When does a book need a prologue?
Writers are a pretty predictable bunch. We sit down, create a story, maybe outline or do a plot plan. Then we write. And sometimes the first things out of our fingers is a prologue. Or a flashback. You know, a “before there was this, there was THIS” sort of thing. Those types of beginnings are okay. They are sometimes required. But you should know that most agents hate them.
Most editors/publishers and other of that ilk hate them too.
They hates them my preciousssss.
Because as a general rule, this stuff is backstory. It’s something for you as the author to anchor your mind on and write forward from. And yes, sometimes you need that. But not in the immediate opening. And sometimes not at all.
Let me tell you WHEN you DO need a prologue.
When something significant to the story happens in the past. That’s a good reason to have a prologue. It needs to affect the outcome of the story. It has to have a meaning. But remember, most prologues don’t do much in their own little chapter that they couldn’t do in chapter one. I mean, can’t you just make it a part of chapter one?
Well, no, not when it happens in THE PAST.
Lemme give you an example:
Bllie Joe McAlister met with the girl in the song by Bobbie Gentry (Ode to Billie Joe) IN THE PAST. We don’t hear about the meeting in the song for a few stanzas. But if she had been writing a book about Billie Joe, I think she might have put that meeting in a prologue. It was important to the story. It meant something to her, and might likely have been the reason he jumped off the bridge. Okay, for you newbies here is the music video, sheesh.
Now I am not saying prologues are suicide. But they should be used carefully before you make a publishing professional jump from a bridge.