Prologues are one of many tools a writer has at their disposal for getting their story off to an interesting start. As we went over in last week's post on the pros and cons of prologues, they present a method of conveying vital information that might be challenging to weave into the story otherwise and hook the reader early on, but they can also delay the main storyline.
Because of these upsides and downsides, you might be on the fence about adding one to your own WIP. If you're part of this crowd, this post is for you.
In this follow-up, we're looking at some reasons a writer might choose to include a prologue—and some of the reasons to refrain.
To start off, let's review some of the reasons you might want to include a prologue.
Information And Explanations
One of the main pros of prologues is being able to deliver information your readers might need to truly immerse themselves in your story such as worldbuilding information or letting a significant past event play out so readers have a sense of what happened before the story's actual start. You might also see a character quickly recapping events of the previous installment in the series.
While it's typically recommended that you filter this in gradually, as it comes up or becomes relevant to your characters' experiences, there are going to be times where it's harder to weave this all into the narration without slowing down the overall pace or distracting from the plot. Having a protagonist stop to deliver a history lesson can disrupt the flow and cause everything to come to a screeching halt.
When you have vital information to share with your reader but can't fit it into the story in a more natural way, a prologue presents an alternative method for getting the job done.
Jump In The Time
Another popular way I've seen prologues used is when there's a sizeable time jump at play.
In romances, for example, the prologue might be a glimpse of the love interests as childhood best friends or the awkward mix-up a year prior that put them on the path to an enemies-to-lovers plotline.
If witnessing these scenes is crucial for a better understanding of the story and you don't think a traditional flashback would work as well, including them in a prologue can be another option to consider.
Prologues might be used as a window to the past, but they can also be used as a glimpse into the future.
I've read quite a few prologues that foreshadow a significant scene much later in the book. It might the middle of a fight scene or the fallout of a twist yet to come, and might even be from a different POV.
Foreshadowing through a prologue can keep your reader wondering how everything ties into that moment and give them a taste of what they can look forward to.
As far as why you shouldn't add a prologue, let's explore that side of the argument.
If you're looking to add to your book's length, the idea of writing a prologue may cross your mind.
While this can certainly make your book longer, it's not necessarily the best route for you to take.
Instead, consider areas that need a little bolstering like underdeveloped character dynamics or subplots that could be further explored. Chances are, if you explore these options first, you will find you don't actually need a prologue to hit your ideal wordcount.
Distanced And Disconnected
Prologues are one method through which a writer might go over familial histories, like why we don't talk about a certain relative or how the family came into their rank or power.
The problem with this is it is often too separated from the main storyline. It could involve your protagonist's grandfather who is deceased long before the first chapter or an event taking place a century prior.
A prologue might be a quick way to get all this information across but, because it is so far removed from who and what is at the center of the WIP, it's like a separate short story or piece of flash-fiction.
If the context of the prologue is too distanced from or doesn't directly involve the characters of your story, it may be better left out.
Another reason a writer might use prologues is to drop the reader into something exciting to grab their attention before the story begins.
This tends to happen when a writer is worried their book's opening is too boring.
However, this is one instance where the addition of a prologue won't be as helpful.
Even though you might successfully capture your reader's interest quickly, you may end up losing it if the first few chapters after the prologue don't match its intensity or its intrigue.
Typically, a prologue is not a replacement for the inciting incident. Instead, consider why the opening chapters of your book might feel boring and work to fix those weaker points.
The bottom line of including a prologue? It's entirely up to you as the writer and what you feel is best suited for your story. You might find they work well for everything you write, that they only fit with some of your projects, or that they're just not for you. Whatever the case may be, it's fine.
Do what is best for you as the writer and best for your story.
Next week, we're looking at the prologue's counterpart: the epilogue.