Prologues are a bit like marmite; you either love or hate them. Some readers, including agents, admit to skipping the prologue in a story. Sometimes they just aren’t necessary. The backstory, action, and characterisation can often be accomplished within the main part of your novel. Having said that, a prologue can enhance your story if used effectively. The writer needs to create questions in the reader’s mind during the prologue that compels them to read on. I have put together some articles, podcasts, and YouTube videos that I think you will find helpful for writing your own prologues.
This article shares 6 tips on how to write a strong prologue. These include hooking the reader by hinting at what lies ahead, keeping it short to keep the reader interested, and leaving editing your prologue until you have completed the story.
Masterclass explains the history and purpose of the prologue and gives three famous examples of prologues in literature. It goes on to share three steps to writing a prologue.
Jerry Jenkins is not a fan of using prologues and says that he would only use them if there’s a backstory the reader cannot do without. He tells us that a prologue is not a preview, a scene from the middle of the book, or a place to give the reader information that you could weave into the story.
Writer’s Edit discusses when and how to use a prologue. It gives the writer several questions to ask about your story: does the prologue involve a different time, place, or point of view than the main story? Does it provide the necessary information? It then moves onto the task of writing a prologue, advising you to keep it short, consider the genre you’re writing in, make it interesting, don’t give your readers a false start, and not use it as an information dump on your reader.
This article discusses where to begin when writing a prologue, when, where, and how to write one. It compares a prologue to a wild card that gives you the chance to start your story twice, at two different points. However, it is pointed out that this can work for or against you. Do you need a double opening? What can the prologue do for you?
Four different types of prologues are explained in this article: the past protagonist, future protagonist, alternative viewpoint, and informational. Examples are given of each. It goes on to share tips on how to make your prologue stand out including, creating intrigue right from the start, keeping it brief, ending it with a burning question.
Kristen shares ways that prologues can prove valuable to a story. They can provide dramatic irony, can foreshadow pivotal plot events, and showcase an inciting incident. The podcast also shares the pitfalls of a prologue.
This podcast, although aimed at fantasy writers, discusses how to write a good prologue and the main points are relevant to all genres.
This video from Reedsy explains that prologues are one of the most contentious topics in writing and asks do you really need one. It shares some advice on how to write a prologue that works.
Jenna Moreci shares the exceptions to the rule regarding prologues, and how to know if you need to write a prologue.
Prologues might not be for all readers or indeed agents but, if written well, they can be a good way to set the tone of your story. Remember that the first few pages of your novel have to be as good as they can be. If you are planning on writing a prologue, make sure it is interesting enough to hook your reader in and make them want to read on. William Ryan, in his book Guide to How to Write, says, ‘you want to give the reader a strong sense of anticipation for the story they are about to encounter.’
I hope that this week’s column has been helpful to you. As always, if they are any topics you want me to cover, please get in touch.
(c) Lucy O’Callaghan