Saturday, May 2, 2015

3 Tips for Writing a Prologue That Works

Post by co-founder Catsi Eceer

Hi guys! I know it's been a while since I've posted anything on here, and I've missed you all a ton. But now I'm back (hopefully for a while this time), and I've got lots of post ideas for you.

Today I want to talk about prologues. I know a lot of people who are completely against them, and some who absolutely adore them. My views aren't on either extreme, but I'd like to explore the aspects of what makes a prologue work or fail in a novel.

So many people skip prologues, if they're boring. They might put up with a slow first chapter, but they won't stick around for the prologue if it's dull. Lots of people skip prologues without even glancing at them. (I once accidentally skipped a prologue because I didn't realize it was there... I don't think that was the prologue's fault, though.)

However, there are some very good prologues I can think of. Ones that definitely help the story, rather than detract from it. What makes those prologues work? I've come up with a few ideas.

  1. Make your prologue interesting.
    This one may seem like a no-brainer, but it goes a little deeper than you might think at first. There needs to be some kind of action, some kind of conflict, just as if it were a chapter on its own. Do not, and I repeat, do not spend the entire prologue rambling about the history of your fantasy world. If your reader really needs to know all of that, put it in the actual story. They won't stick around for the prologue.
  2. Make your prologue relevant to the story.
    Another seemingly no-brainer, that's often ignored in prologues. Make sure that what your telling us about in the prologue is actually important to the story. If you took the prologue out, how would it affect the rest of the novel? If it doesn't affect the story, chances are, it shouldn't be there at all.
    Maybe you need to write out the history of your country, or the details of an old war. That's fine--write it for yourself. But don't put it in the prologue.
  3. Give your reader someone to care about in the prologue too.
    If it's relevant, and it's interesting, that's great. But make sure we have a protagonist to follow in this scene, a main character of sorts. If we don't know who we're supposed to be paying attention to, we might not be paying attention at all.
    And this is where a tricky part of writing successful prologues comes in. If you manage to get the reader attached to the main character of the prologue, they're going to be disappointed when they get to the actual novel and find a completely different character waiting for them. So if it's at all possible, use the main character of the actual story as the prologue main character too.
Do you have a prologue? Does it match up to the 3 Tips I've come up with? Do you have another idea of what makes a good prologue? I'd love to hear about it! Let me know in the comments.

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