Young Writers Society

Home » Forums » Resources » Research

How to write a good prologue



User avatar



Gender: Female
Points: 375
Reviews: 1
Sat Sep 14, 2013 2:11 pm
shaillaohioisonfire says...



Okay so hi.I really want to write a story but I have a serious problem.I need to know how to write a good prologue. Yeah I know that all stories don't have to have one but i just feel like this one does to add on to the effect.Does anyone have any tips on what a good prologue needs?If so please do tell.
[color=#4000BF]"And the idea of just wandering off to a cafe with a notebook and writing and seeing where that takes me for awhile is just bliss."

J. K. Rowling
[/color]
  





User avatar
1272 Reviews



Gender: Female
Points: 89625
Reviews: 1272
Sat Sep 14, 2013 3:40 pm
View Likes
Rosendorn says...



The reason most stories don't have one is that 90% of prologues fail. However, if you absolutely have to write one, consider this:

1- A prologue must have information you cannot get in the story naturally.

Take the quintessential prologue we all know and love: Beauty and the Beast's stained glass. Would we have found out about the importance of the Rose, the fact he had once been human, and the Curse without that prologue? If you wanted to keep everyone in character, not particularly. It would've been difficult to get us all the details without breaking character, and they would've been extra details in the story that slowed it down.

By putting that tale into a prologue in and of itself, you can keep the story moving forward. Which leads me to:

2- The prologue must be self contained.

Prologues are basically introductory short stories. They need a beginning, middle and end. They must have some sense of finality. Beauty and the Beast had the last line, "And who could ever learn to love a Beast?"

It might've been answered immediately by the jump cut to Belle, but in and of itself the prologue told a story that could've ended a tragedy, or at least bittersweet.

3- A prologue must be interesting and relevant.

Goes without saying, but you really have to create something that gets us interested in that short story continuing. It has to tie into the story, and has to tie into the story quickly. "Who could ever learn to love a Beast?" is answered immediately, so the next question is "when will Belle meet the Beast?" There is a relevancy because the first character shown is Belle. The prologue is self contained yet also flows into the story, and we are left to wonder when the prologue will play a heavier hand into the story.

It must be interesting enough we are willing to wait a potentially very long time. The story basically has to pick up immediately, so readers get some taste of how the prologue and main story interlay, but becoming swept away with a new story at the same time. There will be the nagging piece of information in the back of our minds after we read, and you have to make it worth it.

If your prologue doesn't fit the above criteria, then scrap it and work the information into your story more naturally. If that can't be done, then find a way to work it into a story that isn't a pure info dump. You really need to turn it into a story to hit criteria 2 and 3.

And a huge don't of prologues: If the prologue gives information that kills the tension of the first line, then you really need to work on the whole thing. This can be something like explaining the origins of a character in the prologue, then expecting the early tension being a mystery around the character's origins... that doesn't work. This, btw, was a published novel.

Another one is the good old "Don't". Because 90% of prologues fail. They can fit the criteria, but if you're doing a prologue because you have to have a prologue, or if you really don't want to try and work that information in, or you're trying to make it "epic" and all epics must have prologues... don't. Prologues need to be treated with a ton of respect and purposely inserted, just like anything else.

Hope this helps.
A writer is a world trapped in a person— Victor Hugo

Ink is blood. Paper is bandages. The wounded press books to their heart to know they're not alone.

#TNT powered reviews
  





User avatar
43 Reviews



Gender: Other
Points: 1521
Reviews: 43
Sat Sep 14, 2013 4:21 pm
Love says...



As I was reading this... I was inspired to do a prologue for my science fiction novel. The setting is a large part of the idea... I never saw such a setting in a different story, and... I ha an idea to make the prologue a collection of fictional documents and reports describing key points of the past, although merely hinting at what actually happened. Would this be better than a normal prologue?
I was Amareth :)
  





User avatar
1272 Reviews



Gender: Female
Points: 89625
Reviews: 1272
Sat Sep 14, 2013 4:42 pm
Rosendorn says...



That would be worse.

That's what's known as a info-dump prologue, where you just have to tell the reader every little thing in the world and don't let the setting speak through the story. While people might not know the setting absolutely perfectly when you don't explain it, that's what happens both when you write and when you live in the real world. Not even people who study cultures know how they work in their entirety. That is simply the nature of a setting. You do not know every detail of the setting you grew up in (mostly because it's so familiar, so you don't ask the right questions), and you will likely never learn all the nuances of a culture you immigrate into even after decades of living within it (because culture is just too complex). If you do learn them all, you likely won't pick up on it.

Remember the last point: the prologue must be relevant to the story that comes after it. Beauty and the Beast had "Who could ever learn to love a Beast?" then an immediate cut to Belle. Game of Thrones had only one survivor in the prologue, who immediately shows up within two pages of chapter one.

This ties the prologue to the story and makes them deeply interwoven, even if you don't see how they'll be interwoven yet.

It must also be interesting. Most people dislike their history class. If you give them a history class for the prologue, they likely won't be interested at all.
A writer is a world trapped in a person— Victor Hugo

Ink is blood. Paper is bandages. The wounded press books to their heart to know they're not alone.

#TNT powered reviews
  





User avatar
43 Reviews



Gender: Other
Points: 1521
Reviews: 43
Sat Sep 14, 2013 4:59 pm
Love says...



._.

I didn't mean to explain everything... just some things. Like, at one point earth got transported into another dimension. In the prologue, that would be marked as an end to electrical documents (due to electromagnetic activity), and maybe a short personal account of one of the few survivors, maybe with pieces of the text missing. The survivor wouldn't know what actually happened. *sighs*
I was Amareth :)
  





User avatar
347 Reviews



Gender: Female
Points: 25558
Reviews: 347
Sat Sep 14, 2013 5:07 pm
View Likes
OliveDreams says...



I love a prologue! I love reading them, I love writing them - I just love them.

I totally agree with all of Rosey Unicorn's advice! Relevance for me is key. What's the point in writing a prologue if the reader is going to forget all about it once they get into the meaty parts of your story?

Seeing as Rosey Unicorn did such a good job with the logistics of a prologue - I thought I would come at this from a different angle. EXAMPLES!
I'm a strong believer that reading, reading, and reading other people's work is what is going to give you the best idea of what you really want for your self!

Here's a few of my favourites from this site:

1. Cheetah's Elemental (Prolouge)
This prologue is a perfect example of using it to give the reader important facts about the story world rules! They've let us in on how his characters communicate straight away so we know what on earth is going on. It backs up Rosey Unicorn's point of using the prologue to drop in information that won't come naturally anywhere else.

2. xxxXanthexxx's Revenant - Prologue
This one gives the power punch ending! You always want to end your prologue with a bang so that it immediately makes you want to read more. xxxXanthexxx does this perfectly.

3. Noelle's A Hero's Welcome - Prologue
Noelle uses her prologue to fling us straight into the action! I also think this is amazing because of how she kills of newly introduced characters like BAM!!! She gives a perfect insight into what kind of writer she is going to be. i.e; don't get too attached :D

Hope this helped! Feel free to check out my prologues if you want some more ideas & there is so many in the Books tab!

Good luck! :D
Olive <3
"There is a dead spot in the night, that coldest, blackest time when the world has forgotten evening and dawn is not yet a promise."
  





User avatar
1272 Reviews



Gender: Female
Points: 89625
Reviews: 1272
Sat Sep 14, 2013 5:09 pm
Rosendorn says...



In the prologue, that would be marked as an end to electrical documents (due to electromagnetic activity), and maybe a short personal account of one of the few survivors, maybe with pieces of the text missing. The survivor wouldn't know what actually happened.


Why can't you show that in story?

Point 1: The prologue must have information you can't fit in the story naturally.

What I'd do is leave clues in story. Relics of electrical equipment that stopped working suddenly being noted in the background. Same geography as Earth, but maybe with different names. The odd aside about a legendary time.

That sort of stuff, while not good in excess, is fantastic in moderation.

The reason it works in Beauty and the Beast is, the castle is secretive of what happened to them. The Beast doesn't want to say, and the loyal servants don't want to bring up something he doesn't want to hear or want Belle to know. In Game of Thrones, there is a critical piece of overreaching mythos in the prologue, but all the characters from the prologue are dead without telling their story by chapter 2, so you would not find out about it elsewhere.

But when it comes to basic setting details, such as no more electronics, that sort of stuff can be worked into local legends told in campfires, stumbling across all the junk people have thrown out (or have repurposed), and people determined to find records.

Unless, of course, the plot is hinged on something that happened when the earth was transported and that information hasn't survived to the present day, but will factor in heavily (and be revealed as relevant) by the end of the story. Then that would work into a nice prologue.
A writer is a world trapped in a person— Victor Hugo

Ink is blood. Paper is bandages. The wounded press books to their heart to know they're not alone.

#TNT powered reviews
  





User avatar
43 Reviews



Gender: Other
Points: 1521
Reviews: 43
Sat Sep 14, 2013 6:38 pm
Love says...



Well, no one really knows enact happened in the past... and it happened over a thousand years. Now, there are no stars or sun, and the only major source of illumination is a huge tower. Truly, the setting is like the the main thing in the novel. It provides strange anomalies, makes most of the world barely habitable... Most technology is lost and people can only wonder about the massive black, metal ancient structures that do not seem to have points of entry.

I tried incorporating it into the story itself... But hat seems tto lessen the importance of the strange setting and just doesn't feel right :/ I just thought it might be best to explain why the 'sun' is a fixed point in the sky without merely throwing it in as a minor detail...
I was Amareth :)
  





User avatar
1272 Reviews



Gender: Female
Points: 89625
Reviews: 1272
Sat Sep 14, 2013 7:22 pm
Rosendorn says...



Alrighty then.

Then I would suggest a prologue, but I would make it a self contained story, maybe ending on a "how are we going to live?" note, with the rest of the story answering that question on one level or another. You'd have to answer that question with the first scene, showing the hardships, but that could, potentially, work.

The remainder of the points apply.
A writer is a world trapped in a person— Victor Hugo

Ink is blood. Paper is bandages. The wounded press books to their heart to know they're not alone.

#TNT powered reviews
  





User avatar
43 Reviews



Gender: Other
Points: 1521
Reviews: 43
Sat Sep 14, 2013 7:24 pm
Love says...



Oh ._. Maybe... thanks ^-^
I was Amareth :)
  





User avatar
1272 Reviews



Gender: Female
Points: 89625
Reviews: 1272
Sat Sep 14, 2013 8:12 pm
Rosendorn says...



The thing about prologues is they can't have the sole purpose of dumping information. This sort of prologue is really boring (I've read a lot of bad ones that were just information dumps!).

It needs tension, something interesting, something to draw the reader in.

Make it a short story, with its own hardships that are carried through to chapter one. The records with missing texts might be interesting, but they'd also open up readers to look for this sort of information later on. They'd wonder where those bits of information would show up later. It sets you up to have to deliver these pieces of information later in the story.

But by having it relatively contained, or have somebody fill in the blanks for what has happened (having a reader find old journals, like you said before, could work, but you might need to have them interject in the story) would remove that.

Hope this helps.
A writer is a world trapped in a person— Victor Hugo

Ink is blood. Paper is bandages. The wounded press books to their heart to know they're not alone.

#TNT powered reviews
  





User avatar
303 Reviews



Gender: Male
Points: 11152
Reviews: 303
Sat Sep 14, 2013 11:28 pm
StoneHeart says...



I personally find most prologues to simply be 'first chapters' and not really prologues at all. I think Rosey's advice on prologueing is quite . . . useful.

I know that some writers find prologues to simply be parts of novels which are more customary than useful. I sometimes agree -however: I have seen some very good prologues (and epilogues).

Personally I think an 'Introduction' would better describe what most prologues contain. -_-
For I who am poor have only my dreams
I spread my dreams under your feet . . .

. . . tread softly for you tread on my dreams.


We are masters of our silences, and slaves of our words
  








Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.
— Søren Kierkegaard