To Prologue (or not!) - that is the question.

To Prologue (or not!) - that is the question.

A Lesson by byPatKeegan

Many people are drawn to writing prologues for a couple of main reasons. however, most people reading them would rather be thrust right into the story without all of the backdrop. You're story should be good enough to stand on its own. Here are my thoughts on prologues.


Many people provide a prologue to their stories. We see them so often it seems only natural. Keep in mind, that there is no right or wrong in providing a prologue. In fact, there is very little  right or wrong in much of the critique I provide. I prefer to think of it not as “right vs. wrong”, but more along the lines of “good vs. better”, answering the question: “am i getting the most out if it?”

Just consider it food for thought; something to strain your brain to take a different perspective. As I’ve stated before, your inner voice has to be the ultimate guide in any critique you receive, because ultimately the story is yours.

So Why do we prologue?

One reason we prologue is because we’ve come up with what we think is a great idea for a scene. So we write the scene and we are very happy with it. But at some point we’ve decided that while the scene is truly great, it certainly can’t be the beginning of the story because we have so many more ideas about what could come before the great scene we just wrote. We know there has to be much, much more to the story before we actually get there.  

But we’re still very proud of what we wrote, and so we’ve decided that we just have to put that great scene in front of our readers right away, getting it into their minds as soon as possible because we think it will make a fantastic great impression. So we pull that scene out of the middle of the story where it really belongs and put it at the beginning and call it a prologue.

My answer to this reasoning comes in the form of a question: Why give it away for free? In my ideal world, my reader wanders into my story like a fly into a spider’s web. The deeper he/she gets, the harder it is to get out. At least that’s the way I want it to happen.

So my point is, use the scene where it best fits in the story. Let the story start at the beginning naturally, and build your story leading your readers to that fantastic scene where it naturally belongs in the story timeline. Chances are it’s powerfully written and the result of a rush of creativity and it will be a great scene within the story. Don’t give it away for free. Start from the beginning of the story where you actually want it to start, rather than pulling a scene out of the middle and putting it first.

I’ve also seen the anomaly where writers will craft their prologue and follow it with the first chapter, with no break in time between the two. In that case, a prologue makes absolutely no sense, and should just be labeled as chapter one.

Another reason we prologue is because we are afraid that our story can not stand on its own. It needs help in the form of a booster shot. In this case the prologue therefore gives the reader so much background information, because we feel that we absolutely have to make sure that the reader is positioned in just the right spot with the right amount of light in order to be ready to read our story.  

My answer to this line of thinking is similar to the first: Don’t GIVE the reader the information about your world, or your character’s history, or what’s going on in the story ahead of time. Rather LEAD THEM TO IT! LET THEM DISCOVER it as teh story unfolds naturally. Some people are afraid if they don’t explain everything up front, their readers won’t get what’s going on and they’ll stop reading.

I analogize  this thought to having a dinner party. You are afraid that if your guests walk into the party and everything is not perfectly set up, with the best linens, the finest china and silverware already set out with the food already cooked and waiting on the plates when they arrive, that they just won’t eat.

Nothing could be further from the truth!

Rather, invite your guests over. Welcome them into your home and show them around a bit first. Let them smell the mouth-watering meal you are preparing, but don’t let them see it or taste it until dinner is actually served just at the right moment. Give them a tour, take their coats, get them comfortable and introduce them to some of the other guests before you sit down to dine.

The best stories in my opinion are those unravel the mystery a little at a time over the course of numerous chapters. By the time I’m into it, I don’t need the prologue. One of my favorite techniques to dispensing prologue-like information to the reader is to do it in the form of a dialogue between two or more characters. There are infinite possibilities, such as dialogue between a sorcerer and his ignorant apprentice, or a council meeting where characters are arguing over the best plan of action, reminding each other of information that the reader doesn’t have yet as to why the other guy’s plan doesn’t work. It’s amazing how much of the information you can get out through more fascinating dialogue then stuffing the information into a dry ramble of facts during a prologue.

This topic is truly tough for me. Up until recently I used to prologue every story I wrote. I’m convinced now, many years later, that they are not needed, if the story is done well. But even more importantly, if a prologue is done poorly, it can actually detract from the story.

So how can it hurt? Many people write prologues using their main characters. When that happens, it becomes either more like a flashback to the past, or showing me a future that I don’t want to see yet because the story hasn’t gotten there yet and I don’t want it to spoil the surprise. And once it does that, it just got a whole lot less interesting.

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Added on February 26, 2013
Last Updated on February 26, 2013

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If you're here, it's no accident. Randomness is simply fate less revealed. Thank you for wanting to find out more about me, and for taking the time to read my work. I sincerely hope that they leave..