There’s something appealing about a prologue.
It’s an introduction before the story, a way to ease your readers in, but certain prologues can make readers skip them altogether and it’s important to know that not every story needs one.
If used correctly, a prologue adds to the story and enhances the quality, but if used incorrectly,
it risks being completely skipped or boring your readers and taking away from their enjoyment and willingness to give your story a chance.
Generally, there are a few rules concerning when prologues are appropriate vs unnecessary, and most stories really don’t need them.
Because of that fact, I will start with the reasons to avoid adding a prologue to your work…When You Should NOT Write a Prologue1. You want to use it to explain the setting.
Typically, this reason for prologues turns them into info dumps, which most readers aren’t interested in and will straight up skip.
Good writing/storytelling weaves exposition into scenes without paragraphs and paragraphs of world-building and setup.
That’s not to say that world-building is bad, but it needs to be introduced gradually and within story context to avoid boring the average reader.2.
It’s unrelated to the plot or exists to set the mood or hook the reader. Chapter 1 should set the mood and hook the reader.
Every scene, especially early on in a story, needs to have a plot or character-related purpose, preferably both.
The time for slowing the story down or adding accessory scenes is NEVER at the beginning because they won’t interest new readers, who have no stake in your story at that time. 3.
It’s going to be really long. Generally, a prologue should be one of your shortest chapters, and long prologues can be a type of warning flag that shows sloppy writing.
In some cases, a long prologue is not an unnecessary prologue, but it may still need to be trimmed or better structured. 4.
It has stylistic differences that are never tied back into the main story. For example, it’s written in first person when your story is in third, and it’s never brought up again.
Or, the tone is completely different from everything else that happens. Even if it is brought up again, it may not be worth tricking your reader by having early inconsistency in writing. 5.
It seems like fun to add it in. That reasoning may work for a short scene in the middle of a story, but the start of any story is not the time for novelty.
New readers don’t care about your characters yet, they don’t have ties to what you’ve created. If you can’t give a strong reason for a prologue, don’t write it.
Good storytelling relies on clarity and conciseness, and the first few chapters (and prologue) of a story is when people decide if they want to keep reading or not.
When You Should Write a Prologue1. There is critical story information that happens at an earlier point in time, often not directly involving your protagonist.
History affects things, and sometimes a past scene can really boost story quality if it’s shown.
The thing to be careful about with this reason though, is that you run the risk of misleading your reader if the character in focus is not your protagonist.
Some will see the ‘prologue’ title and take what happens with a grain of salt, since it’s not part of the main story, but know that the risk is there. 2.
It foreshadows or introduces plot-relevant elements that may not seem important to the protagonist in chapter 1.
This is related to critical story information, but also plays up the idea of the 'inciting event’.
This prologue can easily slip into the “unnecessary” state, but if done correctly, it can help boost stories with a slower start and can promise the reader that there is something good to come.
3. You’re writing it just for yourself.
Prologues can help take away from that pesky “chapter 1 anxiety”, just be careful not to add information in there that never appears again and your readers should have seen.
You should also make sure your Chapter 1 is a successful beginning for a new reader since you have lessened your focus on it.Good luck with your work and if there are any questions,
drop them in my ask box and I’d be happy to answer.