02 March, 2012

How To: Writing A Winning Prologue

Ever wondered how to write a strong, effective prologue?

Your search has come to an end: Here are 10 steps to take if you want to create a prologue even the staunchest of opposers will find hard to criticize.

 Ready? Let's go!

1. Choose a scene from a key point in your novel.
If a character happens to be in danger, dead, or otherwise painful circumstances, cut and paste that tension-filled scene into the beginning of your novel. This will serve to reduce the risk of heart failure, severe paper cuts, and falling off of chairs for your readers when the plot twists come. An honorable reader enjoys knowing what will happen later in the book.

NOTE: It is even better when you repeat this scene later on and force readers to slog through it all over again.

2. If there is no other suitably tension-filled scene to choose, use the ending.
Be sure not to change a thing when you move it from the end to the prologue, either--the more spoilers the better!

3. And if there aren't any tension-filled scenes at all (kudos), pick the most boring one.
OOH LOOK. The character is brushing their teeth! What fine dental strategy! Gets me tingling all over, that does.

4. Make sure there is no stylistic similarity between the prologue and the rest of the novel.
Is your style short and to the point? Write your prologue using lots of flowery language and/or metaphors. For example:

Page 205: "I is gonna blow up this building!" said Smith.

Prologue: And then our bold and courageous protagonist, with the most knightly of intentions, went to rescue the incapacitated and dying goddess of his universe, utilizing the most stunning of torpedoes. He exclaimed, triumphantly, "Beware, all evil parasites of the Earth! I am preparing to send you to the deepest parts of Hell!"

5. Use a dream.
Everybody simply adores dream scenes in books. They add such nice ambiguity and potential/probable pointlessness.

6. Take the opportunity and explain everything about your world.
Readers are always willing to get to know every single little detail of the place the characters live in; you know, history, culture, current economic state, seismic activity, how the world came to be, etc., etc.

7. Set it in the future where the character is obviously alive.
This may actually be even more stress-reducing than cutting and pasting part of your ending.

8. Center your prologue around an unrelated thing.
Writing about a woman on a quest to find the all-powerful crown-doohickey with which she can defeat the bad guy? No problem. Feel free to talk about whatever you please in the prologue. Who wants to know what they're getting into before they start reading?

9. Make appear that you're writing in a different genre than you actually are.
Closely related to #4, it is an effective strategy for attracting the attention of a new audience. Because instead of just getting readers from, say, Literary/Contemporary/Realistic Fiction, you'll get irritated readers of Science Fiction and Fantasy along with irritated readers of Literary/Contemporary/Realistic Fiction. And they'll all spread the word about your novel (forget what they're saying about it).

10. Using your main character's voice, slowly and hesitantly, with many starts and stops, explain why the character (i.e. you) decided to write this book.
J'adore uncertain characters. Nothing like a little "Oh, I can't do this . . . wait, I must, or the world will explode! . . . no, wait, I can't, or I'll explode . . . but no, I have to! . . . no, I just simply can't . . . oh, all right, all right, I'll finish . . . no, THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE . . . but if I don't . . ."

And there are the 10 Effective Steps For Writing A Winning Prologue.

You're welcome.


DISCLAIMER: The author of this article accepts no liability for those souls who actually follow these instructions. If you really want to write a good prologue, then you should do absolutely everything possible to avoid what I just said.

And before you ask, yes, I have come across these types of prologues in books.

What do you think of prologues?

-----The Golden Eagle


Anonymous said...

Do I detect just the slightest hint of sarcasm? If so, I might have to redo the prologue of my current. :o)

Angie said...

LOL. Now, that's some great advice!

Christine Rains said...

I try to avoid using prologues altogether. And if I use one, I'll definitely avoid all those!

K. Turley (Clutzattack) said...

Thanks for the good laugh. You really didn't need to include the disclaimer though. The tone of the first bullet point says it all.

Chris Fries said...


I love this, Eagle!

Personally I don't care for prologues and think they fall into two broad categories:

1. This is an exciting bit to try and tease you into reading my book. I need you to be interested before I start the real book, because my first couple of chapters are filled with boring backstory. So I'm showing you this in a way to promise that while you'll fall asleep in the first chapters, things will get more interesting at some point later...

2. This is a bit that really has no reason to be in a prologue. It could just as well be "Chapter 1" but I think calling it a prologue makes it seem cooler -- I think "important and epic" novels are supposed to have prologues, so I gotta include one myself, right?

'Course that's just my opinion...


Anthony said...

Great stuff.

Sunny said...

Awesome! I, unlike many, LOVE to read prologues - but it is sooooo easy to mess them up!

Susan Roebuck said...

It takes a moment for me to get a clue, but after a moment of open-mouthed reading, I got the message. That is marvellous!

Jai Joshi said...

Feeling a little sarcastic today? What happened, did you get hit by a particularly bad prologue or something?


Old Kitty said...

Of course I wasn't taking down notes... na-ah! I knew this was you being most tongue in cheek. Yes I did! Ahem! LOL! Take care

N. R. Williams said...

Hi Golden
Great post. You had me grinning all the way through.

Most agents and editors will tell you to avoid a prologue. I learned a long time ago to do this. However, it is possible that a story or character will cry out for one. In most cases, I think whatever is in a prologue can be woven into a story. Prologues are so often back story anyway.

Tere Kirkland said...

ROFL, love this post! (And so glad you're not actually advocating the use of these strategies, lol)

The thing about prologues is... you just don't need one.

Some authors use them to do a quick sketch of their world, but really, if your world-building is good, you don't need to.

Others use them to generate interest in the same way TV shows start with an exciting, confusing scene and then slap on a "three hours earlier" kind of label. First, that's cheating, second, it's lazy. (I know, I've done it myself)

Finally, I get the desire to call the first scene a prequel if it takes place in an earlier time, but in that case, can't it just be chapter one? Please?!!

L.G.Smith said...

The eagle is snarky today! And I like it.

I actually don't mind prologues that much, if they are relevant and provide some insight or background that I truly need to understand the story. But I think I've run into a few like the ones you described here and they've left me scratching my head.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Good, because my first book has a prologue and I was worried that I didn't do any of this!

JeffO said...

My sarcasm detector 'sploded.

Sofia said...

I always love it when you do stuff like this. :D And I do hate it when super tension-filled scenes are stuck in the prologue, and then you have to read through them all. over. again.


M Pax said...

lol I wrote a prologue for my first book, but they are out of fashion. So, I don't write them anymore. Agents/publishers don't want them anyway.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I can see I've made so many mistakes in my writing. I need to take some notes.

Nancy Thompson said...

I'm so glad you weren't serious! I was a little worried there. I must admit though, I do have a 200 word intro. It's not called a prologue. It's more of a foreshadowing of the villain the MC is about to become. Does that count?

Tanya Reimer said...

Hahahahaha! I was at point two when I went, what the heck? hahahahaha. then I got it and eagerly read the rest. Yes, I have seen these too.

On the other side of things, my daughter and I had a long discussion about prologues the other night, she actually told me that lately books are starting with prologues and calling them chapter one. I got her to show me a few, and by george, the child was right! ha!

Pat Hatt said...

LOL I was hoping you were joking and the disclaimers says so, but one can do the opposite for the most part..haha

TerryLynnJohnson said...

I'm still on the fence with prologues. I've read some that work really well. I'll certainly try to avoid these tips though!

CJ Parmenter said...

Greetings Eagle, stopping by to say hello from the platform building campaign. Now following you via RSS! I also found this recent article on prologues to be thought provoking:


Beth said...

Funny! Especially the bit about the dream.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Excellent. I keep that you shouldn't include a prologue, and then I read a book released in January that had one. But it was a freakin' awesome one and was vital to the story.

Scarlett Clay said...

I can't remember the last time I read a prologue...I love these points,though...every time I read your blog I think...'now, If I ever become a writer..I'm going to need to find this again" :)

Peggy Eddleman said...

Ha! Number four was my absolute favorite. LOVED THESE!

I'm not a fan of prologues.... unless it's in adult high fantasy. Then I think it's actually a requirement for publication. :) I accept that.

linda said...

LOL this is such a great post! Thanks for sharing! :D

Andrew said...

You had me concerned their for a moment. The whole time reading it I was thinking how much those tips would drive me crazy in a book.

Andrew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carol Kilgore said...

Funny! Now I know just what to do :)
Happy Weekend!

Rusty Webb said...

Lucky for me I don't really need these tips because I pretty much already do everything you've listed.

And it's a complete mystery to me why I don't have more agents and editors beating down my door.

Jamie Gibbs said...

I don't see how any of those tips can hel- ahhh, I see what you did there :)

Nicely done. I tend to avoid prologues as much as possible for many of the reasons you've outlined.

mooderino said...

As someone who never reads a post all the way through, I will be applying all these suggestions immediately.

Moody Writing
The Funnily Enough

Traci Kenworth said...

Great post.

Michael Di Gesu said...

Golden, I LOVE your sharp wit and sense of humor...

Thanks for the laugh.

Prologues can be useful. I find they are in fantasy novels since WORLD building is so complicated. The additional information sometimes helps clear up some of the confusion in these complicated scenes.

Rek said...

I recently reviewed a book whose prologue was totally irrelevant to the story...in fact , the prologue had value in terms of storyline only in one para in the last chapter...might have as well added it there as a conversation.
Hilarious! For backstory, make a prequel after a trilogy like the movies.

Jemi Fraser said...

Love it! There are so many really bad prologues out there!

There is one author I've read who uses them effectively. The prologues are short (less than a page) and written from the villain's pov, although the villain isn't identified by name. These match the tone of the book and work well. :)

Sangu Mandanna said...

Haha hilarious! Corny prologues irk me.

D.G. Hudson said...

Interesting post, and a little cynicism is okay.

But, at a recent conference, a very well-known writer with many books to her credit advised me to take a portion of my book and make it into a prologue.

As a rule,I don't mind the prologues but prefer them to be brief.

MISH said...

Hey Golden Eagle, you really had me going for a moment!
Phew! My first thought was - huh? (you know the one with confused expression on face) :)
Then it dawned on me... okaaaay... this is what I'm NOT supposed to do.

I've never written a prologue and don't think I'm about to do so anytime soon - not after this post! LOL!
Great humour!

Deniz Bevan said...

Great tips! I love prologues. Still haven't been able to find quite the right scene for the novel that I'm agent-hunting for...

Anonymous said...

When I read the first rule I thought, this guy can't be serious. Of course, I quickly realized you weren't. It was a fun read. I don't mind a prologue if it gives some backstory the reader needs and it's short. Otherwise, make it the first chapter. So far, I have never put prologues in my stories.
Thanks for the laugh.

Cherie Reich said...

*laughs* Love the disclaimer.

I've always read prologues in books, but I can see why they are overused and often ineffective. I do have a first chapter in one book that could be changed to "prologue," but it's nothing like those you mentioned. :)

Liz said...

Prologues: I'm not a fan. And I hate how TV shows now do the whole find-an-exciting-scene-and-start-there bit.

However, when the prologue is done right... But that's the problem, isn't it? It isn't often done right.

Honey said...

Funny post! I tagged you over on my blog:)

Sarah Pearson said...

I have no problem with prologues at all if they're needed, but I've read too many like this too!

Brilliant stuff :-)

Anonymous said...

so following this blog +1.

Kate Coursey said...

Hahahahaha. This is my first time on your blog, and for a moment I actually thought you were serious.

This is great. The manuscript that got me an agent had a prologue, which I think works, but I do try to stay away from them for the most part.

Michael Horvath said...

Prologues are ok I guess. They don't bother me one way or another.

The Golden Eagle said...

Joshua: You must be imagining things. Me, sarcastic? ;)

Angie: Thanks!

Christine: I've read in several places that agents don't like prologues much; I try to think of other ways to begin a story if I feel inclined toward writing one.

K. Turley: You're welcome. :)

Well, you never know how someone might interpret it . . .

Chris: I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Good points there. And it does seem like a lot of prologues could just as easily be the first chapter--and in that case there really is no point to them at all.

Anthony: Thank you!

Sunny: Thanks. :)

I enjoy reading well-written prologues. It's just the others (of which there are many) that bother me.

Susan: LOL. Thank you--I'm always curious to find out how far readers go before they notice I'm not serious. :)

Jai: Mmm, more like the conglomeration of lots of bad prologues topped up with mediocre ones. :P

Old Kitty: I guess I can't really fool my long-time readers. ;)

Nancy: Thank you!

I agree. And as Tere said, it seems like if you're going to devote time to backstory, why not write a prequel while you're at it?

Tere: Glad you like it! :)

LOL. No, definitely not.

Very true--if the world-building is strong, then there shouldn't be a need for any information beforehand.

L.G.: I'm glad you like it.

I don't mind prologues if they're effective and convey relevant information, as you said--though in a lot of cases, it seems that the information could be inserted into the first chapter or later on in the book.

Alex: If you didn't do any of this, then I'm sure you're safe. ;)

JeffO: LOL.

Sorry to damage any hardware!

Sofia: You mean let loose my slightly-crazier side? :P

I just don't see the point of it.

M: I've read that about agents/publishers before. It's definitely something to take into consideration when writing a story . . .

Susan: Totally. You're missing out on the best strategies!


Nancy: LOL. Nope, not serious.

I think it could be seen as a prologue, but it sounds like you have an effective one. Also, it's short, and often the shorter the better. :)

The Golden Eagle said...

Tanya: Interesting. I suppose that would be the other extreme of calling chapter-like segments prologues . . .

Pat: I always include the Disclaimer at the end of humor posts like this. You never know who might reader it--and take it seriously. :P

Terry: Same here. There are definitely some effective prologues out there!

CJ: Welcome to The Eagle's Aerial Perspective! :) Nice to meet you, fellow Campaigner.

Thanks for sharing the link.

Beth: Glad you found it amusing. :)

Donna: Thanks!

I love prologues like that. They go to show that there are exceptions to what agents/publishers usually accept!

Scarlett: And do the very opposite. ;)

Peggy: I had a blast writing #4, to tell you the truth. LOL.

Linda: You're very welcome! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Andrew: I was just kidding. They'd drive me crazy, too.

Carol: Thanks!

Implement away. ;)

Rusty: I've done some of them, too. Yeah, why aren't those agents and editors demanding more of books with these kinds of prologues?!

Jamie: LOL. Thank you!

They're easy to mess up--and they usually form the reader's first impression of the story.

Mood: Excellent. I cannot wait to read the novel you write with such a prologue!

Traci: Thank you. :)

Michael: You're welcome. Glad you enjoyed the post! :)

I agree. It can be helpful . . . though I think that requiring explanation is sometimes a giveaway that things are too complicated.

Rek: Thanks!

I agree. Write a prequel instead!

Jemi: Thank you.

Those sound like good prologues. It's always interesting to get a sense of the antagonist's POV. :)

Sangu: Me, too.

D.G.: I do have a very cynical/sarcastic side . . . most of the time I try to keep it quiet, except in humor posts such as this, and some personal ones.

I agree. If a prologue is written well (and relatively short), then I have no problem with them. It's just that they're very easy to make mistakes with.

MISH: Hope I haven't scared you off prologues forever, though . . . if they're done effectively, then they can be an asset to a story.

Thank you! :)

The Golden Eagle said...

Deniz: Thanks! ;)

Good luck finding a scene for your novel.

Richard: If it does that, then I'm fine with it.

You're welcome! And thanks for coming by my blog. :)

Cherie: Thought it was worth including. :P

You're most likely safe, then. :)

Liz: Agreed. Unfortunately.

Honey: Thank you!

Off to check it out. :)

Sarah: Same here . . . that's why I wrote the post.

Thank you. :)

Crowbloke: Thank you for following!

Kate: I write posts like this occasionally, where I make false statements about writing, in the hopes of amusing readers. :)


Good for you. Effective prologues are always great to read!

Michael: They only bother me if they aren't done well.

Welcome to The Eagle's Aerial Perspective! :)

S.P. Bowers said...

Hilarious. I enjoy prologues but you're right there are so many ways to mess them up.

Paul Tobin said...

Lovely post, liked the way you turn it on its head with your closing remarks. A good read as ever.

The Golden Eagle said...

S.P.: Thanks! :)

I like them when they're done well.

Paul: Glad you liked it.

Thank you!

Krispy said...

Oh no! I forgot to write about the seismic activity! Whatever shall I do?!

(Loved this. Hilarious!)

The Golden Eagle said...

Krispy: Uh . . . I know! Volcanoes will do instead of seismic activity. ;)

Thank you!