Beginning your book can be a daunting task. You’ve just spent a good amount of time crafting your world, building your characters and contracting where the story is going to go.
Now you are at the stage to sit down and write, but you’re not sure where to begin.
There are different ways you can begin your book. First by going straight into it, introducing the protagonist, or the world. But there is another option.
Definition of a prologue
= a separate section of literacy, dramatic of work
Basically, a prologue is the beginning chapter that can give context and background that is often earlier in a story that will later tie into the main body of your work.
It can sound enticing to use, but the main problem is that sometimes writers are using it when not necessary. It’s important to think about whether your story really needs it. If it is simply talking about your protagonist, then think about whether you could add these context parts later on to help flesh them out. It would save an info dump for the reader as if it is saying “this is why this character is the way they are”
But don’t get me wrong, sometimes prologues are a perfect way to start your story. It’s an opening chapter to give an inside to the world you have created. Often, it is used in epic fantasies where it is helping set up the world that the reader is about to be introduced.
This could be a good way to judge whether the prologue is needed or not.
If your story is set in this world we live in, then perhaps it won’t be necessary because the reader already knows what to expect. However, it does not mean you don’t need one.
Below are some examples, including one that is set within our own world, that have prologues and adds to the story.
It can give a good understanding as to why the author decided to include it.
A Song of ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin
I’m starting off with this series because it is well known and there won’t need to be a lot of description about the story — which saves me a lot of time as we all know there are a lot of elements to it.
This is an epic fantasy, so the choice to being the story with a prologue helps the reader to get a feel for the world Martin had created.
The fact that the series is from multi-perceptive, it was cleverly crafted to have the prologue from a different character altogether. It means that it is showing another element to the world of Westeros away from the main body of the text.
None of the main characters have any idea about the white walker threat, so it wouldn’t have made sense for them to be involved in the discovery. However, this threat needed to be established near the beginning as it is the main body. Even with the story between who will sit on the iron throne, the threat of the others is always present, so by introducing this at the beginning of the entire series, it helped set up not only the world, but also the story itself.
This is a perfect example of a necessary prologue as it builds up suspense and also context for the reader to understand the threat throughout every book. Without it, the idea of the others wouldn’t seem as threatening so early on.
Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes
This is a sort of YA version of Game the Thrones and so I thought it seemed only far to include this as another example.
Rhodes does a similar thing to Martin, but on a different level. She uses her prologue to set up a key bit of context years before where the story takes place.
A quick summary if you have not read the series — there is the king of Limeros who wants to use magic in order to take over the country of Auronos.
What the prologue does is give the context about how the King has been able to have the advantage of using magic. His daughter has the power, and is a sorceress, but what the prologue does is show the context about how it all came to be.
It shows that the King’s daughter is not by blood, but in fact was stolen by two witches to be given to him. This event takes place sixteen years before the main body of the story, and so by having this insight, it’s not only giving the character of one of the witches who plays a vital role later on, but also portrays the threat of the daughter.
Yes, this is an example that it could be explained later on, but as you will find, many information in prologues can, but what this one does is gives context to what the main bulk of the story is circled around.
It is simpler for the reader to understand what is going on straight away as it is some time until the characters themselves find out. This shapes the story around the stolen child and her brother, who is not family by blood, and makes their relationship more inviting as the reader already knows their true background.
It also raises many questions later on in the series, as the reader already knows that the child’s mother was murdered during her kidnapping, and it plays the ripple affect later on after the child has discovered her true parentage.
It also helps shape what the reader can expect from the story. In the first few pages there are witches, a prophecy, murder and theft. It is almost indicating to the reader that these themes are going to pop up a lot and gives more context rather than jumping straight into the story.
The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
The last example is something a little different. Holly Black decided to write her young adult fantasy from the main character, Jude’s, perspective, so already she has taken away the advantage of telling a broader story as all information is given through Jude’s eyes.
But with the use of her prologue, it helps shape the world that Jude is apart.
The Cruel Prince revolves around a human child, Jude and her twin sister, Taryn, who have been whisked away to live in part of our own world hidden and is the home of fairies.
Black’s prologue however is from the third person perspective and is telling the reader in a more story telling fashion how the twin humans ended up in this new world. Rather than doing an info dump at the beginning, Black chooses to use an omniscient perspective to explain it all and can be seen as more interesting for the reader. It is explained that the twins had grown up in the human world, but their mothers ex-husband, who was Fae, tracked them down and murdered both her and their father.
This gives the context about how the humans ended up living in this world, and also introduces the beginning to the characters and their relationships. The fact that through this prologue we know how Jude’s parents died and the fact that she is living with the man who murdered them, can help shape the character we are most likely to receive from her.
She was already shown to be defiant to this man when he first came, and so it can shape the dynamic relationship between them years later where the actual story takes place.
This is an example where the prologue was used to help shape the characters, and not necessarily the world or even the story. It adds an explanation to the story for where the characters are at the beginning of it, but it was more used to shape the relationships and what we are to expect from them.
Also, it is an example that the use of the prologue gave another form of storytelling. Due to the story being in 1st person narrator of Jude, but having the prologue in 3rd person, it more displays what happened and not what Jude believed to happen, ensuring the facts are exact rather than how Jude interpreted them.
This form is slowly becoming popular, and often has a high effect of readers as it isn’t jarring them from the main body text.
The main thing to think about when deciding to use a prologue is whether it is necessary. All three examples above would have still been affected if the prologues were not included, but each gave another level of the story for the reader.
It can help save info dumping, and also can display the world that the reader is being introduced without taking it away from the story.
It provides that extra detail to help shape the world that is being built.
A good thing to do is ask yourself if this prologue you have written is necessary if you have decided to do one.
Does it add to the story?
Does it help shape the characters?
Will the story make sense without it?
A good thing to do is, if you have chosen to write one, continue with the main body of your text until you have completed. Then, when going through to edit it, ask yourself these questions, and if you still feel the prologue adds more to the story, then you have created one that is necessary.