What Did You Learn?

June 2, 2011

General Writing: Prologue Do’s and Don’ts

Filed under: General Writing — Tags: , — ax20 @ 11:47 am

I have noticed, from the many submissions I’ve read, that authors–new authors in particularly–often feel the need to use a prologue where none is needed or write a prologue that is so boring it turns the reader off the rest of the story. Prologues are a tricky thing. If done poorly, readers may skip them altogether or simply put a book back on the shelf rather than buy it.

There are a lot of things to keep in mind when writing a prologue and here are some of them:


  • Do reveal significant facts that help us understand the plot (if they cannot be included in the main story without bogging it down with too much exposition).
  • Do use a prologue to show an important scene where the character you are following is not present.
  • Do use a prologue to show a defining moment in the protagonist’s past that will better help us relate/sympathize with them.
  • Do introduce a danger of which the reader should know, but the protagonist shouldn’t.
  • Do separate the prologue from the main story by either time or space.


  • Don’t copy a scene from later in the book and simply put it in the beginning.
  • Don’t write a prologue that could just as easily serve as chapter one.
  • If you’re writing a funny or teen novel about everyday life, don’t try and make it sound so serious.
  • Don’t put in too much information that it will bore the reader.
  • Don’t include a prologue if the book is just as good without it.
  • Don’t write an overly long prologue.
  • Don’t use a prologue to address your reader–this is an author’s note or preface, not a prologue. (And why does a reader care what your motivation for writing the book is? This is what author’s interviews are for.)

A prologue should be vivid and entertaining in its own right (who wants to read a boring prologue, no matter how much of the background it explains?) It should make us want to read on, not bore us to tears. Think long and hard about whether or not the prologue you want to include is necessary and helpful for your book. If it does not enhance the story in some way, do not include it.


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