken various writing craft courses where it's been drilled into me that agents and editors don't usually like prologues either!