Tuesday, March 23, 2010

To Prologue or Not To Prologue, That is the Question...

"So, I'm thinking of starting my story with a prologue, what do you think?" My simple question is Why?

Too often, I think writers turn to using a prologue for their story because they simply have an information dump to get off of their hands. There is this belief that we will need to know all that went on in the past to understand the conflict that is happening right now. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth.

When I see a writer submit a prologue to me, the first thought I get is either, A) it is the scene with the villain in a romantic suspense; B) the trauma the heroine went through that she is repressing; or C) the trauma the hero went through that he is repressing. Needless to say, the story is now not starting with any movement forward and the reader is left sitting with this throught of "who cares and when will I need to use this information?"

I went back and did some digging about definitions of prologues and the key thing that stands out is that it is more than simply "backstory". This is information that can not be gotten to the reader any other way. In other words, we are forced to use the prologue because the reader truly would be lost without it and there is simply no other place to put it.

When we look at two of those options I mentioned above (the hero and heroine) element, these are pieces that will come out later in the story anyway when they divulge the information to each other...

"Why won't you love me Cassie?"
"I can't I just can't...", she whimpered into his alien vampire bunny fur.
"I don't understand, tell me and maybe I can help"
Whimpering she began, "When I was younger, my father made me drink carrot soup every day..."

Get the idea. We were going to hear this element anyway so why are you giving it to us now?

As far as the villain issue, this can also be brought to a later part in the story AFTER we have gotten to know the hero and heroine. We see the people we are cheering for and then you throw a cog into the works. Infintely better.

The key to these little bad boys is simple.
  • Keep it short.
  • Make it relevant
  • Make sure it is more than a back story dump
  • Make sure you cannot and will not use it anywhere else in the story.

Have fun.



  1. I have never thought about that. Maybe if I hadn't put a prologue into the last one it would have been better received. Oh well, I am now going to take the prologue out of my next story. Thanks for the advice.

  2. A writer just sent me a quick email about my opinion of a preface. A preface is simply a preliminary statement describing the over-all theme of the book. Nothing wrong with that. Most of the time, I go straight to the story and will frequently ignore it or not give it much thought. If you want it, then keep it.


  3. I still think there is a time and a place for a prologue. Look at Shana Abe's prologue in her Drakon series. Especially if a fantasy aspect is included in the book, a prologue can help put you right in the midst of the world the author has created. Most of the prologues I've read I've enjoyed.

  4. Hi Scott,

    I've been enjoying your blog. Thanks for the useful information.

    Regarding today's post, I had a question. What if an event happens several years prior, but it changes the protagonist's life completely and it will be a theme throughout the book? In those cases, it seems a prologue would fit--but since so many agents/editors shriek at prologues, I've put mine as "Chapter One" and listed the date at the beginning of the chapter, then "4 years later" at the beginning of the next chapter. Would this be preferable, or is it better in a prologue?

    An example (perhaps a lame one, it's not the real one) would be if a virus spread across a small town 5 years ago, killing every member of the protagonist's family. But the book is about how she copes now, how she builds her life now. Prologue, or chapter 1 with "5 years ago"?


  5. I confess to being a prologue 'avoider'. I skip them, I want to get straight to the story. I do find it annoying at times,when I have to go back and refer to a prologue for a piece of the storyline history.

    I will not be adding prologue. I am considering adding a page to compliment the background of my story. It is a fiction novel based on a real historical figure. So I thought a snippet of facts might be interesting.

    Thanks for interesting post.

  6. Okay. I have a prologue in my story, and I could use some advice on what I should do with it.

    I'm writing a fantasy series. And in that fantasy series I have a race of shape shifters who can copy anything they touch when in their natural form. However, they have been trapped in their natural form for over a hundred years in a cave. A very important person is led to that cave by a voice in his head that is a key villain in the overall series. And then, that person is copied and murdered.

    So, I'm trying to figure out if I should dump the prologue scene altogether, move it to the final book in the series where it becomes pertinent information, or keep it as is. What do you think? It's somewhat backstory, but it has direct consequence upon the future events. This moment starts a war that my main character is dragged into. And the character that experiences it all dies immediately so I'm trying to figure how to work it in without a prologue.

    I suppose I could have the copy discuss it, but then I run the risk of having my villain talk too much. Do you think I should chance it?

    Anyway, I'd really appreciate it if you could share your opinion. Thank you for your time, and I hope you have a nice day! Happy writing!