A fun little exercise to run against your next novel. If you make it all the way to the end let me know how I did. Enjoy.
A prologue is an introductory passage at the beginning of a literary work that is separate from the main narrative.
Prologues exist in plays, novels, movies, and sometimes even poems.
You can think of a prologue as an introductory chapter before the actual story begins.
Not all fiction books have a prologue, but there are many different reasons authors choose to include prologues in their books.
Some novels include a prologue to give the reader important background information about events that take place before the main story begins.
For example, a fantasy novel might use a prologue to tell the reader historical context about the story’s world, so they can understand what’s happening when the story begins.
Other novels use a prologue to establish the tone of the book upfront and show readers what they can expect later in the story.
For example, in thriller books, authors might use an action-packed prologue to foreshadow the exciting events to come, especially if the first chapters are slow.
How to Write a Prologue in 5 Steps
So, now you know what a prologue is, it’s time to figure out how to write one of your own.
What are the exact steps you can take to write a successful prologue?
Step 1: Determine Why You Need a Prologue
It’s important to know why you need to write a prologue, so you can make sure it serves its purpose.
If you don’t have a good reason, it’s better not to write a prologue.
Here are some good reasons to include a prologue:
- There’s crucial information your reader needs to know in order to understand the main story, which can’t be easily incorporated into the rest of the novel.
- You want to give the reader a taste of what to expect from your novel, which can’t be delivered in the first few chapters.
Step 2: Lead with a Hook
The prologue, just like any great first chapter, should grab the reader’s attention as quickly as possible. Your goal is to convince the reader to keep reading, like reeling in a fish on a hook.
One way to hook readers in is by describing something unusual or mysterious. Prioritize strong visual imagery at the beginning of your prologue.
The hook might be as dramatic as the image of a dead body in a public library. You can hook the reader with these questions: How did the person die? Who will discover them? Why is their body in the library?
Or, the hook might be as mundane as the image of a woman impatiently waiting for a late bus. You can hook the reader in with these questions: Where is the woman going? What is she late for? Will she make it on time?
Make sure you introduce new hooks each time you resolve an existing one, so the reader always has more questions to keep them reading.
Step 3: Balance Action and Information
Whatever you decided in Step 1, it’s important to make sure you accomplish that purpose. However, it’s just as important to strike the right balance between action and information.
Let’s say your goal is to give the reader a piece of information they need in order to understand the main story. Don’t just dump all the information into a dense chunk of text and call it a prologue.
After all, the writing advice “show, don’t tell” applies even to prologues. It’s important to show us what’s happening, instead of just telling us about the characters, the plot, or the world.
One trick is to make sure your prologue includes a character pursuing a goal and encountering an obstacle that prevents them from achieving that goal. This allows you to generate conflict between the character and the obstacle, which creates action.
Step 4: Drop Hints for What’s to Come
A great prologue successfully foreshadows events, characters, or themes that will appear in the main story.
Readers find it satisfying when a detail from the prologue feeds into the main plot later on. This will make the story feel more connected, and it will also reward the reader for paying attention early on.
Step 5: Avoid Extraneous Details
It’s important to keep the prologue short and sweet.
Give the reader all the important details they need to know, but don’t include any extraneous information that isn’t absolutely crucial for the reader’s understanding of the story.
The drive to the bus that night was quiet. Uncomfortably quiet. Normally Jeremy would have driven himself to Sydney, but a bus had been laid on and he had been ordered to use it. The bus was going to take him to Penrith in outer western Sydney, not far from the mountains that hemmed the city in and made it so spectacularly difficult for the early explorers to make it into the interior of Australia. Sydney ends at Penrith.
But that was the 19th century, and this was 1997. Jeremy would be leaving Sydney this time in a much more modern way; in the back of a C-130 Hercules Royal Australian Air Force transport plane. A first time for him and probably most of his soldiers too. That was the reason that he was now heading to Penrith on a Friday night. Richmond air base was a very short drive from Penrith and that is where they would leave from the next day enroute to Queensland and also where they would return two weeks later.
That night Jeremy would meet up with the rest of the Company at Penrith engineer barracks. The Company Commander and his second in command were engineers, as were a great many of the soldiers in the Company, including the Sergeant-Major. There would be hustle and bustle aplenty in the hours ahead in preparation of the camp in Queensland.
But that was later, and right now the car was quiet. Liz was driving him in for the bus tonight, but she was not happy to be doing it. There was a time when she would have gladly driven Jeremy the 20 minutes along Canberra’s wide open and rarely busy roads. But that was a long time ago. They had been together for five years and things were no longer good.
Jeremy was glad to be getting away. Not only because he was about to visit the holy shrine of Army Reserve training, the Land Warfare Centre at Canungra in Queensland, but also just to get away from Liz. They barely spoke anymore even though they lived and worked together. It was like they were just sharing the house for convenience. They even drove to their office in separate cars. It was getting ridiculous but neither of them had had the strength to pull the trigger, yet.
When Liz’s car arrived at the army depot in the city Jeremy got out and took his bags from the boot. Liz sat in the driver’s seat not even bothering to unbuckle her seat belt.
“I’ll see you in two weeks,” Jeremy said, trying to be pleasant.
“Bye,” Liz said without much enthusiasm and barely looking at him. Even the tiniest gestures were now an effort. Every small favour a chore. There was no farewell kiss.
Jeremy shut the door and then she was gone. He picked up his bags and carried them to the waiting bus. He placed them in the cargo bay and ambled over to the driver who was checking names off his list.
“Lieutenant Holland reporting.”
Camilla was just getting back from the supermarket with her shopping, including ingredients for her dinner that night, when she bumped into Alison in their apartment. It was an unwritten rule of the flat that Friday nights were fend for yourselves affairs as far as dinner was concerned. The rest of the week the six undergraduate occupants of 1 Cowper St Randwick would at least try to coordinate dinner arrangements and regularly share food, but Fridays had always proved too difficult with everyone usually busy at the last minute as invitations to parties and dates appeared out of nowhere.
Camilla would have asked Alison if she wanted to share her meal, but this night Alison clearly had other plans. Dressed in her camouflage uniform and black ankle length boots it would have been difficult to imagine that underneath Alison was cute 20-year-old if it hadn’t been for her shortish blonde hair and undoubted feminine facial features.
Alison smiled broadly at Camilla and proceeded to chat away like nothing especially interesting was happening to her that night. She could have been in a skirt and blouse just putting on her heels ready for a night out the way she moved comfortably about in her GP boots and uniform Camilla thought idly.
“What is on this weekend?” Camilla inquired. “It looks like you are moving out with all that stuff.”
Camilla was observant. Alison had her webbing (a tangled looking arrangement of straps and pouches designed to carry ammunition and water), her pack and her green (olive drab) echelon bag all set down next to the front door. It was literally every piece of army equipment Alison owned, all packed and seemly in neat order.
“Queensland!” Alison said excitedly. “I’m going to the jungle training centre in Canungra. It’s going to be amazing!
“Will you get to go to the beach?” Camilla asked, genuinely not understanding where Alison was going or what she would be doing.
“I doubt it. I think we are going to be in the bush the whole time. I don’t even know if it’s near a beach.”
“Oh well. Hope you have fun. Are you going tonight?”
“No, just to the depot now and then there is a bus taking us from Randwick to Penrith. The plane leaves from Richmond tomorrow.”
“Penrith and Richmond. Could the army pick more boring places to build its bases?”
“Probably not. What are you doing tonight?”
“Not much. You know me; always the bridesmaid.”
“That’s not true.” Alison looked at her watch. “I have to go. I’m getting a lift into Randwick and they are meeting me out front in five.”
“’In five’? Gee Alison, you are so army!”
“See you later, ‘Private Benaud.’”
Yep, great job developing the prologue. 👌
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