How to Use Prologues, Part 2, What A Prologue Is and Isn’t 

open book with sketch of 3D pirate and treasure on the left and a sailing ship on the right.
Image courtesy of Tumisu via Pixabay

Hi SErs! It’s a day of Harmony here at Story Empire 🙂 Today, I’d like to talk about what a prologue is and is not. Here’s a link to the previous post on Prologues Overview. Below is a screenshot of the dictionary definition of the word …

As you can see, a prologue introduces your world and/or sets the stage for the story to follow. A prologue comes from the root “logos”, which means speech, along with the prefix “pro”, which means before. So, together, we have Before Speech. Traditionally, such “before speeches” were given before the start of a theatrical play. These days, they are also used in both the film and fiction industries.

What a Prologue Is:

  1. A prologue gives extra information which enhances the plot
  2. A prologue can be used as a teaser, bringing events forward from later in the book
  3. A prologue can introduce significant past events
  4. A prologue can give information from an alternative point of view
  5. A prologue can be used to begin the narrative at a time point removed from where the main story begins
  6. A prologue will give context to your story world
  7. A prologue will unify story elements
  8. A prologue is part of the main narrative and will provide vital information

What a Prologue Isn’t:

  1. A prologue isn’t an information dump
  2. A prologue isn’t a dump of back story
  3. A prologue isn’t a Preface, an Introduction, an Author’s Note, or a Foreword
  4. A prologue isn’t a crutch to prop up a weak first chapter … both the prologue and first chapter need to be strong and compelling
  5. A prologue isn’t a short story that has no relation to your main story
  6. A prologue isn’t a lengthy exposition

TOP TIP: When you write a good prologue, and have a valid reason for using one, it will enhance your story rather than detract from it.

Remember: There are NO hard-and-fast rules. You can do anything you want, as long as you do it well and with good reason.

That’s it from me today. I hope you’ll find this series of posts useful. I’ll see you again on Wednesday 1st June, when we’ll take a look at Prologue Dos and Don’ts 🙂

Bio Box for Harmony Kent that links to her website www.harmonykent.co.uk

The prologue series so far:

Part One, Prologues Overview

©2022 Harmony Kent

64 thoughts on “How to Use Prologues, Part 2, What A Prologue Is and Isn’t 

  1. Pingback: How to Use Prologues, Part 4, Does Your Story Need a Prologue? | Story Empire

  2. Pingback: How to Use Prologues, Part 3, Prologue Dos and Don’ts | Story Empire

  3. A nice overview of how a prologue should be used (and also what it shouldn’t used for). Most of the prologues I’ve written have been set in a time frame different than the main story. I’ve used them in two different series where I think they worked well. I suppose that makes me a fan of prologues. 🙂

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  4. As a fan of the prologue, I must disagree with you slightly. A prologue can be used as a catchy intro, so you wish to read farther into a book with a dull start (sometimes the book needs the dull start) (lol. point 4). Stephen Donaldson, Nigel Tranter, Perter Straub and many other bestselling authors would use the Prologue as a hook. Larry Niven, Michael Moorcock and JG Ballard would use them to tell you the history that surrounds the novel that you have yet to read (lol. points one and two of “what not to do” crossed out with a red line) and so on to point five. Often a short story that presages the tale to be told can set the scene for the whole novel. Perhaps, something that happened in antiquity or something unrelated that becomes related later in the novel. Notable examples that I can think of are JRR Tolkien, Nikolai Tolstoy and Ian Banks (only a few million books sold between them) and lastly points one and two together…. Most historical fiction gives an info dump (necessary for those that do not know history to set the scene) Conn Iggulden, Hilary Mantell, Stephen Pressfield, Bernard Cornwell and almost all the great historical fiction writers use this (lol and points 4 and 5.) method for scene setting. It is worth noting that after “Crime fiction” historical fiction sells the most.
    I do think that your rules are pretty good but suspect that they vary a great deal depending upon which genre you write in. What genre do you write in Harmony?

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    • I point you to my closing words: “Remember: There are NO hard-and-fast rules. You can do anything you want, as long as you do it well and with good reason.”

      I mention Tolkien in an upcoming post in this series, which you might be interested to check out when it goes live.

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment, Ray 🙂

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  5. Excellent post, Harmony. I appreciate a good prologue because it sets the stage for what follows. I always read it carefully and then settle in for the full story. Your explanation of “what is” and “what isn’t” a prologue really clarifies the prologue’s role. Thank you! 😊

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Good information and post, Harmony 🙂 You are right when done well it certainly enhances the story. Done wrong and it can pull a reader out of the story before it even begins.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Harmony, many useful tips here, thanks for the insights! I always thought it was strange that we hear so much “don’t use prologues,” but so many great books have them. I say, prologue away if you do it properly. Great post!

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Great list of what a prologue should and shouldn’t be. Information dumps are a huge turn off for readers. And you’re correct, the first chapter still needs to be as strong as the prologue.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Pingback: How to Use Prologues, Part 2, What A Prologue Is and Isn’t | Legends of Windemere

  10. Clearly listed do’s and don’ts, Harmony.
    I’m now considering using reason three as a “for” to add a prologue. If would mean giving the reader knowledge that I have been worried takes the action too far, too early. I’ll be reading further poets on this with great interest.

    Liked by 2 people

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