(I think movie puns are becoming my “thing”.)
There are mixed views on the inclusion of a prologue in literature and, after reading Kristin Nelson’s simplistic perspective on the issue (http://pubrants.blogspot.co.uk/2010/02/why-prologues-often-dont-work.html), I felt obliged to come to it’s aid (no matter how insubstantial my opinion is on the matter). As an avid advocate of the prologue, I find it almost narrow-minded to dismiss it as just a tool authors use so that the beginning of their novels sound, as Kristin so elequently put it, “cool (or I might reword this to say the writer thinks it sounds cool)”. I’ve never known any writer to write something simply because it “sounds cool” and to even contemplate saying that is insulting in itself.
It is true that prologues are not always necessary, but when we do include one, we do it with the story, or the larger series of books in mind, and not for such simplistic things as aesthetics.
On the forum in which I found the link to Kristin’s article, someone who was asking for advice on her prologue was being told by around four other people (though the vigour of their arguments made it seem more like a small mob) that she shouldn’t have a prologue and that it doesn’t work unless she is very skilled, which they made very clear they doubted (even though none of them had read her work and so could not possibly judge that). In essence, her opinion on the use of the prologue was being choked by everyone elses – something that happens a lot in the world of literature. People are told that they shouldn’t use a prologue, or an epilogue, or first person tense, or present tense (I could go on all day here, but I’m sure you get the gist), when what they should be asked is, “Does the story need to have a prologue, or epilogue, or to be told in first person, or present tense?” These arguments about style are irrelevent, and the ONLY influence into whether a writer should include such things is whether it is RELEVENT.
My novel, The Curse of the Azra (the first in a trilogy) has a prologue, and it doesn’t directly relate to the first book, but more the whole trilogy, and so commits Kristin’s (oh-so-strict) fourth sin; “When the prologue is solely there to provide an action scene to “draw the reader in” but then serves no other purpose or is not connected to the main story arc or is only loosely so.” And yes, when only considering the first in the trilogy, the prologue may seem to have no effect on the novel, but a well placed prologue at the beginning of a series can hint at something that will run beneath the surface of all of the books, and serve to link the series with something other than making them run straight after each other. This works especially well if your books are set in a particular world, or place, but are set many years apart, with the prologue being something that connects all of the books coherently.
Many of the arguments against the prologue, and many of Kristin’s reasons why they “don’t work”, are largely based on the execution and not its importance to the story overall. My advice to any fans of the prologue: if you need it, use it.