I recently read this article about using prologues. It was very helpful.
Here’s what I said in response, just in case anyone cares:
Personally, I always read the prologue. I agree that if one cannot pull off a decent prologue, one should not use the device. If a prologue and first couple of chapters can’t grab my attention, then I will back out of the story. I don’t understand the bias against the device, though. Yes, there are plenty of bad examples of prologues, but it’s a perfectly useful device in the proper hands. To refuse to read them ALL doesn’t make sense to me.
Regarding the prologue/first chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: I think it’s a case of semantics. It is essentially a prologue, even in JK Rowling declined to call it such. A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet. A well-written prologue will work no matter whether you call it a prologue or a chapter. By the same token, a poorly-written example will fail, regardless or what it is called.
Info dumps should be folded into the story when possible. Alternatively, a separate information section would suffice. Since I read mostly science fiction and fantasy, I am quite used to books containing “Dramatis Personae” listings as well as maps, glossaries, timelines, family trees, and other useful extras. JRR Tolkien, Anne McCaffrey, Larry Niven, and a host of other well-loved authors use such sections to great effect. Of course, these days, the author can place much of the supporting information online, as JK Rowling has done.
Regarding the aforementioned subject of fanfiction: Theodore Sturgeon once observed that “ninety percent of everything is crap. ” While that assessment may be incredibly generous where fanfiction is concerned, I still feel obliged to defend it. I read fanfiction for many reasons, one of which is that it is free. Of course, I do get exactly what I pay for in that scenario. That being said, I have found a few jewels of creativity, even if they are encased in the rock of poor writing skills.
I should also mention that I write fanfiction. I bear no illusions that I will ever become good enough in my writing to do so professionally. The market is quite oversaturated these days and I don’t have the time to properly develop my skills. Writing fanfiction gives me an outlet for my creativity and the chance to perhaps improve in my ability along the way. If I give enjoyment to a few readers along the way, so much the better.
The author was kind enough to respond, as well.