Prologues have the ability to do many things for writers. They serve as a method of delivering information like backstory and worldbuilding, foreshadowing what's to come, or catching readers up on what's happened between installments in a series.
Prologues can kick your story off, but they come with a list of pros and cons.
In this post, we're examining a few.
Pro - Explanations Up Front
One reason a writer might include a prologue is the need to give the reader details that are important to the story.
Sometimes, it's tricky to fit this kind of exposition into the narrative or conversations between characters. Prologues offer a solution to this.
This way, you can lay things out and quickly go over the details before they dive in.
Con - The Dreaded Infodump
While prologues can be a method of delivering exposition in a short span of time, having it there all at once might overwhelm readers.
This is true for a number of reasons, one being that it can a lot of information to take in all at once, and right from the get-go.
Since the prologue would come before the actual first chapter, readers would have little to no context, just a heap of information. It might be important to know for their understanding of the story, but it can be tough to sort through and make sense of if they're going in completely blind.
This is why you'll often see writers advised to weave exposition and wordbuilding into the narration gradually and touch on them when they become relevant rather than hand it off to the reader all at once.
Pro - An Interesting Start
It's common practice for writers to devote the first chapter or two of their story to depicting the protagonist's everyday life before the inciting incident occurs. It lets the readers see what normalcy looks like to them and understand how drastically things might change as the story progresses.
However, this snapshot of the average may not grab your reader's attention as well as something like an action sequence could. Prologues offer a solution.
With a prologue, you can bring the focus to something of greater interest, letting you hook the reader that much sooner.
Con - Delaying The Story
Nearly every pro has a con. In this case, it's that while a prologue might serve as an attention grabber right off the bat, it can also delay the actual start of the story.
By presenting your readers with a flashback, a glimpse into the future, or an overview of the world, you're holding off on the main story itself.
This means it can take longer for things to get going in earnest.
While your prologue can be considered the start of your book, it isn't necessarily the start of the story.
Pro - Filling in the Gaps
One way you might see a prologue used is as a means of refreshing the reader's memory.
Book two of a series could include a prologue quickly recapping the previous installment.
While this is something you can typically work into your narration the same way as any other exposition, doing so in a prologue is also a valid approach that can act almost as a "Previously on..." segment. This lets you get back to continuing the story without having to pause the narration to go over what already happened.
Con - The Chopping Block
One phase of the writing process we all face at some point is editing, and among the many stages is whittling down your word count. This includes smaller changes like deleting filter words or repetitive and redundant lines as well as large cuts like removing unnecessary elements.
Prologues tend to find themselves in the line of fire. Though linked to the main story, they're often considered separate entities that don't matter as much when you're looking at the bigger picture. They, like scenes that don't have much bearing on the central plot or a character who brings little to the table, are high on the list of things to be addressed.
When it comes time for the axe to swing, it's often going to do so in the direction of the prologue.
A prologue can bring a lot to your WIP, but including one can also have its downsides. Taking the time to look into both the pros and cons can help you decide whether or not to include one.
If you're still deliberating over including a prologue after this post, stay tuned for next week when we go over some reasons to do so (or to not do so).