Too often, I think writers turn to using a prologue for their story because they simply have an information dump to get off of their hands. There is this belief that we will need to know all that went on in the past to understand the conflict that is happening right now. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth.
When I see a writer submit a prologue to me, the first thought I get is either, A) it is the scene with the villain in a romantic suspense; B) the trauma the heroine went through that she is repressing; or C) the trauma the hero went through that he is repressing. Needless to say, the story is now not starting with any movement forward and the reader is left sitting with this throught of "who cares and when will I need to use this information?"
I went back and did some digging about definitions of prologues and the key thing that stands out is that it is more than simply "backstory". This is information that can not be gotten to the reader any other way. In other words, we are forced to use the prologue because the reader truly would be lost without it and there is simply no other place to put it.
When we look at two of those options I mentioned above (the hero and heroine) element, these are pieces that will come out later in the story anyway when they divulge the information to each other...
"Why won't you love me Cassie?"
"I can't I just can't...", she whimpered into his alien vampire bunny fur.
"I don't understand, tell me and maybe I can help"
Whimpering she began, "When I was younger, my father made me drink carrot soup every day..."
Get the idea. We were going to hear this element anyway so why are you giving it to us now?
As far as the villain issue, this can also be brought to a later part in the story AFTER we have gotten to know the hero and heroine. We see the people we are cheering for and then you throw a cog into the works. Infintely better.
The key to these little bad boys is simple.
- Keep it short.
- Make it relevant
- Make sure it is more than a back story dump
- Make sure you cannot and will not use it anywhere else in the story.