How to Write a Prologue
- List important attributes of the story that need to be explained. Think about things like the historical context, the characters’ backstories, and any special facts about the world of the story. Try to concentrate on the information that will really drive the story, and don’t get distracted by side-details. In particular, think about the characters’ motivations: why are they doing the things they do? What do they want? The prologue should give information on this sort of thing.
- Be brief! This is especially important for fantasy and science fiction stories, where you may be tempted to explain everything about how magic works, how elves came to be at war with goblins, who commands the enemy space-fleet, etc. But you have to get through the prologue quickly and get on with the story. Readers can get important information as they go along – it doesn’t all need to be loaded into the prologue.
- Consider skipping it! Prologues are useful because they give so much information, but they also slow the story down a lot. If you want to write an exciting action story, it’s better to jump right into the action and get the information across later through exposition. Basically, you should use a prologue if there’s a particularly strong need for one (e.g. lots of information that you can’t get across any other way), but otherwise you should skip it and get straight to the events of the main story.
When to Use a Prologue
Prologues are used in literature, not formal essays. And even within literature, they make sense in only certain cases. For example, you wouldn’t want to use a prologue in a short story because there just isn’t enough room for it. Similarly, most poems would not use a prologue. Prologues are better suited for long stories like novels or epic poems – something that gives you plenty of room so that the prologue isn’t a waste of space. In addition, short stories usually are rarely complicated, so the audience should not need a lot of information in order to understand them. Longer novels, on the other hand, may require more explanation, and so the prologue might be helpful.
Although prologues are only used in creative writing, formal essays also have a section with a similar purpose: it’s called an introduction. Like a prologue, an introduction gives basic information that helps the reader understand the argument. But the introduction can also slow down the argument and create an awkward transition, just like a prologue. Writing prologues is good practice for writing more effective introductions.