When Is A Prologue A Good Idea?

By on April 22, 2021

Deciding to start your book with a prologue is a bold move. There is lots of debate in the writing community as to whether prologues are a good or bad idea. Some editors openly hate them but done right and they can add uniqueness and a sense of intrigue to your book.

Knowing how to start your novel can be tricky, and inserting a prologue can be a helpful device to make this easier for us. A prologue is a chance to begin your story before the beginning, but before you decide to use one you should ask whether it’s really necessary and whether the one you’ve created is really doing what you intended it to. 

Does your novel really require a prologue? 

An unnecessary prologue is a dangerous and costly mistake. They could not only squash your chances of getting published but could also put your reader off too. In short, if the prologue doesn’t contribute to the plot, what is the point in it at all? What your prologue reveals has to be both significant and relevant. It needs to supply vital information. It needs to have a point.

So what kinds of information might require a prologue? There are lots of reasons which could work such as disrupting the point of view, or if the information revealed occurs in a different location, time zone, or universe. Perhaps they are necessary to reveal essential backstory that would kill the plot if inserted into the main story. 

Your prologue doesn’t work if you can remove it and the story still stands. Your prologue doesn’t work if you change the word prologue to 'chapter one' and the story still stands. 

Some of the typical uses for a prologue might be the ‘future protagnoist’ where your story’s hero speaks to the reader from a time well after the main story has taken place. It might reveal the end of the story at the beginning. Similarly, the ‘past protagonist’ might have a role in a prologue where a significant event is revealed that defines the character or explains something they do in the main story. You may wish to use the prologue to reveal a vital separate point of view which could result in an epic plot twist later. Or perhaps your prologue reveals some background that is essential for the reader to understand before the story begins. 

A prologue should be rather like a short story, except the ending doesn’t need to resolve everything as a good short story would. Rather the resolution can be found in the main part of the novel. It must be unique and obviously stand out from the rest of the novel somehow.

Creating a prologue must be necessary for both content and form. Use the above to help determine whether writing a prologue is a good idea for your story and if it is then make it as exciting and intriguing as you possibly can.

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