Should I Write a Prologue for My Novel? | iWriterly


Heya book nerds! On this episode of iWriterly I’m here to talk
to you about the great debate for novel writers, which is, should I write a prologue? As many of you know, book publishing professionals
and readers alike have openly expressed their dislike of prologues. However, prologues aren’t inherently evil
or indicative of poor writing. They can, and have been executed with skill,
but are they necessary? That in my opinion is the biggest question
that novel writers should be asking themselves, not should I write a prologue, but does a
prologue improve or impact my story in some way? Alright, this is for the newbies out there. What is a prologue? A prologue is some type of text that comes
before chapter one. It could be expositionary prose, a poem, a
news clipping; really any kind of text, but something that is in advance of chapter 1. If you’ve attended a writing workshop, you
may have noticed how literary agents voice their dislike of prologues. Some even go as far as to say that if they
see a prologue in a submission, they are immediately wary of those pages. So, why such an immediately negative reaction? This is largely due to poorly executed prologues
littering query boxes. You’d be surprised how many writers hit those
prologue deadly sins. So here are some prologue don’ts: Prologue Don’t Number 1:
That looked like eleven… Number 1. Using the prologue as a place for a massive
dump, the information kind of dump. Information dumps are one of the easiest ways
to get a readers eyes to glaze over. Paragraphs of text that provide dense, albeit
important information, are tough to digest. Without strategically weaving this information
into a scene, a chapter, or the manuscript itself, readers can be turned off to a story. Not to mention, the opening pages are a make
or break moment. That is when you can either suck the reader
in, or they can close your book and not read it. Take a look at your opening pages of your
prologue to see if you are an information dumper. Look for a couple paragraphs of text, and
see if there’s any way you can kind of trickle that information throughout the scene or the
later chapters. Or if you’re just using it as an information
dump, just.. maybe just don’t. Don’t prologue. Don’t do it. Prologue Don’t Number 2:
A boring prologue that readers want to skip to get to chapter
1. Obviously, writers don’t start a prologue
saying what is the most boring thing I can write and put on a page? Granted, we don’t do that. If your scene lacks action or purpose, you
may be falling into this danger zone. Look at your prologue with the critical eye
of a reader, and ask yourself: Would I skip this prologue and go right to
chapter one? If so, maybe consider if that prologue is
necessary. Consider what you can do to either spice things
up a bit while keeping it relevant to the central plot, or whatever information you’re
trying to convey in that prologue, or maybe just slice and dice and kill those darlings. Prologue Don’t Number 3:
No, I like this one better. Three! A prologue that has nothing to do with the
main story, and I mean like, not even the backstory. Prologues need to somehow impact your main
plot. If your prologue is filled with action, offers
bite-sized pieces of background information, but has nothing to do with your main plot,
and doesn’t move your story along at all, probably not necessary. It doesn’t matter if your writing is solid,
if your scene isn’t exhibiting that pretty plot arc that we’ve talked about in previous
episodes. You need to show that emotional journey for
your character while showing the stakes for the character and the world at large. And that character does not have to be your
protagonist, obviously in a lot of prologues we see characters in previous times, where
the protagonist might not be alive yet. Prologue Don’t Number 4:
Prologues that are too long. Alright, let’s cut to the chase, modern readers
prefer shorter chapters, which includes the prologue. If your prologue is longer than your chapters,
or if both your prologue and your chapters are on the longer side, it might be time to
reevaluate the length and pacing of your chapters. Prologue Don’t Number 5:
Using the prologue to hook the reader as the sole purpose. For this example, I am thinking of prologues
that throw the reader into the action, and i mean, the middle of the action. Maybe it’s the center of a battlefield, or
in the twisted sheets of a love affair. But like I’m saying, in the middle of something
happening. Whatever it is, the reader is unceremoniously
plunked into the middle of the action, and not sure where they are, who these characters
are that they don’t yet know and love. While action scenes are a super gripping way
to begin a story, consider whether this is the best place to start. How is this action, battle, whatever, scene
relevant to the central plot. And is this beginning too confusing or overwhelming
for a reader to acclimate to? Prologue Don’t Number 6:
Using the prologue strictly to provide some atmosphere or to do some early-on world building. World building is one of the things I love
most about fantasy, and science fiction(Sci-Fi.) So let me put that down there. However, proceed with caution if using the
prologue strictly to provide some world building elements, or set the tone. Often, these elements can be weaved into your
opening chapters without the need for a prologue. However, like anything in this industry, the
use of prologues is subjective. Not to mention, skilled writers have a way
of proving us wrong every time. So, when should prologues be utilized? In other words, when are they an asset to
your story? Prologues should supply information that is
or will be relevant to the central plot. Often the prologue does not include the protagonist,
and takes place outside the central plot timeline, though it does not always happen this way. Here are three examples of different types
of prologues: The first prologue type is what I like to
call the: Background or Historical Prologue
This type of prologue is provides background to the history of events that might have previously
transpired in this world, such as a major battle or betrayal. These events typically take place before the
story began, and somehow impact the over-arching plot. The second prologue type that I like to call,
which has no official name, is the: Different POV, or Points of View
As many of you know, debut authors are encouraged to limit the number of POVs that they have
in the story, and again, POV is points of view, AKA the person narrating that scene. I’ve heard some industry professionals say
kind of cap out around six different POVs, but like everything else, it’s pretty subjective. So this different POV prologue can be advantageous
for the author who loves different POVs. Guilty as charged. So, if you have a character that is not going
to come up later in your book, and somehow impacts the beginning events of your story,
you may want to consider using this type of prologue. The third type of prologue you could do, is:
The Past or Future Protagonist These prologues are great for showing that
pivotal moment that happens to your protagonist either in the past, or in the future. Which could be a defining moment that happened
years ago in the past, or after the main plot has taken place in the future. Alright, so let’s jump into a couple of strengths
of your prologue. Fear not writers, prologues aren’t all bad. They do come in handy for a number of scenarios. The first is to provide a quick and dirty
glimpse and important background information without the need for things like flashbacks,
dialogue, or other things that would interrupt the action later on in the book. The second advantage of a prologue is to hook
the readers into the action right away, while having them ask important questions that are
relevant to the plot. Which then hopefully has them eagerly reading
chapters one, two, and three to get the answers. The third prologue advantage is to offer information
that the reader couldn’t otherwise gleam from the plot; such as another point of view narration,
or a different perspective. You could also introduce the antagonist, providing
background motives that either humanizes the character or shows them as this evil identity,
this angle could be handy if the protagonist doesn’t meet the antagonist until much later
in the book. The fifth prologue strength is to introduce
a religious belief, or other cultural background information that is important to the plot. The final strength, or at least that we have
listed here, is to foreshadow the future events. In-so-doing, you will probably have readers,
well, hopefully, asking questions and eager to read on to find the answers. Alright, so if you watched this whole video
and you still have no idea if you should include a prologue, ask yourself these questions. What information am I providing in the prologue? Why is it important to reveal it upfront? Can this information be revealed throughout
the story, in smaller trickles, and still be as impactful? Does this character’s POV of Point of view
come up again later in the story? If so, would this prologue work instead as
a good chapter one? Thanks for tuning into this episode of iWriterly,
where we talked about: Novel Writing, Should I Write a Prologue? I’m your host, Meg LaTorre-Snyder, and if
you liked what you saw, subscribe, like, comment, tell me what you want to hear about next time,
and I think that’s it! Keep Reading and Writing!

14 thoughts on “Should I Write a Prologue for My Novel? | iWriterly

  1. Hi Meg! How would a writer define how and when to breakdown chapters? I've seen books have minimum of 4 page chapters, and the max I've seen is 20. My current MS chapters varies since I've been revising and editing. BTW another great video. I'll be revising my shelved
    high epic fantasy MS since I did a huge no-no with a long prologue. Ouch!

  2. You are precious. And a huge help to this old writer. I am wrestling with a prologue question, though I don't know why. It is obvious a jump to book two where a reader may not have read book one is a good place to cover some basics for book two.

  3. Hi Meg! Thanks for this video! I'm curious as to what you think about a manuscript (high fantasy) that is in good shape, but is around 160,000 words long? Would this always be a deal breaker when it comes to a debut author? For a bit more context, the MS would be the set up for a five-book series, and the story spans two continents. Or is it a case where no matter how solid the reasoning behind the word count (or how appropriate the pacing is) 160k will always be a no-no for a debut project–even if said project is geared towards readers 18+?

    Thanks again for the information here. I really appreciate it.

  4. i have been having trouble writing a prologue, in the past i have taken creative writing and written a few short novels, that has turned into a fun trilogy- sadly i had lost the first book. and started rewriting it. the video was insightful. is their a technique in getting into the characters head?

  5. For me, a prologue shouldn’t be an info dump or be easily interchangeable for a chapter. It should set the tone but be different. As the other vid I saw, great video and info. Cheers

  6. Great info, Meg. I now know I will NOT be writing a prologue as it would be an info dump… back to the writing board ☝️

  7. How about a video on chapter length? I am writing a nonfiction novel about a woman living on a rubber plantation in Sumatra in the 1930s with lots of backstory to her childhood beginning in 1915. So far I have chapters ranging from 10 to 27 pages – 3000 to 6800 words.

  8. Could you please do an essential video on FIRST CHAPTERS: what they should have, their function, how to keep the readers reading, and primarily how to determine what the first chapter IS in your story? I would be incredibly grateful.
    Thank you for all your fantastic work, and aid for green and experienced writers alike.
    Good day madam.

  9. Very interesting video!
    It would also be interesting to compare the role that a prologue can have to that of an epilogue, especially when it comes to, as an example switching POV (a good way to see how the main story has impacted other people / the world at large).
    For my debut novel I'm going with an "antagonist" prologue. While the main story only follows the POV of the protagonist, the prologue (and epilogue) are written from the POV of the antagonist and delve deeper in their goals and motivations, but also tries to humanize them (for example in this case, the antagonist might feel relatively bad about how her actions impact the protagonist).

  10. I hate when prologue have a lot of vacuity though it can be expanded. Worst, its writing style clash with the following chapters.
    It isn't a commercial pages! It should be a short story that contribute to the story. 4:19
    I should study prologues.

  11. Thank you for this information! I love writing as a hobby and am working on a new project right now. I was struggling with how a prologue might best serve the story and after watching this, now I know. Thanks!!!

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