On prologues (with excerpt from The Woodlander)


pirateDepending on how you look at it, there are either a lot of rules when it comes to writing, or no rules at all. While I’d like to think of myself as an outlaw, there are certain conventions I do tend to follow, like avoiding passive verbs and minimizing adverbs. These are just accepted as “good writing.”

But one piece of advice I have ignored is to avoid prologues. Elmore Leonard has it at #2 on  his 10 Rules for Good Writing:

“2. Avoid Prologues. They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword.”

The common wisdom here is that you should just start the story right in the middle of the action. If you need a lot of set-up, there’s probably something wrong with the story. Why bore the reader with a prologue?

While I have the utmost respect for Mr. Leonard, you have to keep in mind that he writes in the crime genre. These are stripped-down, fast-paced books that don’t need a lot of world-building. I’m not so sure his advice applies as well to the fantasy genre. George R. R. Martin, for instance, uses a prologue in each of his Game of Thrones novels, and those seem to be well-received. I like how Martin sets up each book with a group of throwaway characters that usually come to a grisly demise, giving the reader a glimpse of the ominous forces heading the main characters’ way.

In fact, I liked it so much, I patterned my own prologue after it.

So, I guess what I’m saying is that I’m taking Mr. Leonard’s rule #2 as more of a guideline. Without further ado, here’s the prologue for my book The Woodlander:

Want to read more of The Woodlander? The ebook is available at Amazon.


About thewoodlander

Kirk Watson is the author of The Grey Tales series of novels featuring squirrel-of-action John Grey. He resides in Austin, Texas.
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11 Responses to On prologues (with excerpt from The Woodlander)

  1. helenmidgley says:

    As a newbie thanks for the tips. I’ve just written my first chapter and currently soaking up all the info/tips I can 🙂

  2. Piscis says:

    Hey, Kirk! Just now noticed that The Woodlander is out and running – solid choice on the cover, and the formatting looks great!

    I’m also in the pro-prologue camp. They allow you a window to show something different from the main body, whether in style or perspective, in an established “safe zone” that readers will understand may not be congruent with the rest of the book. If you can make good use of that opportunity, it’s not something to throw away lightly!

    • Hey, it’s my editor, A. L. Walton! Thanks for stopping by. I made a few minor changes to address some of your comments before I published it, so hopefully I didn’t botch anything too bad. I really appreciate all your work on it! (If anyone needs help with their book or has a question about forest animals, A. L. Walton is your man!)

      As for prologues, I’ve started work on two of the sequels (yeah, I know, but there’s a story behind that), and they both have prologues. I think they set the stage and build the mystery, so I’m glad to hear you like them, too!

      • Piscis says:

        Two sequels at once, eh? (>^-‘)> I look forward to hearing about them!

        (And if the prologue I’ve seen for one of them is any indication, I’m sure the other will cast its hook just as well!)

      • Well, not simultaneously! I began what’s now the third book before I realized there was another book in between. The second prologue is included at the end of The Woodlander as a teaser.

  3. Your prologue works for your story as it sets the tone and give a taste of what is to come. I also like your beginning bits with the chapters set in the present (or at least that’s how it appears to me). Admittedly, I’m still only half-through your book (not a slow reader, just splitting my free time between reading and catching up on Game of Thrones).

    Concerning prologues, the question of do/do not use them made me curious as to whether one of my favorite authors, Tom Robbins, used them (I’ve not paid much attention in the past). He has used a prologue in some of his novels, but calls them a “preface,” a “prelude,” gives us a prologue of sorts by skipping through time before the beginning of the story, or begins one of my favorite books with an interesting description/story of the beet. Another one of my fav books, Lamb by Christopher Moore, begins with a prologue.

    Understand the rules first, and then throw them out the window and do what works best for your story.

    • Game of Thrones? The books or TV show?

      I ask because reading all the Game of Thrones books is a real undertaking. They just get longer and longer. Book 5 was a bit of a slog, but I made it through! The “good” news is George R. R. Martin writes slowly, so I get a chance to read something else for a while…

      The TV show is pretty great as well, but I haven’t watched season 3 yet. I hear they’re splitting the books up between seasons, which makes a lot of sense given their length.

      As far as the “rules” of writing, now that I’m self-publishing, I pay much less attention to them. Before, when I was pursuing a traditional publishing deal, I cared very much about things like ideal word count and so on. And rightly so. You have to get past the “gatekeepers” in that world, and you can be assured they care about those rules. I imagine some agent or editor thinking, “Oh, he’s over 80K words. Straight to the slush pile!” But one of the wonderful things about self-publishing is you can bypass the gatekeepers and go directly to the readers. Just write the story you want to tell!

      • Someday I’d love to read the books, but right now I barely have time to watch the show. Plus, I’m four episodes behind in Falling Skies, I am WAY behind in The Walking Dead, and Josh wants me to start watching Continuum… You wanted to know all of that, right?

  4. Pingback: Elmore Leonard dead at 87 | thewoodlander

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