A reader picks up your book and is ready for the story to begin. However, the reader knows little to nothing about your characters and storyline. This is where a prologue is very useful. A prologue is a short piece of writing that sets the stage for your story. It can introduce your characters, provide background information, or establish the mood for your story. In this article, we’ll teach you how to write an interesting prologue that engages the audience and grabs their interest.
Definition Of A Prologue
A prologue is an opening to a story, before the first chapter, that sets the stage for the story to come. It should read just like a short story. A great prologue can accomplish a few different things.
- Provide history & background details.
- Establish the tone and setting of the story
- Introduce a main plot points
- Share points of view from the main character
However, not all stories need a prologue. Certain stories are simple enough and do not need any additional information before the very beginning of the main story. It is up to the author to decide whether or not a prologue is actually needed for their story.
Takeaway: A prologue comes before the main story & introduces characters and background details to draw readers in.
History Of Prologues
The origin of prologues is most often accredited to Euripides. However, there is evidence playwriters were using prologues long before him.
There is evidence of this literary device being used in Ancient Greece, where they were used to introduce both tragedies and comedies. Today, we see prologues in almost all fantasy novels, nonfiction books, and fiction books.
Top 4 Prologue Writing Tips
Follow these four tips to write an amazing prologue.
1) Introduce Main Details & Characters
A prologue introduces the reader to the background details and main characters of the story, setting the stage for what’s to come. In many ways, it’s like a tiny preview of the story, giving just enough information to whet your appetite without spoiling the surprise.
In a good prologue, the main characters often speak directly to the audience. They will:
- Introduce themselves
- Give opinions
- Provide background detail
2) Leave Clues For What To Expect
In an effective prologue, the author drops key clues & hints about future events. An experienced reader will pick up the clues and form their own predictions.
For example: In a murder mystery novel, the prologue might contain key details about the killer’s identity or the victim’s fate.
Clues don’t mean spoilers! Don’t confuse laying out useful hints for revealing the conclusion of the main story future of the other characters. The prologue begins the story and hooks the reader’s interest.
Tip: If you want to make a prologue stand out, make the reader think!
3) No Unnecessary Details
A good prologue is short & to the point. Give the reader some background on the main characters, time period, setting, and hints for what to expect.
This is NOT the place for an info-dump. The goal is to get the reader thinking and present important questions that are answered in the main story.
The prologue comes at the begging of a literary work, but it should not include all the details that are present in the main story. Many writers make the mistake of putting TOO much information. Focus on the important characters & important details!
Takeaway: As a rule of thumb, keep your prologue under 1,000 words.
4) Proofread Your Prologue LAST
Editing & proofreading is a major part of the publishing process. The prologue should always be edited last. You need to have a complete picture of the story from introduction to conclusion. Edit your prologue last to ensure key details are not missed.
What Is An Introduction?
An introduction is the beginning of a story. An effective introduction:
- Sets the scene
- Introduces the characters
- Provide some background information about the story
- Hooks the reader’s attention and makes them want to read more
What Is A Preface?
A preface is a short introduction to a book, usually written by the author. It gives an overview of the book’s content and describes the author’s motivation for writing it.
What Is A Forward?
Unlike a preface, a forward is not written by the author. The forward is written by someone else & tries to convince people to read the book. The forward is usually in the very front of the book.
Famous Prologue Examples
The most famous example of a prologue is from Romeo & Juliet written by William Shakespeare. The prologue starts like this:
Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
Shakespeare uses the prologue as a framing device to set the stage for the main story. The reader gets critical background on the family history and gets clues on what to expect.
FAQs – Writing A Good Prologue
Even though the story is often written in first-person narration, the prologue is usually written in the third person. It provides some background information about the story or the characters. It may also set the tone for the story, and it can be used to introduce the main characters or to establish the setting.
A famous example of a prologue is Cinderella. In the prologue, the writer established that Cinderella had been mistreated by her stepmother and stepsisters and was forced to do all the household chores. They provided critical background information before the very first chapter.
The prologue usually provides background information on the characters or setting that sets the stage for future events. Prologues can foreshadow future events or just provide additional information.
Although the story or book itself is usually written in the first person, prologues are written in the third person. They are short (few pages at most) and provide all necessary background details before starting the actual story.
All prologues are different. For example, Cinderella is a much different perspective than the prologue of Romeo & Juliet. A good prologue should include these 3 parts: background information, foreshadowing, and insight into the characters’ perspectives & opinions.
It is a best practice to keep your prologues below 1,000 words. Although you will read prologues that are up to 3,000 words, those are the exception to the rule for a quality prologue. Prologues are meant to be concise and to the point.
Yes, a book can have both a preface and a prologue. There are thousands of books and no 100% correct way to do it.
No, the preface and introduction are not the same. A preface is an optional opening before a story begins. It gives the reader information on why the story is taking place. An introduction provides information about the book such as its scope, purpose, and methodology. It gives the readers a better idea of what will happen in the story.
The Bottom Line
Now you know the step-by-step process for writing an effective prologue. This is the first act before the main body…so take it seriously. A great prologue can boost the reader’s understanding and can get them interested and excited. Follow these great tips for how to write a prologue and let us know how it goes!