The Prologue to Julius

by RS on December 20, 2010

Agents hate prologues. Yet I see them everywhere. So if they dislike them so much why are they popping up here, there, and everywhere? Makes you wonder who is coming up with these arbitrary rules and whether we as writers should listen to them or not.  Books that have prologues? Well, let’s see there’s Daniel Silva’s The Rembrandt Affair, The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch, The Likeness by Tama French, Blood Harvest, by S.J. Bolton,Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, and Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife. I could mention more, but I’m not in the mood to page through my three thousand books–now you know why I went and bought a Kindle–no space!

Some of these books are from authors who have multiple books under their (Silva, French, and Bolton) the remaining three were first time authors. If prologues are so hated then why are writers including them in their novels?

Kristin Nelson of the Nelson Literary Agency in Denver has an interesting and valid argument of why prologues for the most part don’t work. I won’t go into all the nitty-gritty details, but the bottom line is you’re going to add a prologue it has to have a clear purpose in the story. Makes a lot of sense. Nelson also notes that most agents skip the prologue and go straight to the first chapter. So you’re not off the hook if you have a terrific prologue, and an okay first chapter, especially if it gets ignored. That first, second, and the subsequent chapters all have to be top notch if you want representation. To read more of Kristin’s opinion visit her post titled, “Why Prologues Don’t Work.”

Of course this all leads to what I spent most of the morning working on: the prologue to Julius. Now Kirstin Nelson might say it’s unnecessary, but I think it’s relevant to the story because it introduces several elements that will crop up later in the novel.

The prologue has gone through several revisions, and I think this last one finally hits the mark. I’ve set the tone of a precocious ten year-old child who is going through a morbid curiosity phase where the ghoulish seems to grab her attention. In the past, I’ve had some people who critiqued it and told me that they weren’t convinced by some of her actions, but my one disclaimer is that this incident was based on an event that happened to me when I was that age. The premise of Julius all started with my own personal obsession with the Rosenbergs. How the hell did a little girl get interested in the Rosenbergs? Well, it’s in the prologue.

Now that I think I’ve nailed the prologue, it’s time to finesse that first chapter and the following twenty-nine. Off to do some work on Mr. TNT. . .

2 comments
Cecilieaux Bois de Murier
Cecilieaux Bois de Murier

Is this true of first novels? The deal as I understand it is that first-time authors grovel to get published. Then, if the book does well, they can write a lot more of their own ticket, depending.

RS
RS

I don't know how much groveling occurs. If the agent is the type who is very hands on he or she might make suggestions on changes that will work better for the story. I have seem numerous first time novelists that have prologues in their stories. but I think what Kirstin Nelson writes is probably the reason why they weren't ditched because they're were a strong element within the story.

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