“The beginning is the most important part of the work.” — Plato
Will your readers be hooked, or will they close your book and never look back? The beginning of your book depends largely on it. A prologue addresses it by giving an intriguing introduction to the heart of a story. But how do you pen a prologue that does justice to your tale and hooks the readers?
Or wait… should you stick with a prologue in the first place, or should you take your readers right into the action with the first chapter? It’s no wonder such an essential factor raises tons of questions.
In this article, I’ll share 5 essential tips to help you navigate setting the stage for your story, as well as getting to know prologues better!
Do You Need a Prologue?
Coming from the Greek word “prologos,” which means “before word,” it establishes your story’s narrative and gives a tantalizing hint of what’s to come right before the real story begins, engaging the readers’ attention.
However, does your story need it? It’s true that not every story may require it. Personally, I find it important to provide crucial context and raise intrigue in pretty much all of my work.
But if you’re finding your story doesn’t work with it, then you may consider if jumping straight to the first chapter can better captivate your readers.
Can your prologue serve a crucial purpose and advance the plot meaningfully? Consider the following factors to determine.
- Do readers need important background or history to understand the main story?
- Can the prologue contents fit in smoothly with the rest of the story without awkward disruption?
- Does the prologue have an intriguing event that makes readers curious and want to keep reading?
- Would a prologue help create the necessary mood or ambiance?
Types of Prologues
So, you’re thinking of going with a prologue. But what approach should you take, really? Well, there’s really no one-size-fits-all answer here.
Here’s what’s important: What does the prologue need to reveal? Is it the characters? An event? A particular topic that the story addresses? The world?
With that in mind, consider what structure fits in with your story. Here are some common types to ignite some inspiration for you.
- Expository Prologue: Provides essential background information or historical context necessary for understanding the main narrative.
- Character-Driven Prologue: Introduces a key character whose actions, decisions, or backstory will have a significant impact on the main plot.
- Flashback Prologue: Presents a scene or event from the past that is crucial to understanding the main storyline.
- Foreshadowing Prologue: Contains hints, clues, or symbols that foreshadow future events or themes in the story.
- Frame Story Prologue: Establishes a narrative frame or framework in which the main story is presented.
- In Medias Res Prologue: Begins the story in the midst of an action or event, often an intense or critical moment.
- Epistolary Prologue: Opens with a letter, diary entry, or document that provides insight into the story or its characters.
Tips For Writing Captivating Prologues
Here are 5 tips that I always keep in mind when penning my prologues.
1. Keep It Brief
The prologue should be brief and straight to the point. Avoid lengthy exposition or irrelevant details that could bog down the reader.
A prologue gives an interesting glimpse. I pick the most intriguing point that can be used without giving away too much. Then I center the prologue solely around it while revealing only what’s most essential in driving it and engaging readers’ attention.
Keeping in mind that 1,500 to 2,500 words tend to be the fellow authors’ go-to choice for the sweet length also helps, so I work around that!
2. Avoid Excessive Details
Don’t dump excessive information! Otherwise, your readers may skim through it or be left yawning. Remember, your readers don’t have a profound interest yet; they’re just getting to know it.
You need to introduce your story, slowly. Rile up their interest and convince them that it’s worth getting to know more. The details can gradually follow later on.
I ensure to only give small pieces of important but vague information. This way, they get to have a taste, but at the same time, they don’t have too many details to fret over just yet!
3. Cultivate Questions
Get your readers to ask questions that give them an itch to find the answer. Make them wonder just what on earth happens ahead so that they eagerly flip the pages ahead!
Incorporate vivid imagery, introduce mystery, bring in conflict, foreshadow, and let the questions flow.
I enjoy playing around with in medias res for this. You can get to have a lot of tension and intrigue raised while raising questions about how the current event came to be.
But of course, too many questions aren’t good; then it’s just overwhelming! Balancing mystery and clarity is the key.
4. Maintain Consistency
A jarring shift can confuse readers and disrupt the flow of the story.
Ensure that your prologue’s style, tone, and narrative seamlessly fit with the rest of the book.
Your prologue is not a standalone piece. It’s a bridge seamlessly connecting your readers to the story’s heart.
I ensure not to see the prologue separately from the rest of the book. I see it as the piece that fits in the whole puzzle and works cohesively with the rest of the pieces!
5. Edit It Last
So you should complete the prologue first and then get to the rest, right? Quite the contrary, I’d say edit it last.
“The first sentence can’t be written until the final sentence is written.” — Joyce Carol Oates
No matter how meticulously we plot and contemplate the storyline beforehand, we truly get to know our stories only when we finish them.
When you know your story better, you also know better what matters the most for your prologue.
After the initial draft, I don’t touch the prologue. And during the editing phase, I jump straight into the chapters. When I’m done editing all the chapters, I come back to revisit and edit the prologue. That’s when I often realize ways to overhaul it for the better!
Examples of Good Prologues
One of the best ways to hone your craft is undoubtedly to seek inspiration from those who have mastered it. So make sure to analyze the prologues of your favorite work, and ask yourself why and how they drew you in the first time you read them.
Let’s go over some prologues from renowned works and why they work.
- Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: Shelley’s prologue is written in the form of letters and serves as a framing device for the story. It introduces Captain Walton’s journey to the Arctic and his encounter with Victor Frankenstein, creating a sense of anticipation for the narrative to come.
- The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss: Rothfuss’s prologue introduces the protagonist, Kvothe, as a humble innkeeper with a mysterious past. It hints at his legendary reputation and sets the stage for a tale of magic, music, and adventure.
- The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien: Tolkien’s prologue is a whimsical and informative piece that provides background on hobbits and their way of life. It gives readers a glimpse into the ordinary world before the extraordinary adventure begins.
- The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown: Brown’s prologue opens with a murder in the Louvre Museum and introduces the mystery of the Holy Grail. It hooks the reader with a high-stakes and cryptic event, setting the stage for the novel’s blend of art, history, and conspiracy.
In the world of storytelling, the prologue is your captivating prelude, your promise to the reader that the journey ahead is worth every word.
While crafting it, remember to keep it brief, avoid information dumping, keep it consistent with the rest of your tale, edit it last, and most importantly, raise questions and intrigue. Don’t forget to seek inspiration from your favorite authors and renowned works!
With these tips in mind, your prologue will be the key that unlocks the door to your literary world, inviting readers to step inside and explore the world of words you’ve created.