A lot of Royal Road authors feel compelled to add a prologue, not because they are actually interested in the prologue but because they think they need it to get the ball rolling for their stories. This results in a lot of prologues that are shoddy at best, regardless of the actual level of the rest of the fiction.
So, this begs the question, what is a prologue? How do you use it so that it doesn’t feel forced, rushed or like an info dump? Well first I’ll list some things that I believe you SHOULD NOT do with your prologue.
Note: this is a repost of Kina's rant that is based on his opinion.
The DO NOT Section.
- Firstly, you don’t need a prologue. Prologues are one method at giving the reader a glimpse at some background. Most commonly, authors use prologues as a way to give you a peak at the spark that started events. Then start the real story where their main character actually begins to interact with events. So, if you don’t actually have some background that you desperately need to get across or a ‘spark’ event that triggered a lot of what’s going to happen within your story, you can just skip the prologue and start your story at chapter one.
- A prologue is not a place where you should be spitting out your characters entire back story in a single chapter. Back story is generally something that is developed along with your character. Yes, you’ll probably need to have a general idea about your character’s back story but you can slowly reveal it throughout the story and not in one large info dump at the beginning. This not only saves your readers from the evil that is INFO DUMPING but it also gives you flexibility as a writer, so that if you decide at chapter 20 that your MC isn’t really matching up with the abused drug-addict you had originally envisioned, you don’t ruin your whole story by already having laid out everything in the prologue.
- A prologue is not a place where you should be info dumping on your readers because you couldn’t figure out a way to work the info into the rest of your story. Your reader does not need to know everything, or even half of everything. If you can’t figure out how to work it into the story, then leave it out or add it in author’s notes. Treat readers much like mushrooms, keep them in the dark and feed them shit. (Evil Cackle!)
- On a more serious note, I often see authors struggling to justify this or explain that and… It’s not necessary. The only one who has to fully understand how your world works is YOU! I don’t need to know the mathematical formula that you use to determine hit points, if you want to share it that’s cool and if you don’t have one that’s cool too! Just don’t kill yourself over it because it’s not important. J.K. Rowling never explained how conjuring or banishing worked in Harry Potthead and you know what? No one really cared!
The DO Section.
So now some things I would recommend using a prologue for.
You, as an author, are basically a literary drug dealer and the prologue is the first taste of the product that’s supposed to make the reader come back for more.
The first thing you want to remember is that the prologue is your first impression. It is your first meeting with that hot chick/hot guy and you want to keep him interested long enough to notice that you have some good traits. I, for one, use prologues as a gauge of whether or not an author writes well enough for me to bother investing my time beyond that point.
- The most common use of a prologue that I’ve come across is showing The Ignition. The Spark. The first domino to fall in your elaborately thought out story. A prologue is a place where you, as the author, can give your reader a glimpse into the origins of your story. A GLIMPSE DAMN IT! NOT THE ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA! Imagine this as a window into the past or a portal to a different location. It is okay if things are relatively disconnected and not well explained because hopefully you will explain the significance behind it as the story progresses.
- A mystery or a cliff hanger is a good thing. It keeps the reader engaged and makes them want to find out what’s really going on or what happens next, which means they’ll have to read more of your story! Keep them coming back for more.
- Another common use of the prologue is instead of the “Spark” you use the prologue to show the reader the “Hindrance”. This is the thing that holds your MC back from being all that he can be. This can be a betrayal, an accident, a trauma; anything really that could affect your MC and hold him back.
- Then there is the “Back story”. No, you don’t need to tell me everything or even a quarter of everything. In fact you can do something as simple as a playground seen that shows off a “trait” of your MC. This can be something as simple as your MC standing up to a bully or your MC doing the bullying! A small taste of your characters personality is all that’s really needed here. You can also give a small glimpse of the people who are going to raise/be responsible for taking care of your MC as this is usually a good indicator of how one has lived. If they are mean/nasty people and your MC still turns out to be a nice/caring person its all the more impressive and when you introduce him as a nice cheery person your reader will be suitably impressed (maybe).
Now, these are just a few ways you can use a prologue effectively and I’m sure you guys can come up with a bunch more that I haven’t included here. I hope this helps someone understand a little about what to do and what not to do with a prologue.
a very nice summary, you have my thanks from me ( both as an author and as someone who read a lot of prolugue's both good and bad).
Which, in your opinion, is better? For something like a reincarnation, summoned hero or something along those lines.
Prologue: basic character portrait/traits.
Chapter 1: basic world building and MC gets summoned/killed/problems in clan begin, etc.
Prologue: MC summoned/killed. And his starting out.
Chapter 1: basic world building (maybe his local region, city or (if like a dungeon story) his environment and a general description of the world from a guild receptionists or something) and some character development interaction.
This would place each at around 2000 words. Give or take a bit.
IMAO, there are no right and wrong path. All depend on which way you can make it interesting. In the nutshell, the prologues or the fist chapter is a tool to draw your audience in. If you can make your basic character portrait/traits unique, interesting, and cliff-hanging. By all means, do it. On the other hand, if it's just boring info dump and full of numbers and table, don't.
The type of prologues that I like the most is a glimpse into the futur, could not hold any information at all, just a glimpse into a critical situation right before one of the major happenings in the story, I'd prefer it even more if it was associated with some emotion/resolve, can show me how the story is going to progress without actually telling me anything about it, and even if there is I should not understand it until further into the story. Those kind of prologues stick into your head throughout the whole story, and keeps you guessing everytime you notice some hints while you're reading it.
Rule 1: Never follow a rule down a cliff. - C.J.Cherryh
I know this is old but one thing I have to say. All of the above sound excessive for a prologue. At least for me, having the entire of even the basic world building in a prologue bogs it down. The character's features can be very slight or even skimmed over depending on the start and using 'traits' with an 's' is also a bit of a red flag for me. A single trait, not told but shown in a scene is usually enough.
That chapter 1 also seems to be wayy too heavy on details, those types of things can be explained through chapter 1-10 depending on chapter length. Heck the character could get the rundown off-screen for the most part and the reader would be introduced to the aspects as they come up in future chapters.
I find I get pulled into a story much more if all the exposition is avoided in early chapters. If the exposition must happen then it shouldn't be too heavily delved into and it should also be an active goal of the main character in a way that ties into the early plot. Basically anything that you're just going to bring up and then leave for more than one or two chapters should be left out and instead gradually introduced later.
A drop in the ocean.
Flipping a mountain in one day can only end up in a failure.
I wish more people would follow these guidelines. Somethng I have also seen is using the prologue as a framing device. Think Forrest Gump and Megamind. They start at the middle of a huge moment, and the rest of the story leads up to the conflict in the prologue.
Lol, megamind. Yes, you’re right this is a great read with valuable tips shame people probably glance past it more often than not. I keep this article bookmarked in hopes that one day if and/or when I finally confident enough to post anything i write
That's the same format used in the Odyssey (or most any other classical epic, for that metter)
Raine Irth on
another good use of prologue is the all incompassing misunderstood prophecy
I just want to be sure then, since this is in front of the home page, that the opinion given here is also the official stand of the Mods?
Well, I thought it was good and beneficial for authors to read this. It also helped me improve as an author as I did the "don'ts" previously.
I agree, it was a good synopsis of what a prologue should be. A hint of things to come, a sample of flavor. It shouldn't do more than set the scene, or introduce the book's setting. Any more depth and it should rather be chapter one.
The best prologues I have seen are usually short and to the point. In my own writing I have tried to achieve this goal. Whether I have achieved this is debatable, but I have tried to incorporate all the good points in above article.
I often just skip prologues on RRL for the specific reason that most are info dumps and I don't want to read that. It's boring.
i find middle finger icon missing from the emoji's here.... my response to the post.
Thank you for posting this. I hope that many aspiring writers here check this out and avoid those "don'ts" becuase info dumps hurt my soul.
While this is helpful, I feel like the actual prologue standards for actual novels is much tougher. Since a lot of these Do's also seem to be where you'd start your chapter one.
Instead I'd suggest writers read their prologues and imagine their story without it and look at its impact. The novel's hook belongs in the first chapter, preferably on the first or second page.
A prologue would be more helpful for presenting information that is important that the reader HAS to know that the characters probably don't.
Most prologues I see could and are just chapter 1s. The only thing I usually see right with them is that they are short.
Hooking a reader and THE HOOK of the story are two different things and if the hook is in the prologue then it's actually a chapter 1.
If you're just writing for fun and stuff then ignore all of the above and just do what you want.
My own prologue follows the guidelines specified here... but I should probably rewrite it since it is my most heavily edited piece of work. My friend had to edit it to the point where it resembled his writing just as much as my own sinply to make my very first draft readable.
You might want to add "your own writing" into the specifications above.
Thanks a lot for opening my eyes over this topic. So Prologue is a taste-maker.
I think it is good if stories have prologues. Authors dump all the stuff I do not want to know anyway in there so it is out of their system. And I as reader can simply skip it.
The only bad about prologues is that I sometimes misclick and do not realize and by mistake read them (bad mistake). I think royalroadl could improve the situation for readers quite a bit if it simply hid any chapter that contains the word prologue in it from everyone but the author.
Damn it people. Stop following mind-games. What is a prologue? What is a chapter? Stories don't need any of them. This is a mind-game. Limit put on the start of a task.
....But i still wanna explain everything
I hate when I don't understand how something works in a story aand it makes everything else more interactive with the users when they give out suggestions for combinations of things
While I'm more of a "do what feels right" kind of person when it comes to writing, this is a very helpful overview for basic principles.
Most, if not all, of this tutorial is not set in stone and can easily be gone over by someone either very experienced or very talented, but that does not mean it is wrong or obsolete. It's much like basic Martial Arts skills: Something that needs to be understood in order to advance, but which can be expanded upon and even partially neglected or redefined if it is done to capitalize on other things. And from what I take from the author it isn't intended as an absolute guide either. So, chapeau.
You can also use the prologue to tell a part of the story that's crucial to the plot without being explicit about it. And it doesn't have to feature the MC either. For example, you can depict a scene between characters that might not necessarily appear in the main chapters. As you tell your story, you can sprinkle minor clues that add up until the readers eventually get to a point where they go "ah, so that's what that's about."
One important thing though -- if your prologue is taking 2 or more "chapters", then that's not a prologue. Don't be a pretentious dingbat; use proper chapters.
From a readers perspective, and someone who has vetted and read many novels/scripts. A prologue is pretty much frowned upon. Most readers actually don't bother with them and skip anyway. And on a professional level, most gatekeepers (readers for publishing houses) will skip and then mark you down as well.
My sincere and most honest advice would be, if you're writing for RRL and you're just wanting to get your story and it's ideas out there, then go for it.
But, if you're looking to do much more with it, then seriously think about interspersing that 'vital' information you're putting in your prologue in your first 3-5 chapters. You can seed any story with info, you just have to do it in a subtle way.
After all, if you're looking for a publisher or agent, and they ask for your first 10 pages... do not, ever send them your prologue....
Honestly, Chapter 1 is much more fun.... As we say in the script/film world - Get in late and get out early!
I hate prologues. Don't bore me out before I even got to the actual story. From my experience most prologues I've read is stuff that could easily be sprinkled out throughout the story. As for world building stuff, put that in an encyclopedia section, so that those who want to go deeper can do so without forcing everyone to feel the need to read a boring prologue. I'd rather want to get into the story and decide if I like it before reading about the world and magical systems and what not.
But nothing turns me off more than stories that begin with random attempts at profundity.
wow, how much stupidity is dropped into one post.
Novels without a prologue(one that is good and contains suitable backstory & general direction)
are just a fraud to fool people into reading them just because the author guy still don't know what to write
and in most cases a good proof that he doesn't know where he's going and he's just improvising
and this is a disaster in most cases which is the reason most novels and fanfics stop or fall into darkness and become a sh*tty waste of time.
Thank god I read this. I have been wanting to post a story on here but I couldn't figure out why it was so bad. Since I wrote the first intro chapter two years ago, I didn't realize it was an info dump! Now I know what I need to do, and I feel like I will be able to actually crank out a story that will be engaging from the get go! I do want to have the whole world completely flushed out in how everything is gonna work, but reading this made me realize just because o want that doesn't mean the reader has to know about it! Thank you so much for whoever make that rant!
Snow Quill on
Generally, prologues fail to get the reader interested because they don't introduce the main character or give us a reason to care. We don't need to know your world's intricate history in advance. Worse yet, they can reveal information that spoils a dramatic reveal later, as seen in the movie version of "Lord of the Rings". "Yes, Frodo, we already know the ring is evil. We learned that half an hour ago."
You won't go wrong if you simply make the opening unique and interesting; something to capture the reader and make him stay. Make sure not to bore him to death by something he's seen thousands of times as a starter of your story, only then will you have someone that is interested.
I love prologues. For me, ut is the most important piece of work you can do to set the motions going. From the prologue alone, I could prolly find out a few things:
2. What's the story about.
3. Whether the author had done subverts on the readers mind, i..misguisng readers into reading then bam, a different story altogether.
4.Basic technical writing and grammar strength of the author.
And many more. Prologue is not just a hook. Its our first world into the author's mind.
And to those ignorant enough to mention that prologues aren't necessary, then I ask you this. When you wanna eat something that you had never eaten before, do you smell it, taste test a litle before you take your first bite or you chomp everything down at one go?
Nexus Wolf on
I will have to thank the author for using the prologue as a way to give me a peak into the story. But regardless, I'll have to take a hike.
*bad dum tssss*
PS: peak* to peek.
you should check out my prologue!
this helped me a lot because I keep trying to explain the structure of a system in the story and explain in detail why the mc makes each decision so i dont have people second guessing every choice he makes.
I can't help but lament at how late in the game this is. With respect to all the authors present including myself. Oh well, better late than never as they say. Thanks for this. This is really helpful to novices like me.
Thanks im new and wow thats something
i think my prologue is pretty great!
just kidding i don't have one :p
Im not a big fan of writing a prologue but this is really helpful
I have to agree that there are a lot of bad use of prologs on this site, and the donts in the article are quite reasonable. One important thing that do seem to be missing is that prologs need to be short. They are something you read before you start the story, and are therefor a hurdle to actually start the story, and the bigger this hurdle is the worse.
If you go out and buy a professional book, then you will hardly ever see any prologs in them, and those that do have them are either very short (like a page or so) or something you really could have been without, at least as far as I recall. For those books you have already decided to spend a reasonable amount of time on them beforehand, so the prolog does not serve very well to sell the story, since it is already sold, it instead serves as a speedbump to actually get started with the story.
For free or semi-free novels, you generally want to sell your novel to your readers. You also want them to judge your fairly, but if the early parts of the novel is markedly different in some aspect than later on (this is especially true for "calm before the storm" and "weak to strong" settings), then you want your readers to not end up thinking the story is one thing while it really is something else. Those "aaaw how cute" part might be nice and perfectly work in a collected work, but if they are partially realeased then people might expect and review it based on such. If later on you make the switch you might alienate your readers, and worse yet, you might not even get the readers that really like that sort of story in the first place. If you included a short prolog that hints at such things later on, then you have effectively shown readers that such things is likely going to be part of the story later one, which deals nicely with the above problem.
One thing to remember, is that prologs can effectively be considered dead parts of the story, they are the part that your readers generally arent interested in, so unless you have a really really good reason, you shouldnt have it there in the first place, and if you do, then as little as possible. You should also remember that te length of the prolog in general also indicates how long until your actual story becomes interesting (if you have a 10 page prolog, then chances are the story wouldnt really pick up until about 100 pages in, because otherwise it really would have just been too stupid to put that much prolog there in the first place). This means that when I see a story with a significant amount of prolog, it indicates to me that I need to invest compariable much more time before the story will really pick up. On a site like this, having multiple chapter prologs tells me that unless the story already has like 50-200 chapters already, then it likely is going to feel like it is still in the beginning, even if I read all of it.
First of all, really good post lol second of all, I want to mention that it's not good to skip over lines. My page is next to several others so they're skinnier than they are meant to be, right? Well at the info dump part, the sentence is cut off at the exact point for it to say, and I quote, "Yes, you’ll probably need to have a large info dump at the beginning." Rather than, "Yes, you’ll probably need to have a general idea about your character’s back story but you can slowly reveal it throughout the story and not in one large info dump at the beginning." xD fucking hell that made me pause for a minute.
I've been complaining about this for ages. Most author's I've read about use the prologue to info dump their protagonists past life into the story. Or to somehow justify whatever bull op powers and abilities they want to drop their protagonist into having.
I personally believe that backstory shouldn't even be covered until the author has made a particular piece of backstory interesting to the reader. And even then, I just want a brief description of the backstory, I don't want it to develop its own side-novel.
One of the ways that a prologue can be written that I really enjoy is if it is written from the perspective of a different person where the end of the prologue only hints to the main character in some way. I’ve seen it written and when it’s good it is a interesting start to a novel that will hopefully set the mood for the story to come
Nice piece, thanks.
One super strong disagreement. J.K. Rowling's failure to explain anything or to have a consistent system condemned them to the unreadable level for me. They were probably great children's books or the great outline for a set of movies but I hated that she didn't have a system.
Oh but wait a minute- millions and millions of other people didn't mind that. So, obviously I must have a litrpg perspective.
A prologue will always serve as a starting line, whether it is included or not. Technically speaking, every story has a prologue, and this doesn't necessarily have to be at the beginning of the book. I've read perfectly decent books that shared no backstory on their main characters until further in, and that, in and of itself, is admirable.
The idea that an author is willing to sacrifice credibility and trust in lieu of writing a proper and understandable main character is, in my opinion, much more appreciated than an author who writes a character just for fan service, or to be a leading man, while inadverently creating a two dimension coward who only listens to other people and never makes a decision by themselves.
The only real point of mention is that info-dumps aren't always bad. Not every character has to be an archetype or have a defined personality to match their living situation or looks. Some characters can simply not care, and writing about such characters is always harded than writing about melancholic or upbeat ones. Info-dumps in moderation, while being masked by actual competent and good writing, are much more pleasing to the eye and the brain.
All in all, I appreciate you giving tips to new and experienced writers to flesh out their stories a bit more.
Ironically enough, I seem to have misspelled "Two Dimensional" and "Harder", but I think my point still came across...
Wish I'r read this Before posting the Prologue to my first story on this site, but hey, you can't win them all. I don't think I broke too many of these guidelines anyway.
I decided to write a prologue for my revised Werewolf Cheerleader first story arc. It is meant to introduce the antagonist a little, just like how a horror movie introduce the monster at the beginning.
every single story out there has a prologue. it's usually the 2-3 chapters that desribe your story so that the people who you wrote it for know its for them. that prologue is on the back or jack sleeve of every book in a book store.
it's just that sometimes the author wants to flesh out those 2-3 chpaters a bit before they really get to meat of the story. like wine tasting it's a way to clear your readers palate so that when they take that fisrt big gulp they don't confuse your burgundy for the chianti they had for lunch.
*ahem* jacket sleeve of every book in a book store.
always proof reader before you submit.
i feel like that should be accompanied by a dirty joke but i can't think of one right now.
aaannnnddd i did it again
This is pretty cool guide for prologues. The last "do not" is something I will take seriously and practice. I know how my worlds turn, so that should be enough. Thanks for the tips!
Pavel Morava on
Prologues are often misleading.
The letdown is going through first chapter, get intrigued, and realize in the end, the book is about something or someone completely different. To dig into text takes a time and some writers waste the precious first minutes of a reader's attention by offering a short story, rather unrelated to the main arc.
A book is not a fancy restaurant where guests wait impatiently for a beefsteak while tasting small appetizer.