Friday, June 23, 2006

Much Ado about Prologues

My mystery lovers' listserv has hosted a running debate about whether or not a writer should indulge in writing a prologue. I confess I don't really see what the fuss is about. It's a literary convention with which one can dispense if they don't care for it, or use if they enjoy it. My first book contains a prologue, and obviously I felt it was necessary or I wouldn't have structured the book that way. But I never really sat down and consciously debated the issue.

When I was growing up and reading all sorts of books, they often contained prologues, and what I liked about these little introductory chapters was that they were often mysteries within the mystery. You would read it and ask, "But how could this event in Alaska in 1850 possibly affect the characters in chapter one--two librarians in New York in 2005?" and then your mind could be working on it, in the background, while you read the story. It gave the reader a dual purpose until both mysteries came together in the resolution.

The fact that some in the publishing world are saying that prologues are dead or that prologues should never be used is strange to me. Why insist on absolutes? Isn't this a sort of mental tyranny? Or worse, doesn't it suggest a lack of originality on the part of the people who follow the stricture? I don't really care whether the books I read have prologues or not, but I certainly wouldn't want to leave out what I thought was important just because someone said it was verboten.

Writer Bill Cameron kindly said that my prologue was an example of one that was used well. Thanks, Bill. It would be nice to hear what other people thought about this unexpectedly controversial topic.

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