Author of Non-Intellectual Flotsam and Jetsam*
*(I recently received a 3-star review of my mystery FREEZER BURN that described it as a "story told in a non-intellectual style." I'm okay with that.)
I've just returned from a weekend writer's conference where many ideas were cussed and discussed, from the actual work required of writing to the actual work required of being a published writer. One issue kept coming up in the craft-centric workshops. It is an issue that makes most agents and editors quake with fear, and most writers scratch their heads in confusion.
I'm talking about prologues.
Many writers think nothing of including a prologue, usually to expose a backstory or set up the plot or characters. To a person, every editor and agent blurted, "Don't do it." They would not be moved.
As a reader, I'm okay with a short prologue, and by short I mean no more than a page. I'll take a page and a half, but not two pages. A lot of prologues are in italics and too much italicized text makes me cranky. If you have to tell me that much history, perhaps you're writing the wrong book.
My first mystery (you know, the non-intellectual one?) began life with a prologue. It also had several one-page chapters because I thought if Stephen King could do it, so could I. Maybe when I've got Stephen King's reputation, I can do whatever I want, but my editor thought a debut novel should not be so pretentious. The prologue became the first chapter. The one-pagers were blended in with the longer chapters.
What do you think? To prologue or not to prologue, that IS the question. Do they bug you, or do you sometimes see a need for them?
BTW, here is the prologue/first chapter from FREEZER BURN. Told in a non-intellectual style... (sorry, but that review seems to tickle my sarcasm bone)
* * * * *
Such exquisite hands. What a pity to waste them.
Long, tapered fingers balanced the size of the palms perfectly. Half moons shone in the nails, which were strong and rounded, and extended the line of the hand. The porcelain skin blushed the slightest pink, although it seemed to be fading quickly.
The shadow knelt in the darkness, eyes glowing.
I'd better use the electric knife. No, the hacksaw.
Under the sliver of moonlight, deft hands opened the toolkit and went to work.