“I’ll advise you not to use a prologue 99% of the time. That said, I know there are authors who have used it and used it well.
When can you use a prologue?
At Writers Write we teach that you can use a prologue:
- To bridge a time gap. In The Edge of Reason by Carla Norton, the prologue takes place six years before the story starts. Reeve was abducted when she twelve and held captive for four years. The prologue tells of how she escaped. The inciting moment takes place six years later when her therapist asks her to help a young girl who has had a similar experience.
- When it is the ending of your story. This makes the entire novel a flash back. Consider Like Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. She uses a scene from the end of the book, but she changed a word or two.
- When it is written from a different viewpoint that is never used again. Think the opening sequence ofStar Wars. It sets the scene.
- When it is a real document. You can use a letter, a will or even a business card. In The Luxe, a historical young adult novel, Anna Godbersen starts her story with an obituary notice. Throughout the novel, she uses invitations, society columns and diary entries to weave her tale.
- When it is integral to the whole of the story, but is not immediately obvious. In The Wreckage by Michael Robotham we are introduce to a killer named The Courier and he is instructing someone to execute the person in the next room. No emotion. No setting. No motive. Just dialogue. My first thought was: WTF? My second thought was: I have to know what is going on.
A prologue should advance your story. It should take nothing away from your opening scene. There should be no other to convey the information. Sometimes it is referred to as ‘backstory in disguise’. Make sure you absolutely need your prologue.