Avid book readers will be able to identify a prologue from the second they start reading one.
It is not, technically, the first chapter, but it does lay the foundation of the story that you are about to read.
Sometimes it provides context or background that you require before starting the narrative, while other times, they may give you insight into what is yet to come.
Prologues are not required for a story, but when done correctly, they can completely upgrade the set-up of a novel.
The writer needs to hook the reader within the first few pages to ensure that they will continue to read.
In this article, we will look into what a prologue is, what it should look like, and how to write your own.
What Is A Prologue?
A prologue is a part of a story that appears before the first chapter, before the main plot commences.
It instantly draws the reader in by introducing them to a character, or more than one character, in the story and then grabbing their attention with a dilemma or some intriguing information that will serve the plot later on.
Have you ever watched a TV show, or a movie, and the first scene plays out only to be followed by text that reads ‘24 hours earlier’?
This is an example of a prologue being used onscreen.
It is not, technically, the first scene of the show/movie, but it is providing you with the context that you require before you continue.
A prologue should set the tone for the rest of the narrative, introducing characters that will be important later, and hinting at plot lines that will take place.
More often than not, a prologue will be a flash-forward or a flash-back, before the first chapter/scene takes place in the ‘current day’ of the plot.
This is not always the case, however, as a prologue could take place at any point in the plot’s timeline. A prologue will also, usually, end with a cliffhanger.
This way, the reader will already have become intrigued with the storyline before the main plot has even really started.
The Difference Between A Prologue And An Introduction
Sometimes, a prologue will get confused with an introduction, and vice versa.
An introduction is more often used in non-fiction pieces, and is used to state facts that the reader should know before continuing to read.
Rather than telling a story, the author is providing facts.
Prologues can be written from any point of view, unlike introductions, which are always written in the first person.
However, they are typically written in the third or first person.
The Difference Between A Prologue And A Preface
Similarly, some people get prologues mixed up with prefaces.
The author briefly describes the origins of the book, the sources of their inspiration, and any challenges they may have faced while writing it in the preface.
It is entirely unrelated to the plot, and is not necessary to the story.
Prefaces are used in both fiction and nonfiction pieces, but they are not related to the plot in any way, and are written from the author’s point of view rather than any of the characters in the book.
How To Write A Strong Prologue?
It’s crucial to determine whether a prologue will enhance or detract from your novel before you write one.
You might not even want to include a prologue, and, instead, would be better off diving right into the first chapter.
It’s probably preferable to leave out the prologue if the information in it isn’t crucial to your story, or if you can include it into the main body of your writing without confusing the reader.
However, if you believe the prologue is needed, here are some ways that you can strengthen it to its full potential.
Introduce Your First Character
An event must take place during the prologue, whether it is setting up the narrative for the overall plot, or it takes place before/after the main event.
Either way, there will likely be a character, or several characters, in your prologue.
This character doesn’t need to be the main character, but this person should be relevant to the plot moving forward.
Perhaps they play an important role later on, and you want to hint at their existence in the prologue.
You could even keep this character anonymous in the prologue, only to reveal that it was one of the main characters later on, creating a plot twist.
Keep It Short (Don’t Overdo It)
A prologue needs to be kept short and sweet, taking up only a page or two. Otherwise, you may as well include it as your first chapter.
The shorter, and vaguer, a prologue is, the more intriguing it will appear.
It should be snappy enough to keep the reader interested, but not long enough to bore them with too many details.
Conclude With A Cliffhanger
Prologues are best when they end with a cliffhanger, pulling your audience in and leaving them wanting more.
Some writers like to have their prologue as the ending of their story, giving the narrative a full 360 turn over by the time you get to the end.
This way, the reader will experience that ‘a-ha!’ moment when they reach the final page, finally understanding what happened in the prologue.
However, you don’t want the prologue to appear too vague, as this will alienate the reader, and could cause them to lose interest quickly.
We’ve all heard the proverb, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’, but more often than not, readers will evaluate a book based on its prologue.
It’s crucial to make a fantastic first impression because this is the reader’s initial impression of the text itself.
A great prologue is short, straightforward, and reveals just enough details to keep the reader hooked. Then, you can lead them into the main storyline.
We hope you found this article helpful. Happy writing!