I love prologues!
Every other week I spot of tweet or instagram post about the prologues. We’re told to forgo without explanation. That reminds me of my elementary teachers complaining about everything in school. “Just because” was never a good answer. It still isn’t.
Especially when everything in writing has a purpose.
Prologues are no different. (Epilogues have a place too, but deserve their own post.)
The reason everyone wants to say get rid of the prologue is because most aren’t done well. When it comes to writing, ‘done well’ is the only correct answer. Everything is allowed and possible if done well.
So…. What’s done well?
What’s a prologue’s purpose?
A prologue has two reasons: A massive time skip or a different POV.
That’s actually it. If you aren’t jumping time or switching to a vastly different POV, just mark it chapter one and try editing again. It’s not a prologue.
Prologues are not meant for info dumping. They are a legit chapter, even if they are almost separate from the story. I wouldn’t even be against saying they’d make the perfect free e-book to get a reader interested in the story.
A prologue is either an open ended short story or a complete short story that connects to the book.
Massive Time Skip
What does that even mean? Massive is subjective. And it’s subjective to your story.
If your story lasts only a day- literally everything happens on one day- a massive time skip would be a week.
If your story covers three years, massive time skip would be more like a decade.
Because massive is relative to the length of time covered in your story.
Sometimes, the “massive” time skip isn’t really massive. Sometimes, the prologue happens a month before chapter one, but has such a different sense about it, that it doesn’t fit as chapter one.
Yes. It is plausible to write it as a prologue even if the time skip isn’t as massive as others.
I’d probably suggest trying option two before continuing though.
The second way to create a good prologue that is separate from the chapters is switching up who is the narrator. Who’s perspective are we reading from?
There are plenty of stories where we can be given a little hook about the main character before really meeting them as our main character. That is one of the purposes of the prologue. Make us connected to this character that we’ll breathe for the next three hundred pages.
The time line can be unstable in this type of prologue. As long as it happened in a reasonable time frame within the story, it works. I’ve seen conclusion based prologues done because the point view never gave away the book. I’ve seen one where they just recreated the opening chapter from a different view because it offers something special.
The key though is to not give details multiple times without very clear reason. A reader will key in one the same clears multiple times and will assume it matters. And if it doesn’t?
What a prologue isn’t
It is not an info dump. It is not there to get all those left over details about your world into the book. An author will always know more about the story than the reader. That’s how it should be. A reader can fill in plenty of blanks.
Don’t try to introduce all your characters in the prologue. You can create a Character Collection bonus in the back of the book. Appendix would love to have that list with a short description of each characters. Do not try to introduce everything in a prologue.
It’s not about giving you the answers to the book as whole.
It’s not meant to distract from the plot of the book.
It’s a different way of opening that is almost left turn of a chapter one.
If the world has a grand prophesy that you’ll key in on during the book? Give us a short about that prophesy. How it came to be. Why it’s there. Who is connects to. Leave out details. It’s required. Cut more than you think should be cut.
Need to explain a little about the setting? Take it from the view point of an annoyed worker in the world. Let them give small details that bring out the pieces you need readers to be aware of right away. Think gardener, custodian, cleaner, people who are guaranteed to be there but are normally overlooked. They’d get a lot of information as if blase. Use them to give the reader that stuff.
Parents did something that effects the book before the MC was even born? You got a perfect time skip. Write it up and trim it down. Key in on the details you need readers to know.
Fluff is good, but a prologue needs to be quick. It should never be longer than chapter one (or the average length of your chapters).
Prologues have purpose. I love them. Seriously. I will read a prologue first before getting to chapter one. It can make me put it down.
The biggest key to a prologue is, it’s not needed. Everything about a prologue is just bonus content. Because of where it exists in the story, it’s like that one gif of Chris Pratt
Two final pieces of advice:
- If you can put everything into the story, it may be better to cut the prologue completely.
- A prologue isn’t needed in any sense; it’s just for fun.