Writing a prologue is not a standard part of writing books or plays, but it is a great literary device when used correctly. Before you can write an amazing prologue, you need to understand exactly what a prologue is and why it’s used. Learn how to write a prologue, then try writing your own.
A prologue is often defined as an introduction to a play or novel. It is a short piece of writing that comes before the first chapter or the first act.
Prologues are only used in fiction, but they can be used in books, plays, and screenplays. A prologue is always written from a character or narrator’s point of view.
Only add a prologue if your purpose is one of the following:
- You need to provide background information or a backstory that doesn’t fit in the main text.
- You want to set the tone for the rest of the work.
- You want to provide an important point of view that doesn’t fit within the book or play.
- You need to include a piece of information readers will need to understand pivotal parts of the plot, but doesn’t fit into the main story.
Before you start writing a prologue, spend time considering whether you need one. Most authors and experts agree prologues should be used sparingly. Ask yourself a few questions:
- Does it enhance or explain your story? Enhancing is good, explaining is not.
- Can the reader figure this out on her own? If she can, you don’t need the prologue.
- Does it include essential information? If not, it’s unnecessary.
- Is there a way to fit this information into the book or play? If it fits in the story without compromising its integrity, you don’t need a prologue.
Read a few examples of successful prologues in the genre you’re writing in. Think critically about the format of the prologue, how it enhances the work, and why it’s necessary for the reader.
Examples of great prologues include:
- A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
- Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
- Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
- Shutter Island by Denise Lehane
- The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
- Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
A prologue is like a short story in that it’s meant to be short, preferably five pages or less. Whether you write it in poetry, prose, or some other form, it needs to be short. While a prologue is short like a short story, it shouldn’t tell a complete story.
If you’ve left important clues for your reader in the body of the book, trust your reader to find and decipher them. Only include information in your prologue that readers won’t find anywhere else in the work.
Like a good short story and any chapter, your prologue needs to start with a hook. This single sentence or short paragraph needs to draw readers in and keep them from skipping the prologue altogether. Starting in the middle of action or with an odd statement are great options.
The prologue of a book or play needs to be written in the same style and tone of the rest of your novel or play. If your play fits in the genre of horror, your prologue shouldn’t be funny and light.
While the prologue should match the style of the larger work, it needs to be unique in at least one aspect. This could be a different time (future or past), a different point of view, or a different setting.
While you don’t necessarily want to give away the ending (though you can), you do want to include some hints about what’s coming.
The prologue shouldn’t include any resolution. You don’t want to solve any conflicts in this part of the book, but instead lure readers into needing to find the answer and therefore reading on. Any cliffhangers left in the prologue should be resolved somewhere in the book.
A prologue can provide your reader with essential information in an engaging way. If a prologue isn’t right for your book or play, explore what writing an epilogue is like to see if that’s a better fit.