When I was going the route of trying to have my first book traditionally published, there was a great deal of advice out there on what not to do, and one of the recommendations surprised me. It said, do not include a prologue because agents and editors didn’t like them.
I can’t remember where I saw this advice as this was over a decade ago, and I’m not certain if the same advice applies now, since I no longer bother myself with what agents and editors want to see (otherwise, all the niche aspects of my books would have to be cut out! No way!) Still, it made me wonder—what’s so bad about a prologue?
A poll of my writer’s group at the time gave me another startling discovery. Quite a few of them—writers themselves—didn’t read prologues! I guess I just find that strange, since my understanding of the prologue is that it sets up an important part of the story, usually by detailing an event that happened at an earlier time.
I wouldn’t want to miss that information, but I’d love to hear what you think about prologues. Do you read them? Do you think they should be cut out of books, or made into the first chapter so they aren’t skipped by readers? And if they are made into the first chapter, when the prologue usually takes place at some distant time in the past or maybe even the future, won’t that feel jarring to the reader when chapter 2 shifts gears?
Initially, I had a prologue for The Princess’s Dragon. I cut it out based on that advice. To me, it was important to show how Sondra had lost her belief in magic and why she was so convinced it was all a lie and a hoax, but the experts were saying, “nope, we don’t want prologues.”
In this second edition, I’ve been wrestling yet again with this quandary. I’ve cut out a lot of the “fluff” so we could jump right into the heart of the story, but I’ve yet to come to a decision on whether I should include the prologue—as itself, not as a sneaky first chapter. I’m going to post it below and see what you think. I’d love to hear any feedback—particularly if you do or don’t “prologue.” 😉 (read ‘em, or write ‘em, for the writer’s).
I think this is an important moment in Sondra’s life, so even if I cut it out of the book, I will at least have it published on my blog. 🙂
Catch a fairy, make a wish, to be granted for a single kiss.
The rhyme Elona had told her was easy enough for five-year-old Sondra to remember, and she was so happy that her older sisters had let her come with them when they’d snuck out of the castle. Elona—her oldest sister at twelve—had even shown Sondra how to spot the glowing lights of the fairies as dusk fell. Then she and ten-year old Sarai had left Sondra on her own in the meadow while they went into town to explore. Sondra wasn’t worried about being alone. She had fairies to chase.
With great excitement, she followed the lights as they blinked on in the sky, floating in the deepening shades of twilight. As fast as she could catch up with one, it flickered out and another would light up nearby, yet always just beyond her reach.
“Fairies come back!” she called out in her loudest voice, one never permitted by her mother within the walls of the castle. “I just want a wish, please!”
She followed them as they dodged her efforts and remained playfully out of her reach, so engrossed in her quest that she failed to notice when the quality of the darkness changed around her. The wind song altered from a howl across open fields to a soft sigh trapped in the embrace of ancient trees. The music of the night insects died out, replaced by a muffled silence born of ancient foliage and rotting vegetation in a place so old that no human had existed at the moment of its birth to name it.
A rustle, a rush of powerful wings, and a squeak abruptly ended created a sense of unease in Sondra as she squelched her way through the loam, her soft shoes sinking into the dead leaves and rich soil. Nanny said to never go into the woods! She chewed a dirty, broken fingernail as she wondered what she should do now. She’d come deeper into the woods then she’d expected, and she wasn’t sure she could find her way back out alone.
Suddenly, a light flashed directly in front of her, distracting her from her growing fear. She snatched at it with both hands cupped around the fragile glow and was surprised when she felt the faintest fluttering against her palm, a mere tickle of gossamer wings. She’d finally captured a beautiful fairy with the power to grant her dearest wish, though she couldn’t really think of anything to wish for at the moment.
Still, just catching a fairy made her incredibly happy. She loved pretty things and couldn’t wait to see the beautiful face of her temporary prisoner. She anticipated the sight of a real magical creature right before her very eyes. She wondered how the fairy would cast her spell to grant a wish, performing actual magic—not like the silly antics of the traveling performers who pulled copper coins from her ear with great ceremony—but real magic, the kind her nanny told her about as she tucked her in at night.
Carefully, she separated her hands and a mellow glow greeted her eyes, illuminating a horrible insect with bulbous eyes, a segmented body that glowed from its backside, and nasty pincers. As she froze in absolute shock and disgust, the insect pinched her hand, and Sondra screamed in pain and fear, flinging the repulsive thing away from her. She jumped around brushing at her clothes, suddenly imagining that the once illusive “fairies” crowded her, catching in her skirts, her apron, her beribboned braids. She shrieked and swiped at her hair.
Eventually she calmed down enough to take notice of her very real predicament. She stood alone in the dark, surrounded by trees so thickly crowded that the feeble moonlight barely penetrated the gloom. Suddenly her fear of the disgusting insects seemed childish in comparison to the terror that gripped her now. She was lost in the woods and couldn’t see the central tower of the castle that normally stabbed the skyline like a spire of bone. She could barely see herself. Even the gruesome light bugs deserted her, leaving behind a darkness made more profound by their absence.
Sondra began to cry, calling out for her sisters between great gulping sobs of fear and loneliness. She heard no answer, but she did hear something else, something closer that shuffled and snuffled. Her fears took on a new terrifying dimension as she clapped her hands over her mouth to stifle her sobs and backed away from whatever monsters hunted her.
All the terrors that nanny had told her lived in the woods crowded her mind: brownies, evil sprites, horrible shriveled gnomes, and goblins that stole away little girls.
The sighing wind fell silent and the shuffling stopped.
Then a new sound reached her that evoked a fear above and beyond anything she had yet known. She heard wings, huge, rushing, swooping wings that could only belong to the most dangerous, most evil, most monstrous creature of all. The Dragon! He must have come down from Thunder Mountain when he heard my screams just to burn me up and then eat me for his supper!
Cringing and squeezing her eyes shut, she prayed that Mama and Papa and the royal guards would come charging to her rescue as the sound of wings halted just above her. She couldn’t remain still any longer. Though she feared he would pounce on her the moment she moved, she turned and spun away, stumbling blindly in the darkness between the trees.
She kept her eyes clenched shut, more afraid of seeing the nightmare dragon and freezing in panic than she was of running blindly through the woods. She could picture its hot, terrible breath, glowing red eyes, and scales blacker then the night itself.
Something caught at her and she screamed, wrenching free and tearing her dress. She heard the wings again, swooping in pursuit. The hair rose on the back of her neck as the monster neared, but she refused to crack open her eyes as she tripped and stumbled along.
To her horror, a sharp, bony claw raked across her back and caught her, this time so she couldn’t escape. She screamed and struggled to no avail, only succeeding in scratching up her back and rending her dress even more. The sound of wings halted in front of her as she struggled uselessly in the grasp of the monster. She slowly opened her eyes, determined to face down the fiend that planned to eat her.
“Who-who-whooo-whooo.” A great barn owl turned its glowing eyes to regard her curiously. It perched on a gnarled tree branch in the tangle of growth that surrounded her. Her harsh breathing and the soft query of the night hunter were the only sounds in the darkness.
Her heartbeat slowed, and she caught her breath, beginning to feel foolish when no flames shot from the gloomy shadows. Craning her neck, she saw that her dress was caught in the unforgiving hold of the half-dead branch of a tree. At some point, a part of the branch had snapped, leaving a pointed edge that had gouged out the scratches that even now stung her back.
Seeing nothing behind her but shadows and broken vegetation, she tore her dress free—avoiding the sharp point of the branch that had tormented her—and collapsed on the ground. She had no tears left to shed. Her eyes, itchy and red from the earlier torrent, remained dry. Freed from her heavy braids, her hair fluttered around her face.
She felt nothing but exhaustion and a deep sadness unnatural to her before this night. As she gazed without really seeing the owl—who returned her stare, unblinking—she felt that she’d lost something else tonight besides her way, something special. Too young to examine the puzzling feeling of grief, she slumped against a twisted tree trunk and fell into a deep slumber.
The following sunbirth touched a day filled with desperate searchers from all over the kingdom. They frantically scoured every corner of the capital city, the castle, and the grounds. At the castle, Sondra’s mother and father hid their concern behind their state masks, dealing with the business of running the kingdom.
Elona had been the one to tearfully confess to the king and queen about leaving Sondra in the meadow, surprising Sarai, who’d been paralyzed by her own deep guilt and worry when they’d returned to the meadow to discover Sondra missing. Their furious parents had confined them both to their rooms, despite Elona’s pleas to be allowed to join the search. Now, Sarai worked despondently at her embroidery, her usual perfect stitches suffering from her distraction.
She stabbed herself with the needle when a relieved cheer sounded from the castle courtyard below. Tossing aside her work, she jumped to her feet and scrambled to the window without her usual grace. Her ladies-in-waiting shrieked in surprise at her sudden movement.
Searchers poured through the open gates, escorting a stooped old man wearing a dusty robe the color of autumn leaves and carrying a plain wooden staff, little more than a long twisted branch. His astonishing white beard dragged through the dirt, and he appeared to tramp on it frequently, stopping and gesticulating each time he did as though he talked to it or to himself. His hair continued the concealment of his features, flowing down his face and back and dragging for a ways behind him through the dirt which never seemed to soil the brilliant strands.
Sondra limped beside the old man, her dress torn and dirty, her stockings filled with holes and twigs, and her hair a ratted mess around her moss-streaked face.
Sarai watched as her parents moved out into the courtyard, visibly struggling to maintain their decorum in the face of their relief and desire to snatch up their youngest daughter. The nanny suffered from no such constraints and intercepted the strange pair to grab the child to her bosom and weep all over her brambly hair.
Sarai also rejoiced within herself, but she couldn’t help noticing that something seemed to be missing from her little sister. Some indefinable thing that Sarai always took for granted and that had once seemed to glow from within her sister’s tiny body as if it could barely be contained.