Just read a wonderful blog that emphasized getting to know your main character right away, creating empathy with him/her. I was told last year that I had to lose my prologue on a suspense novel because the reader didn't have enough feeling for the main character soon enough, and the critique was spot on. I dropped the prologue and the story came alive much sooner as we learned enough about the main character to care about her.
How do we know when a prologue is necessary to set up a story or when it is simply taking up space because we, as writers, like what we're saying?
I think immediately of Mary Higgins Clark who often sets up the entire story through a heart-pounding prologue, which may or may not have anything to do with the main character. But she is successful in that the entire story hinges on what happens to someone in the prologue.
What kind of experiences have you, as writers, as readers, had with respects to prologues opening a story? Can you give an example of how a prologue intrigued you enough to have a read? Is it absolutely necessary to have the main character in the opening chapter of the book? On another note, does it make a difference in the genre you are reading? I can see romance needing the main characters right away, but what about suspense, thrillers, or a blend of suspense and romance--thriller and romance. What do you like to see?
Or give us an example of a book that hooked you right away without there being even a mention of the main character in the opening.