Prologues are developing into a pet peeve of mine. I’m reading Knife of Dreams, and Jordan once again starts off with a 100-page prologue. Why wasn’t this a chapter?
Somewhere along the line, I came up with a pretty specific definition of what a prologue was. It is not based on any dictionary definition, as the ones I’ve found are vague. The purpose of the prologue is to provide a historical (i.e., before the actual events depicted in the story) set up for the main plot of the book, but should not directly involve the protagonist. My reason for this qualifier is that any historical event that directly involves the protagonist is better served through a flashback juxtaposed with the relevant current event.
Most of Jordan’s WoT prologues do not fit this definition. I can remember one that depicted Lews Therin’s breaking of the world, but the others simply continue the story from where the last book left off.
Another pitfall that writers fall into is turning the prologue into a dumping ground for backstory on the world. I did this myself with Maiden and the origin of Saestra Karanok. Instead of weaving the depth and richness of the world into the story, the writer crams it all into the beginning and promptly forgets it. Prologues set an expectation for the reader that the information revealed will have significant relevance later on in the story. Fail to do this and you let the reader down.
I originally included a prologue in Shattered Amulet, but turned it into chapter one in this latest draft. The content would still qualify as a prologue by my definition, but I’m just tired of the convention at this point. And recent comments by Miss Snark make me wonder why I would want to include one in the first place.
What do you think belongs in a prologue?