Whether to have a prologue or not is a debate for many writers.
Nowadays its usage is not as common as it used to be.
The opinion among writers today is the prologue is unnecessary and detracts from the story.
Readers’ attention spans are getting shorter as technology develops and the pace of the world increases.
They are no longer willing to wait for the author to set the story like they used to when reading was a major source of entertainment and knowledge.
Now they expect us to get to the point as quickly as possible. No longer can we spin a tale using flowery language and heavy description.
But that doesn’t mean the prologue has gone extinct.
It still serves a purpose when used correctly. But you can’t just randomly toss one in and expect it to work.
If it doesn’t have a reason to be there, then more than likely it’s unnecessary.
Most of the time a prologue is a waste of time, both yours and the reader’s.
It’s a lot harder to grab and hold their attention when it doesn’t fit the story or add to it in any way.
Below are the top five reasons you might write a prologue and whether you should keep or cut it.
To introduce the world or a piece of history
The world and histories we create might seem so beautiful and extraordinary to us we want to share them with everyone.
While they might be so, that doesn’t mean the readers want it thrown at them before the story even begins.
As interesting as these pieces might be, a reader comes for the story, not the scenery.
They have no reason to care how wondrous things are if they haven’t even met the characters yet.
The whole point of the opening scene is to grab the reader’s attention, and you can’t do that with exposition.
Show your world through the way your characters interact with it to make it come alive in your reader’s minds.
You don’t need a prologue to do this for you.
Cut it and work on creating a strong opening scene instead.
To introduce an important piece of the protagonist’s past
As crucial as backstory can be to understanding a story, if not used correctly it can quickly drag the story down.
Backstory has no plot of its own and doesn’t provide the readers the connection they need with the character to care about what happened in their past.
Its purpose is to provide meaning to why the characters act and think the way they do. It’s not meant to interfere with the flow of the story.
Instead of using a prologue, you should scatter hints where you need them and show how it affects the characters and their decisions.
If you find this is not enough, perhaps you have the workings of another book on your hands.
But no matter what, keep your backstory limited and don’t let it take over your story.
To foreshadow the core conflict
Sometimes introducing the villain or a piece of the conflict can seem necessary to the understanding of the story.
In most cases, this type of prologue works, as long as it only hints at what’s to come and is integral to the plot.
It can act as a hook to capture the reader’s attention and draw them into the story, easing the transition into the real story.
However, if your prologue has too jarring of a transition, you’re more than likely going to lose their attention instead. In this case, you should cut it.
To reveal a key piece of information
Sometimes we need to introduce a necessary part of the story that won’t appear anywhere else.
This can be used to raise the suspense without affecting the path the character must take.
But if it provides information the character has not yet learned and will spend the story seeking, your readers will quickly grow bored as they already know the answer.
This type of prologue should be cut, so the real story has meaning and keeps your readers interested.
To tease the end to grab readers
This may seem like a good idea, but in reality, teasing the end is just a cover for a bad beginning.
It may start the story on a high note, but it leaves the readers bored, waiting for the tension to rise to that same level again.
And when they finally do reach the end of the book, they must reread the same material they started with.
In addition, when they reach the next chapter, they will not find anything familiar or even connected to what they just read, leaving them feeling disillusioned.
This type of prologue is completely unnecessary and should be cut immediately.
If your opening scene doesn’t grab the reader right from the start, then you need to work on it until can stand on its own or consider a different place to start the story.
Ultimately, no matter the prologue, the rule of thumb should be cut it and see if your story still grabs your readers and reads strong.
If it does, then you didn’t need it to begin with.
However, if it feels like something is missing and it can’t be added within the body of the story, keep it.
But only if it falls into the category of conflict or information.
Everything else is unnecessary.
What’s your opinion on prologues? Necessary or unnecessary?
FOR FURTHER READING
Renea strives to help writers develop the focus and skills they need to finish their first novel, offering writers practical writing advice they can apply one step at a time.
She is the author of Conquering Writing Pressures: Living a Balanced Writing Life in a Busy World where she helps writers find the courage to accept life will never be perfect. And if we want our dreams to succeed, we must fight to make them a reality.
She currently lives in St. Joseph, Missouri, with her husband Joe, her three children, and her five lovable furballs.
From a young age, Renea was mad for books and reading, and especially loved Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, which she read in the ninth grade.
She is an avid reader, with her main interests residing in history, mythology, and fantasy, along with some romance and science fiction in her earlier years.
When Renea’s not writing, she enjoys genealogy, role-playing games, and dreams of traveling the world. In a past life, she plucked chickens and milked cows.