The Proper Use of Prologues

We reviewed a couple of prologues and first chapters in our workshop this past week.  One prologue was grounded in an event that occured long before the story opens in chapter one; the other concerned an episode that would be revisited in the future, in subsequent chapters in that respective manuscript.  This second prologue was designed as more of an overture — an exciting vignette to wet the reader’s appetite for what would come.  Both were expertly written, but the former prologue was more effective.  In general, if you’re going to use a prologue at all, make sure it describes an episode that takes place at time before the reader enters the story in chapter one.  Ideally, it should concern a main character — but not THE main character — and it should impart certain information that will assist the reader to better understand the acts or character of the protagonist as the reader moves deeper into the manuscript.