So what do you think? Hate them or love them? Think its old school? Don’t care? Personally, I’ve never been bothered by prologues. I think they can add dimension and interest at the beginning of a story that might be hard to build in elsewhere. Besides, George R. R. Martin (Game of Thrones) has shown us you can break most of the “so-called” rules and be wildly successful.
I think rules should apply “lightly” in science fiction and fantasy. Aren’t we out here to stretch the boundaries and make stuff up? Why be confined by other people’s opinions about the correct way to write? I believe the best way to write a story is to write YOUR story. Sure, you need to work with editors and beta readers and be diligent with follow-up editing so you’re confident it’s the best it can be. But will a prologue make or break you? Nah. If you want to do one and it enriches your story, go ahead.
Here’s me being brave and sharing the first part of my Prologue to Cave of Whispers (still undergoing final edits). Working for release in early 2020 (she said hopefully).
Smoke floated across the battlefield, disguising itself as evening mist while embers from burning brush and grass flickered and died in the approaching twilight. Thesala leaned heavily on her staff and peered through the shifting grey. It was becoming harder to distinguish between the dark shapes lying upon the ground. Were they man, horse or dragon? But she spared no thoughts about the dead, only the living. She looked for movement in the shadows. There, up on top of the rise, something shifted. She saw a large head rise and fall back upon the ground. Her heart leapt in spite of her exhaustion. The dragon was still alive. She forced her weary legs to ascend quickly up the hill. She had to hurry. There wasn’t much time.
* * *
Emelthedin tried to shift her large frame upright, but was unable to stand. The lance that pierced her right chest and protruded from the top corner of her wing made every breath agony. Whether it had been poisoned or enchanted, she could not tell, but it’s deadly mark would kill her soon enough either way. She realized her time was short. She could see very little of what remained through the shifting smoke. Straining to hear signs of other living beings, she heard only distant cries of the wounded and the crackling of fire. The air hung thick with smoke and death. She wondered if any of her clan had survived the slaughter.
There was no fire left in the dragon’s rasping lungs so she raised her head instead for a final anguished roar in honor of her family that had fought and died today. Her father Jiormason had flown high above the clouds before diving down at the ledge holding the mages orchestrating the battle below. She had turned away, not able to bear the sight of him crashing into the mountain. His death had shattered the enemy mages magic and stilled the fighting, but it gave her little comfort for he lay unmoving at the bottom of the mountain. Her brother Dasmarg fell, trying to defend their human allies from the oncoming army of soulless creatures that fought with dead, unblinking eyes. And the many more who had flown again and again, dodging enchanted arrows and spears, descending down into the enemy lines, clawing and breathing fire to burn them away.
How had this great tragedy befallen them? What sort of magic could defeat the combined forces of dragons, Guardians and humans? She had no answer, and it was too late to do anything, even if she had known. She said one last prayer in the memory of the fallen and begged whatever Gods were listening that Vynrith would come to release her spirit from flesh so she could rest in peace. But was the Dragon Keeper still alive to chant the words that were sacred at both birth and death? Was there a dragon who had the strength to stand with him to breathe the fire that would burn her to ash? She despaired at the thought of being kept captive here for eternity at the site of her death, her essence trapped within her bones. Closing her eyes, she stilled her mind and pushed her awareness out to find any movement around her. Although she could see no one, she felt a heart beating and it was approaching. She was not alone. Perhaps there was still hope.