Some people love them. Some people hate prologues. Some skip them. Agents don’t like them, apparently.
Personally, I don’t like prologues that have only tangential relevance to the story, and I don’t like infodumps. Some people love a good six page history lesson. Some people might love tangential prologues too, though I have never come across anyone who publicly stated it.
If a prologue is interesting and relevant, I have absolutely no problem with it. I have even written one or two.
This post is not really about the virtue of prologues. It is about the lack of virtue of a certain piece of advice related to them. It runs something like this:
A writer walks into a bar and says to the barman, “I want to keep my book’s prologue but, if I do, my book will never get an agent. Prologues have gone out of fashion like the letter thorn.”
The barman scratches his head and answers, “I just serve drinks, but it seems to me, the best thing you can do is scrap the prologue.”
The writer jumps up and down. “BUT I CAN’T!! IT’S MY BEST WRITING EVER!! I LOVE IT MORE THAN LIFE ITSELF!!”
The barman waits for the writer to calm, pours him a stiff drink, and says, “Okay. This is what you do. Make the prologue the first chapter. Agents will read it and never realize you slipped them a prologue.”
If this reads like a joke, it is because it is. Don’t be the butt of it.
Turning your prologue into Chapter 1 is a terrible idea.
(1) Readers will assume Chapter 1 is the start of the story and the characters it introduces are important to the plot. When that turns out not to be the case, they will be confused/betrayed/annoyed.
(2) Agents will work out that Chapter 1 is a disguised prologue when they start Chapter 2. Will they be impressed? No. Their reaction is likely to mirror that of the readers.
If a prologue can successfully pass as the first chapter, then it was never a prologue in the first place.