Prologue: Do's and Don'ts

Prologues –

A lot of Royal Road authors feel compelled to add a prologue, not because they are actually interested in the prologue but because they think they need it to get the ball rolling for their stories. This results in a lot of prologues that are shoddy at best, regardless of the actual level of the rest of the fiction.

So, this begs the question, what is a prologue? How do you use it so that it doesn’t feel forced, rushed or like an info dump? Well first I’ll list some things that I believe you SHOULD NOT do with your prologue.

Note: this is a repost of Kina's rant that is based on his opinion.

 

The DO NOT Section.


  • Firstly, you don’t need a prologue. Prologues are one method at giving the reader a glimpse at some background. Most commonly, authors use prologues as a way to give you a peak at the spark that started events. Then start the real story where their main character actually begins to interact with events. So, if you don’t actually have some background that you desperately need to get across or a ‘spark’ event that triggered a lot of what’s going to happen within your story, you can just skip the prologue and start your story at chapter one.

 

  • A prologue is not a place where you should be spitting out your characters entire back story in a single chapter. Back story is generally something that is developed along with your character. Yes, you’ll probably need to have a general idea about your character’s back story but you can slowly reveal it throughout the story and not in one large info dump at the beginning. This not only saves your readers from the evil that is INFO DUMPING but it also gives you flexibility as a writer, so that if you decide at chapter 20 that your MC isn’t really matching up with the abused drug-addict you had originally envisioned, you don’t ruin your whole story by already having laid out everything in the prologue.

 

  • A prologue is not a place where you should be info dumping on your readers because you couldn’t figure out a way to work the info into the rest of your story. Your reader does not need to know everything, or even half of everything. If you can’t figure out how to work it into the story, then leave it out or add it in author’s notes. Treat readers much like mushrooms, keep them in the dark and feed them shit. (Evil Cackle!)

 

  • On a more serious note, I often see authors struggling to justify this or explain that and… It’s not necessary. The only one who has to fully understand how your world works is YOU! I don’t need to know the mathematical formula that you use to determine hit points, if you want to share it that’s cool and if you don’t have one that’s cool too! Just don’t kill yourself over it because it’s not important. J.K. Rowling never explained how conjuring or banishing worked in Harry Potthead and you know what? No one really cared!

 

The DO Section.


So now some things I would recommend using a prologue for.

You, as an author, are basically a literary drug dealer and the prologue is the first taste of the product that’s supposed to make the reader come back for more.

 

The first thing you want to remember is that the prologue is your first impression. It is your first meeting with that hot chick/hot guy and you want to keep him interested long enough to notice that you have some good traits. I, for one, use prologues as a gauge of whether or not an author writes well enough for me to bother investing my time beyond that point.

 

  • The most common use of a prologue that I’ve come across is showing The Ignition. The Spark. The first domino to fall in your elaborately thought out story. A prologue is a place where you, as the author, can give your reader a glimpse into the origins of your story. A GLIMPSE DAMN IT! NOT THE ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA! Imagine this as a window into the past or a portal to a different location. It is okay if things are relatively disconnected and not well explained because hopefully you will explain the significance behind it as the story progresses.

 

  • A mystery or a cliff hanger is a good thing. It keeps the reader engaged and makes them want to find out what’s really going on or what happens next, which means they’ll have to read more of your story! Keep them coming back for more.

 

  • Another common use of the prologue is instead of the “Spark” you use the prologue to show the reader the “Hindrance”. This is the thing that holds your MC back from being all that he can be. This can be a betrayal, an accident, a trauma; anything really that could affect your MC and hold him back.

 

  • Then there is the “Back story”. No, you don’t need to tell me everything or even a quarter of everything. In fact you can do something as simple as a playground seen that shows off a “trait” of your MC. This can be something as simple as your MC standing up to a bully or your MC doing the bullying! A small taste of your characters personality is all that’s really needed here. You can also give a small glimpse of the people who are going to raise/be responsible for taking care of your MC as this is usually a good indicator of how one has lived. If they are mean/nasty people and your MC still turns out to be a nice/caring person its all the more impressive and when you introduce him as a nice cheery person your reader will be suitably impressed (maybe).

 

Now, these are just a few ways you can use a prologue effectively and I’m sure you guys can come up with a bunch more that I haven’t included here. I hope this helps someone understand a little about what to do and what not to do with a prologue.

 

 

Comments(27)

a very nice summary, you have my thanks from me ( both as an author and as someone who read a lot of prolugue's both good and bad).

Which,  in your opinion,  is better? For  something like a reincarnation, summoned  hero or something along those lines. 

Prologue: basic character portrait/traits.

Chapter 1: basic world building and MC gets summoned/killed/problems in clan begin,  etc. 

Or

Prologue: MC summoned/killed. And his starting out. 

Chapter 1: basic world building (maybe his local region,  city or (if like a dungeon story) his environment and a general description of the world from  a guild receptionists or something)  and some character development  interaction. 

This would place each at around 2000 words.  Give or take a bit. 

    IMAO, there are no right and wrong path. All depend on which way you can make it interesting. In the nutshell, the prologues or the fist chapter is a tool to draw your audience in. If you can make your basic character portrait/traits unique, interesting, and cliff-hanging. By all means, do it. On the other hand, if it's just boring info dump and full of numbers and table, don't.

Em... Boring!

A drop in the ocean.

Flipping a mountain in one day can only end up in a failure.

I wish more people would follow these guidelines. Somethng I have also seen is using the prologue as a framing device. Think Forrest Gump and Megamind. They start at the middle of a huge moment, and the rest of the story leads up to the conflict in the prologue.

another good use of prologue is the all incompassing misunderstood prophecy

I just want to be sure then, since this is in front of the home page, that the opinion given here is also the official stand of the Mods?

    Wing
    Admin

    Well, I thought it was good and beneficial for authors to read this. It also helped me improve as an author as I did the "don'ts" previously. 

I often just skip prologues on RRL for the specific reason that most are info dumps and I don't want to read that. It's boring.

i find middle finger icon missing from the emoji's here.... my response to the post.

Thank you for posting this. I hope that many aspiring writers here check this out and avoid those "don'ts" becuase info dumps hurt my soul. 

While this is helpful, I feel like the actual prologue standards for actual novels is much tougher. Since a lot of these Do's also seem to be where you'd start your chapter one. 

Instead I'd suggest writers read their prologues and imagine their story without it and look at its impact. The novel's hook belongs in the first chapter, preferably on the first or second page. 

A prologue would be more helpful for presenting information that is important that the reader HAS to know that the characters probably don't. 

Most prologues I see could and are just chapter 1s.  The only thing I usually see right with them is that they are short. 

Hooking a reader and THE HOOK of the story are two different things and if the hook is in the prologue then it's actually a chapter 1. 

If you're just writing for fun and stuff then ignore all of the above and just do what you want. 

My own prologue follows the guidelines specified here... but I should probably rewrite it since it is my most heavily edited piece of work. My friend had to edit it to the point where it resembled his writing just as much as my own sinply to make my very first draft readable.

You might want to add "your own writing" into the specifications above.

Thanks a lot for opening my eyes over this topic. So Prologue is a taste-maker. 

I think it is good if stories have prologues. Authors dump all the stuff I do not want to know anyway in there so it is out of their system. And I as reader can simply skip it.

The only bad about prologues is that I sometimes misclick and do not realize and by mistake read them (bad mistake). I think royalroadl could improve the situation for readers quite a bit if it simply hid any chapter that contains the word prologue in it from everyone but the author.

 Damn it people. Stop following mind-games. What is a prologue? What is a chapter? Stories don't need any of them. This is a mind-game. Limit put on the start of a task.

....But i still wanna explain everything

    I hate when I don't understand how something works in a story aand it makes everything else more interactive with the users when they give out suggestions for combinations of things

While I'm more of a "do what feels right" kind of person when it comes to writing, this is a very helpful overview for basic principles.

Most, if not all, of this tutorial is not set in stone and can easily be gone over by someone either very experienced or very talented, but that does not mean it is wrong or obsolete. It's much like basic Martial Arts skills: Something that needs to be understood in order to advance, but which can be expanded upon and even partially neglected or redefined if it is done to capitalize on other things. And from what I take from the author it isn't intended as an absolute guide either. So, chapeau.

You can also use the prologue to tell a part of the story that's crucial to the plot without being explicit about it. And it doesn't have to feature the MC either. For example, you can depict a scene between characters that might not necessarily appear in the main chapters. As you tell your story, you can sprinkle minor clues that add up until the readers eventually get to a point where they go "ah, so that's what that's about."

One important thing though -- if your prologue is taking 2 or more "chapters", then that's not a prologue. Don't be a pretentious dingbat; use proper chapters.

From a readers perspective, and someone who has vetted and read many novels/scripts. A prologue is pretty much frowned upon. Most readers actually don't bother with them and skip anyway. And on a professional level, most gatekeepers (readers for publishing houses) will skip and then mark you down as well. 

My sincere and most honest advice would be, if you're writing for RRL and you're just wanting to get your story and it's ideas out there, then go for it.

But, if you're looking to do much more with it, then seriously think about interspersing that 'vital' information you're putting in your prologue in your first 3-5 chapters. You can seed any story with info, you just have to do it in a subtle way. 

After all, if you're looking for a publisher or agent, and they ask for your first 10 pages... do not, ever send them your prologue.... 

Honestly, Chapter 1 is much more fun.... As we say in the script/film world - Get in late and get out early! 

 

 

 

 

I hate prologues. Don't bore me out before I even got to the actual story. From my experience most prologues I've read is stuff that could easily be sprinkled out throughout the story. As for world building stuff, put that in an encyclopedia section, so that those who want to go deeper can do so without forcing everyone to feel the need to read a boring prologue. I'd rather want to get into the story and decide if I like it before reading about the world and magical systems and what not.

 

But nothing turns me off more than stories that begin with random attempts at profundity. 

wow, how much stupidity is dropped into one post.

Novels without a prologue(one that is good and contains suitable backstory & general direction)

are just a fraud to fool people into reading them just because the author guy still don't know what to write

and in most cases a good proof that he doesn't know where he's going and he's just improvising 

and this is a disaster in most cases which is the reason most novels and fanfics stop or fall into darkness and become a sh*tty waste of time.

Thank god I read this. I have been wanting to post a story on here but I couldn't figure out why it was so bad. Since I wrote the first intro chapter two years ago, I didn't realize it was an info dump! Now I know what I need to do, and I feel like I will be able to actually crank out a story that will be engaging from the get go! I do want to have the whole world completely flushed out in how everything is gonna work, but reading this made me realize just because o want that doesn't mean the reader has to know about it! Thank you so much for whoever make that rant!

Generally, prologues fail to get the reader interested because they don't introduce the main character or give us a reason to care. We don't need to know your world's intricate history in advance. Worse yet, they can reveal information that spoils a dramatic reveal later, as seen in the movie version of "Lord of the Rings". "Yes, Frodo, we already know the ring is evil. We learned that half an hour ago."

You won't go wrong if you simply make the opening unique and interesting; something to capture the reader and make him stay. Make sure not to bore him to death by something he's seen thousands of times as a starter of your story, only then will you have someone that is interested.

Log in to Comment