Writing Prologues

Many people dislike prologues. Why might that be? Because they want to jump right into the story rather than waste time reading a seemingly separate story they won’t remember anyway?

Prologues can be pointless, and they can be puzzling. But what if your story needs a prologue? How can you know?

Do you need to introduce an important character (who is not the MC) in advance? Do you need to clue the reader in to where the story is headed before it begins? Does your future MC have something to say? [Writer’s Digest has a good article on this.]

The point of this post is to explain why I have written prologues in the past, and why Gray Haze will not have one. I will also offer tips on how to write them so readers won’t be tempted to skip them.

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Why The Edinön Trilogy has prologues:

  • Alternate POV — the prologue in Liquid Death is written from the POV of the secondary villain, and offers a glimpse into Kandi’s character from an outside perspective. Dawning Life’s prologue is written in Juan’s mom’s POV to hint at a subplot in the story. The prologue in Burning Space mirrors the end of the trilogy and foreshadows what the heroes must accomplish to save the galaxy. These objectives could not have been reached in the protagonists’ perspectives.

Why Gray Haze will not have a prologue:

  • Because it doesn’t need one. 😉
  • How do I know this? I already have multiple protagonists/antagonists whose perspectives will be featured throughout the book. I also want to keep the story a mystery until the main characters begin to piece together the clues themselves. I’m not going to offer the readers bonus information from the get-go. They’ll be in the dark about as much as the MCs until things start to get Really Interesting.

HOW TO WRITE PROLOGUES

Tip #1: Short and Not-So-Sweet

Your prologue must introduce an intense measure of peril in as few words as possible. I’ll use Liquid Death as an example only because I know it so well (not saying it’s perfect, of course). The prologue in Liquid Death is about a page and a half long and introduces Kandi (the female MC) from her caretaker’s perspective. Kandi is thirteen years old, naked, and covered in blood in her first scene. To contrast this bizarre, gruesome imagery, the narrator says “Happy birthday” to her and offers her chocolate pie.

What does the prologue have? Peril? Yes. Kandi is a child, bleeding all over the floor, and her doctors don’t seem the least concerned. It is also suitably short so the reader won’t have to slog through it to get to the good stuff. It’s like getting a whiff of dessert before a meal.

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Tip #2: Hook, Line, and Sinker

Your entire prologue is the hook for your story. Write accordingly. What does a hook need? It needs high stakes, intense emotions, and ominousness. Give the reader a cookie and pull it away just as they reach for it. Then move onto Chapter 1.

“High stakes” does not necessarily mean heart-pumping action. Prologues don’t need action to be interesting. Most of the time, I find dialogue more interesting than action in fiction. The prologue could describe a character standing on a street looking at a house, and it could make me turn the page. It’s all about the atmosphere and theme you wish to establish with your novel. If it’s a horror, make it creepy. If it’s a romance, make it dramatic/emotional. If it’s a fantasy, make it rich and unique — but short.

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The prologue’s primary purpose is to entice the readers. This can be done in as little as one sentence. The only thing that sets it apart from the actual hook (beginning of Chapter 1), is that it is narrated from an alternative perspective. It’s like a Pre-Chapter 1.

Tip #3: Conflict is Coming

The prologue’s secondary purpose is to foreshadow what’s ahead in the plot. This can be done from any point of time relative to the story. What is your main conflict? How can you hint to it and make it intriguing without giving too much away?

Do not write lengthy descriptions in prologues or introduce characters that don’t matter. Don’t be too obvious, either. You don’t want the prologue to tell the reader directly what to expect — it’s not a blurb or synopsis. Paint an ominous little picture — or even a fragment of a picture — and give the reader a reason to continue to Chapter 1.

Your Thoughts?

Were any of these tips helpful? What makes you skip prologues? How can writers make them more interesting? Should they be done away with altogether? Comment below!

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