To Prologue, or Not To Prologue
I see the question of prologues pop up quite frequently in discussions among writers and book readers. There are those who are adamantly opposed to them, and many who will skip over every prologue entirely, jumping straight to a novel's official first chapter. Others insist that prologues are unduly vilified and should never be dismissed.
Where do I stand on the issue? I am neither for nor against prologues on principle. Instead, I am in the camp that believes that an author should employ only that which directly serves the story being told, and if that involves the use of a prologue, then so be it. However, prologues should not be used simply because an author thinks they're cool, fun, and the "thing to do" in genres like fantasy. In such cases, these precursors to the main narrative often become what are commonly referred to as "info dumps." Basil Exposition, anyone?
On the other hand, a prologue can be an excellent way to introduce the reader to a new world, particularly at the start of a series. A perfect example of this is in A Game of Thrones. The prologue to the first book of ASOIAF performs several tasks in its tragic tale of Will, who is the narrator and one of three rangers of the Night's Watch who encounter the Others while scouting for wildlings beyond the Wall. It familiarizes the reader with the geography of an important region of the world in which the entire series takes place, it explains the social hierarchy within this world, it introduces several key groups, it shows the level of technology the people posses, it illustrates both the existence of magic and the general disbelief in magic, it presents us with the primary antagonistic force of the entire series, and it contains several recurring elements, including GRRM's fondness for closing a chapter with the death of its third-person point of view narrator. The world-building and thematic details that are crucial to the story are vividly presented through the art of "show" rather than "tell," and although the reader never sees poor doomed Will again after the undead Royce attacks him (and even the sole survivor of the trio, Gared, is killed the very next time he appears), this single-chapter story is deeply engaging and ramps up the tension for the main narrative to come.
This exemplary prologue was, in fact, the inspiration for my decision to incorporate a prologue within the structure of The Sword and the Spark, the first book in The Order of the Silver Sword. The prologue's third person narrator, Greta, is not quite as doomed as Will at the end of her point of view chapter, but her story serves much the same purpose as Will's narrative. She introduces the reader to the world, the technology, a key group of individuals, the magic system, the hierarchy and rules, and the novel's main character at a crucial moment, twenty years before the events of the central story. And because I use chapter titles instead of point of view character names, the title of the prologue, "The Witch," also serves as a bit foreshadowing and a nod to a certain Scottish play that just so happens to be one of the major literary influences on the novel.
Now, you may be asking if other books in The Order of the Silver Sword series will contain prologues as well? The answer to that question will depend on whether a prologue is, in fact, necessary. Have they been drafted already? Yes, but I write a lot of things that will never make it into my published novels. Entire chapters were discarded on the journey toward the final, published version ofThe Sword and the Spark, and I expect to do the same level of hacking and slashing with every future book in the series. Among the segments that ended up on the chopping block, there was a large picnic in a park, a drunken party that turned romantic, and a doomed detective's investigation, to name just a few. The same fate might befall the prologues that have been drafted for both Book Two and Book Three, no matter how much I enjoyed writing them. The decision to include them will be determined by what best serves the overall narrative arc for each novel. If the elements within the drafted prologues can be infused elsewhere to speed things along and keep the reader engaged, then it is possible that one or both of the next books in the series will begin with Chapter 1. Only time will tell.
In the meantime, if you plan to read The Sword and the Spark, you really won't want to skip "The Witch," especially given that Greta is quite an engaging character and a reader favorite. She might not be the protagonist of the novel, but she happens to be the first character in the narrative to size up our hero, Mace Ealdor, even if he's just a boy at the time. And if you have already read the novel and enjoyed the character of little Greta as much as I did, then you might be pleased to know that additional chapters of Greta's story have already been written. All that's left to be determined is when and where those stories will be included in the grand scheme of The Order of the Silver Sword.
Who knows? Maybe another piece of Greta's tumultuous journey will prove to be worthy of another essential prologue.
Or perhaps you'll get a great Greta-centered short story or two.
Stars light your way!