Writing Prologues: Really Useful Links by Lucy O’Callaghan

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Lucy O'Callaghan

Lucy O’Callaghan

Prologues originate from Greek drama, from the word prologos which means before word. They were used to introduce the play to come. Examples of these are in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and also in The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer. Prologues can divide readers; some love them and others 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 prologues.

  1. Writing 101: How to Write a Prologue – 2023 – MasterClass

A prologue is a literary device that arouses the reader’s interest and provides a hint of what’s to come. A good prologue performs one of many functions in the story: foreshadowing events to come, providing background information or back story on the central conflict, establishing a point of view, and setting the tone for the rest of the novel. This article provides examples of prologues in literature and goes on to share three easy steps to write a prologue: introduce the main character, drop hints, and add only relevant details.

  1. How to Write a Prologue for Your Novel (And If You Need One at All) (jerryjenkins.com)

This article says only to use a prologue when there’s a backstory the reader can’t do without. Jerry Jenkins says if you do use a prologue, don’t label it as such. Let them be pleasantly surprised when they come to the end of it and find chapter one. Don’t use it as an excuse to do something you wouldn’t do on page one chapter one. It should be every bit as engaging as your opener. A prologue is not a preview, a scene from the middle of the story, facts you could weave into the story, or an information dump.

  1. What Is A Prologue And How Do You Write One? – Jericho Writers

A prologue sets the stage for the action to come, bringing us into the world of the drama in a succinct way. However, this article from Jericho tells us that they aren’t always necessary as they can tempt writers to add too much backstory, leading to an overload of information that can be off-putting. The article goes on to discuss the four different types of prologues: a future protagonist, a past protagonist, a different point of view, and one which presents background. Prologues can perform some very useful functions in terms of opening a plot with power, but you must immediately engage your reader, provide essential information, and use a consistent tone and style.

  1. Prologue: What Is It, Do You Really Need One & How to Write a Prologue (self-publishingschool.com)

This article from Self-Publishing School explains how to make a prologue stand out. You can do this by using a time difference or a different perspective. It also discusses how to determine if your book needs a prologue. You could use a prologue if you have some information you must convey that can’t be worked into the main novel, if your story doesn’t make sense without a prologue, and if you can’t weave the prologue information into the story without muddling your plot. Self-Publishing School also shares tips on how to write a good prologue, including keeping it brief and interesting, using crisp, original prose, and ending with a burning question.

  1. When and How to Write an Amazing Prologue – Writer’s Edit (writersedit.com)

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.

  1. How to Write a Prologue Readers Won’t Skip (with Examples) (reedsy.com)

Reedsy asks you to consider 5 rules when writing a prologue including, centre your prologue on character action, focus on what you want the readers to take away, keep your foreshadowing subtle, and avoid inundating readers with an info dump. The article goes on to discuss each rule using examples from literature.

PODCASTS
  1. Should You Include a Prologue in Your Story? — Well-Storied.

Kristen shares ways that prologues can prove valuable to a story. She tells us they can provide dramatic irony, can foreshadow pivotal plot events, and showcase an inciting incident. The podcast also shares the pitfalls of a prologue.

  1. The AmWritingFantasy Podcast: Episode 18 – How to write a good prologue for a book | The Am Writing Fantasy Podcast

This podcast, although aimed at fantasy writers, discusses how to write a good prologue and the main points are relevant to all genres.

YOUTUBE

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 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 must 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

Instagram: lucy.ocallaghan.31.

Facebook: @LucyCOCallaghan

Twitter: @LucyCOCallaghan

About the author

Writing since she was a child, Lucy penned her first story with her father called Arthur’s Arm, at the ripe old age of eight. She has been writing ever since. Inspired by her father’s love of the written word and her mother’s encouragement through a constant supply of wonderful stationary, she wrote short stories for her young children, which they subsequently illustrated.
A self-confessed people watcher, stories that happen to real people have always fascinated her and this motivated her move to writing contemporary women’s fiction. Her writing has been described as pacy, human, moving and very real.
Lucy has been part of a local writing group for over ten years and has taken creative writing classes with Paul McVeigh, Jamie O’Connell and Curtis Brown Creative. She truly found her tribe when she joined Writer’s Ink in May 2020. Experienced in beta reading and critiquing, she is currently editing and polishing her debut novel.
Follow her on Instagram: lucy.ocallaghan.31. Facebook and Twitter: @LucyCOCallaghan

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