A Word About Prologues in Mysteries

By: Amberly Finarelli

Here at Andrea Hurst Literary Management, I’m one of the agents who represents mysteries—mostly of the comedic and cozy types, and yes, even some paranormal. In the last few months, I’ve received quite a few mystery submissions that featured prologues, prompting me to take a moment to address the use of prologues, specifically within mystery.

Just a note: the topic of prologues has been covered extensively in books and blogs, and there is much discussion as to whether they should be used (as opposed to simply making the prologue Chapter 1). Use of prologues can vary from genre to genre, which is why I’m focusing only on mystery here, and really, on one specific concern: whose point of view it is in.

It’s my opinion that a prologue should never be given to show the scene where the “whodunit” is either a) plotting the murder of the victim, or b) committing the actual murder. Showing such a scene does a couple of things that can interfere with the reader’s experience in attempting to solve the murder puzzle:

1)      It shows the scene of the crime, including time of day, implements used, location, and possibly the victim’s response. This can minimize the amount of sleuthing the reader will have to do (thereby automatically decreasing the suspense and tension that is so pivotal in keeping the mystery reader’s attention engaged), since a large part of mystery plot involves the reader discovering these very clues with the amateur sleuth protagonist.

2)      It comes from the murderer’s point of view, which in itself gives his or her identity— and possibly the motive—away! Talk about a spoiler.  Even if only pronouns are used to refer to the murderer (e.g., “he crept to the bed, his fingers, slick with sweat, wrapped around the rough coil of rope”), readers already know from this detail that they can automatically eliminate any of the female suspects that the sleuth may come across later in the book, because he is male.

Remember, mystery writers: You never want your readers to feel that they were cheated of a rewarding sleuthing experience with their beloved protagonist!

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Comments

  1. MarkSpizer says:

    great post as usual!

  2. Robin Martin says:

    Very good points, Amberly. Thanks for sharing.

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