NOTE: This is more of an observation than a question, aimed to help get more good prologues out there.
PROLOGUES --- How and why to write one
I was looking at a post about prologues and I couldn’t help but think that there seems to be something wrong with people’s reactions to them. I for one like prologues as they can set the tone for the rest of the story; When they are prologues and not just masses of text. After reading Farlander (By Col Buchanan) I have realized what makes a prologue good, and why more fantasy stories need them.
1) A prologue should be like the story you will tell but in miniature, it should be no longer then your longest chapter and should never be split into parts (I’ve seen this done and it’s just horrendous). That said you should always leave the prologue to be the last thing you write.
A prologue is so much like a door hinge I can’t even begin to explain. It is best used with the idea to gather readers; it’s a chapter the average man/woman or child can read at a book store to get a feel for the authors writing without going into the main story. It is what an author should use for getting the reader from the real world to their fictional world. Again like a door hinge it keeps the book open for the public eye to grab a glimpse.
2) The author can also use the prologue to slip in information that the other characters in the novel might already know (if it is important to the story). You wouldn’t want to write a chapter about a city falling to pieces, only for it to have no purpose for the rest of the story, waste-of-space much? While Farlander presents an assassination never spoken of again, the reader soon finds it wasn’t the assassination that was important but the state of mind the main character- Ash- finds himself in. Don’t allow prologues to become information dumps, remember you are trying to get the average reader into your story, don’t bombard them with names that won’t or can’t be explained till 2-3 chapters in.
3) Prologues, after keeping in mind that they should not be long, they should also not be short. A prologue consisting of 1-4 paragraphs is rather useless; all the information presented could be bleed into the speech of some of the characters. Removing the need for the prologue all together. If there are only 1-4 paragraphs it’s likely that you just wrote an information dump and should delete it anyways.
4) There should be a story going on in your prologue, a beginning and an end. Introduce a key character in your story, Maybe a villan? The main character? A magic object? Something that has reason to exist, and has wants and needs. Present them a challenge; it could be a rival, a theft ( the theft of a person’s life, an object, a person or a way of thinking) or maybe the end of a cycle. Farlander presents Ash the main character challenging a revolting king who has killed someone he shouldn’t have ( the theft of a person’s life). Remember when coming up with the challenge, it may be a good idea to take the main problem of you fiction but show it on a miniature scale. If your story is about racism show a glimpse of the racism here.
5) Now show off the character or object’s skills by somehow getting them though the situation. This is a great way to get your reader interested in the character or object they are going to follow for the rest of the book. It’s time to show their talents, as this character or object may not be the only main character or object of the novel but is the one that pulls the story along, and likely won’t be showing up again for a few chapters.
6) Never talk history in the prologue; write as it happens. Do you remember sitting in those boring history classes with your unexciting history teacher? Thank god I loved history and never had a crappy history teacher. But I know other people who have and I also know they don’t like to read about it in their fiction, so keep it out of there! There is a time and a place to talk about the last great war between the Jubjubwicks and the Didolgigs but the prologue is not the place to be talking politics from a second source.
I believe I have covered everything and I hope from this list you will know if your story needs a prologue or not, and I’d hope that you would always leave this question till after you finish writing the story. That’s the best place to tell if your story has too much of a gap that the average reader will have no idea what’s going on in the beginning of it.
If you don’t think I’m right in my thinking or have other points to talk about leave a comment/ post and discuss things below. Thanks guys!