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To Prologue or Not To Prologue

September 21, 2012

I have read articles that said to always avoid prologues, that they serve no purpose but to annoy a reader by cramming too much information about the world and the characters. Yet some of the greatest books have them, so what gives?

And why even bother with a prologue anyway?

Well besides the fact that a good prologue can be cool, the purpose is to tell that part of a story that is completely out of sync with the actual main story’s timeline. It should happen days, or even years before the main story begins.

I personally think it can add some great suspense to a story.

So armed with this knowledge, I went ahead and wrote one for my latest book. And when I read it over during my second draft, it really sucked.

What was the problem?

I had one boring prologue.

Which brings me to another point: it has to be captivating, it has to be interesting. Remember, this is the first couple of paragraphs that will be read.

Note that a prologue cannot be chapter one, and even if you try to call it that, it should just look out of place.

So don’t just write about the protagonist, or his granddaddy, going about doing the daily stuff, save that for chapter one. Your first chapter can take its time, if you like, slowly building on the story with the protagonist going to the office, or blowing up the office, anything that regular folks do on a daily basis.

The prologue, on the other hand, has to be something worth knowing, something that adds value to the main story, hooking the reader at the same time, creating a desire to know more.

If you can’t do that in your prologue, forget about it.

My prologue was boring because it took place after the protagonist won a war.

What was I doing? Why did I start the story after a good part? And what’s that thing in my fridge?

While I couldn’t answer all these questions, I did rewrite my prologue.

And now it’s more action packed, just like real life, kind of.

What do you think about Prologues? To do or not to do? Let me know in your comments. And don’t forget to check out this week’s trailer of my latest book, King Larsen.


From → Writing Tips

  1. does a prologue set the scene of a novel with background and characteres not seen in the body of the work, or offer explanation why the story went the way it did?

    • The prologue can set the scene, describing the world that the story takes place, along with giving background information about characters. If a character in a prologue does not have a part in the main story, then he should be involved in the catalyst (remember that hero who chopped off the evil guy’s finger in the prologue of the first Lord of the Rings). But you have to be careful not to put too much information else it can turn off the reader. Only put the “need to know” stuff. As for explaining why the story is going a particular direction, I believe that can be handled in a great story structure somewhere in the middle or the end.

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