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How to Write a Prologue that Captivates Your Reader

Updated on December 28, 2013
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What Doesn't Go in a Prologue?

A prologue shouldn't have anything that would seriously affect the character's understanding if they happened to skip it. Unfortunately, some people will skip your prologue, so putting the most juicy action in the entire book before the book even begins is not ideal for your story.

A bad prologue

  • Loses your reader's interest
  • Includes important information that is not discussed anywhere else early in the book
  • Has no point, and is simply a few pages that say nothing relevant to the book. The reader should know more about the character's personality and background more than anything else.

What Goes in a Prologue?

The prologue's main focus is to provide backstory to the actual novel. It should help the reader understand who the character is and why they are in a certain position. If anything, a prologue simply helps the reader get to know the character before any of the real action takes place.

A good prologue:

  • Introduces the main character
  • Connects the reader to the main character
  • Includes a challenge, obstacle, or perspective a character has that makes them who they are in the first chapter.
  • Captivates the reader and makes them want to read more of the book.

Don't get frustrated if it's not perfect. Writing a prologue takes time and patience.
Don't get frustrated if it's not perfect. Writing a prologue takes time and patience.

How do I Get Started?

Part of writing a successful prologue is being in touch with your character. What about your character makes them who they are? What parts of your book need clarification? Is your book about a complicated topic that most people would not understand? Use these questions to start off your prologue with something interesting that the reader would like to know.

Which Perspective Fits a Prologue Better?

You may find that writing a prologue is much easier for stories told in first person than stories told in third person. This is because

  1. In first person, a character's thoughts are visible to the reader. This already gives you an advantage when introducing them
  2. It's much easier to relate oneself to a character if they are forced to read as if they were in the character's shoes.

Let's use an example from a snip of my book, Exposed, to demonstrate bullet #2...

"Have you ever done something so embarrassing that you wanted to just crawl in a hole and die? Or maybe you wanted to turn invisible and scoot your little legs right out the nearest door? Maybe you wanted to turn back time for only sixty seconds; just enough to fix the situation and tell yourself that what you were about to do was a BAD IDEA.

Like you and most people, I, too, have embarrassed myself. But I tell you one thing, until you’ve experienced what I’ve gone through, you won’t know the meaning of embarrassment. Let me tell you how it all began…"

Now, read the below paragraph, converted to a third person novel...

"Embarrassing moments are simply a part of life. It's not easy to hide from them, but it's even harder to forget about the feeling of humiliation that comes with them. Vanishing in thin air seems like the best option during one of these moments, as does running out the nearest door. But, once the damage is done, there's no going back.

Like most people, Jewel, too, has embarrassed herself. But until someone has experienced what she's gone through, he/she won’t even know the meaning of embarrassment…"

While the two paragraphs say almost the same thing, the first one is more effective because the words "I" and "you" connect the character and the reader much better than just talking about some random person and their problems.

Quick Tips

Deciding which perspective to write in can totally depend on what genre you are writing. If you like the way it flows, use it!

Try out different perspectives and get others' opinions. It could really help you out!

Third Person Can Be Just as Good!

However, everyone has their preferences. If a third person prologue works better for your book (which it very well might) then by all means use that. It is better to have a uniform point of view than to change the prologue to first person because it is easier. If you are having trouble try these tips.

  • Write initially in first person, then convert to third person
  • Try both points of view and see which one fits the story better
  • Ask others for advice! Let them read your third person prologue and your first person prologue and let them tell you which one sounds better.

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    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 3 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      The prologue to my first book, 'RAVENFEAST' takes the form of a parallel short story to set the scene... The opening lines are:

      "A small fleet draws forward from the early morning sea mist with sails furled. Low sided, sleek hulls washed by rising and ebbing waves, the five ships are run onto the strand in line abreast by strong oarsmen..."

      Does that get your juices going?

      The main story opens with:

      '"Where in God's name are we?" a man asks nearby.

      "Hush!' I answer, putting a finger to my lips when he looks my way. "Hush. We should not be heard here'.

      A thick mist has risen from the river to our right and drifts with the wind across the road we are taking . It is as well we have this mist shield, as we are many..."

      And so on, taking the reader across a swelling River Wharfe on an early crossing the next morning, toward Jorvik (York). The date is 25th September, 1066, before the battle at Stamford Bridge near York when Harald Sigurdsson's men are roundly beaten in a warm late summer day's hard slog.

      by the River Derwent

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