Writing Talk: What Makes A Great Prologue?

Here’s my approach to giving advice on writing.

If I feel like I’ve done it, if I’ve read it, or otherwise confident I know enough about it, I’ll come to some conclusions on the matter and write about it here. Sometimes I know I want to write about a particular topic, but haven’t yet worked out my angle. Often it’s me swirling ideas around in my head, and seeing what tangible points come out.

The other big driver for my posts is whatever write-work I’m doing. If I’m working on characters, you’ll find something here on writing characters. If I’m pushing through an arduous scene, it’ll be something on motivation.

Right now, the very next thing I need to do for For More Than Earthly Ends, is write a prologue.

I tend to not write prologues. The one time I remember writing a prologue, I scrapped it later because it didn’t add anything to the main story. It was a sidenote. A distraction. Go to hell, former prologue!

This to-be-written-soon one for FMTEE is needed at the moment, so since I can’t pick my own brain, here’s your chance to offer your thoughts. Post in the comments with your thoughts on what makes for a great prologue.


7 thoughts on “Writing Talk: What Makes A Great Prologue?

  1. Tricky. I think of a prologue as describing something that happens (or happened) before the story begins, but is in some way a trigger for what occurs, or is something outside the story that nevertheless adds to the story.

    I toyed with using prologues in my sci-fi series, each to explain what went in the book before, but abandoned the idea as cumbersome. I slide in any relevant information as I go, treating each book as a stand-alone, and try not to give away too much of what has gone before (in other books in the series). As each book has its own story and climax, that works for me.

    I can’t give any advice on using a prologue or what makes one a good one. It very much depends on what you are trying to say with it or why it should stand apart from the rest of the story.

    I don’t mind a prologue, I guess it sort of sets the scene or the mood, or throws in something mysterious.

    I hope you find what you are looking for.

    1. That’s where the need has come from. There’s an event in the past that has a big influence in the current moment, and I want the character connections to be there from the beginning. It’ll be aftermath-type stuff, which will hopefully lend it an air of “what happened? quite intriguing!” while being very relevant to the story being told.

      At the moment, that event exists in the world’s history, but it’s not stated clearly enough (based on current feedback). While I could do a standalone flashback, or reveal it through exposition, it feels like it belongs at the beginning.

      Thanks for your input 🙂

      1. Hi Nick. It sounds like you know what you want in general terms. May I suggest you write it out in a variety of ways and see which one grabs you the most. One might gel as you do it or shine above all others.

        You could have straight exposition, or a flashback, as you suggested. If one of your characters was there and a part of it, could they be reflecting on the events from back then? Or discuss it? That would bring in someone’s thoughts and feelings about it all as well as explain what happened.

        You’ve got me intrigued now – I hope you’ll let us know when you land it. 🙂

        1. I started it! Only intended it to be short, and through the course of writing, an idea struck me – use some Seattle-specific lingo/slang in one particular line of dialogue.

          The road to research is one of many detours, and I soon found myself absorbing local names for different places I’ve never been to. The most exciting part was I happened across a mention of a location that perfectly fit the prologue, while hopefully lending it enough authenticity to make it seem like I’ve actually been to Seattle.

          More work to do on it, but definitely progress.

  2. I agree with A.D. Everard. It has to be something that catches someone’s attention. Usually the best ones I have read starts with an event that drags a reader in, makes them wonder what in the world is going on, and isn’t explained right away. It is a way to set up someone without having to go into detail immediately.

    Then again, I could be wrong. I am not one to write them either. Though I may take a stab at one for one of my stories.

    1. That’s what they feel like they ought to be for me also. I wouldn’t do it every time, but it works here. Or feels like it should be present.

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