To Prologue or Not to Prologue...
Post written by Katie Wall.
You might be surprised how many aspiring writers include a prologue in their books. But when asked about why the prologue is there I usually get a vague answer like:
- [insert established author's name here] did a prologue like this in [X book] and I loved it!
- I wrote this scene and really liked it, but wasn't sure where else to include it.
- I'm afraid my reader won't understand what's going on unless I tell them some really important backstory in the prologue.
- I just thought it would be neat to have one!
The problem with all of these answers is that they don't take what is best for this story into consideration.
In fact, these answers all take the writer's tastes or fears into consideration, but avoid objectively thinking about how a prologue might impact others' perspectives of the story as a whole. (To learn more about the important perspectives to consider, read this article.)
Instead, when debating whether or not to include a prologue, ask yourself the following questions:
Does the reader really need to know all of this before they dive in?
Prologues should not be used as a convenient place to info dump. As a writer, your job is to learn the skill of seeding in information when and where your reader will need it—and how it will best support your story as a whole. The more information you cram all together in the prologue, before the reader even cares about (or maybe even meets!) your protagonist, the greater the chances that some of those details won't be remembered by the time they get to the part of the story where you really want them to remember it. So if there is indeed information that is required in a prologue, think long and hard about what all to include.
If I were to take this prologue out, would anyone miss it?
If the reader wouldn't miss it, don't keep it. If only you will miss it, take it out of your manuscript and save it in a folder labeled "Murdered Darlings" (no really, it'll bring a smile to your face whenever you visit your prologue's graveyard.) If no one at all will miss it, definitely toss it.
Is this information unable to be included elsewhere in the story?
Again, prologues should not be info dumps! Make sure you've really tried to weave in the information you're tempted to place in a prologue elsewhere before you give in. Don't let your prologue be "the easy way out" of world-building or character building.
If the answer to any of these questions is "no," then you don't need a prologue. Let me say it again: you do NOT need a prologue.
Including a prologue when it doesn't support your story as a whole means that you are including something that dilutes your story's power.
Why? Because you've taken the "easy way out" and have robbed your readers of the potential your story could have reached if you had worked on your writing craft a bit more.
As a book coach, one of my absolute favorite things is talking writers out of including a prologue. By avoiding this shortcut, my clients (and I!) have to get more creative. We're forced to (re)consider elements like the opening scene, story structure, and even which characters have a point of view! And if the writer is willing to step back and look at the bigger picture—the story as a whole that I keep talking about—and make the changes, the story always turns out stronger.
Ready to work with me? Schedule a free consultation today! Let's discover your story's powerful potential together.
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