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How to Write a Prologue for a Book

open book with colored smoke swirls and twirls

open book with colored smoke swirls and twirls

Many books will start a story on Chapter 1. Sometimes there needs to be a prologue, or a beginning, to the story which falls outside of the standard chapter formatting. This useful tool can be helpful in finalizing the initial details of a story that readers are going to need to know, but it can also be harmful to your story if it is included improperly.

Should you be including one in your manuscript? If so, then here’s how to write a prologue for a book in a successful way.

#1. Know what needs to be put into the prologue before writing it.

There must be a specific reason for a prologue to be written. Maybe you’ve already written your book and something just feels a little off. Or you’ve outlined your story and certain details don’t seem to fit well anywhere else. A prologue can contain useful background information, descriptions of scenes, or character information that is essential to the story that a reader needs before beginning Chapter 1.

#2. A prologue must hook the reader immediately.

When you include a prologue with a book, then it becomes the first line of your story. Make sure there is a hook put into the line so that readers will want to make it to Chapter 1. Add some excitement to the prologue, even if it comes from elsewhere in your manuscript, to add some story interest for the reader.

#3. Use the prologue to offer an essential back story.

Some characters are defined by past actions. A great example of this is the story of Bruce Wayne. The prologue for the story of Batman could be the events surrounding the death of his parents. As long as the actions in the prologue become the motivation for what occurs for the character later on in the story, then it can be included.

#4. A prologue can also provide a different voice.

If you’ve written your manuscript in third-person voice, then you can make the story become a little more personal by writing the prologue in first-person voice. Or vice-versa. Giving information to a reader from a different point of view can be helpful as long as it makes sense within the context of the created world. A character writing a prologue using information they won’t know until later can cause a book to fail rather quickly.

#5. Different places in time can also make a prologue useful.

If your character is describing actions that are occurring as an adult, then childhood events could make the inclusion of a prologue useful.

#6. Avoid giving the reader too much information.

You can be too descriptive in a prologue. For this reason, many readers just skip the prologue of a book because they’ve found them so boring in the past. In your manuscript, add needed details to the prologue, but leave out any unneeded descriptions. Go light on the information as well in case a reader skips this section of the book to prevent them from feeling lost when they proceed with Chapter 1.

#7. Write the prologue in the same spirit and style of the manuscript whenever possible.

Although you can change the tone and voice of your prologue to fit your needs, the transition between the prologue and the main story can be troublesome for a lot of readers. In most circumstances, the prologue will need to be written in the same voice as the rest of the story. It must become an integral part of the narrative. Treat it as if it were its own short story, but transition the conclusion into the first chapter in some way.

#8. When in doubt, read it out – loud, that is.

If you’re not sure about including a prologue for your book, then read similar books in your genre to see if they have a prologue. If they do, then read that prologue out loud. Listen for the hook, descriptions, and other components a good prologue should have. Feel the rhythm of the words. Then replicate that process when you begin to write your own prologue – and read yours out loud as well to make sure you’ve gotten the tone and rhythm right.

When you know how to write a prologue for a book, then you can avoid creating content that readers will find boring and want to skip. Most experts advise not including a prologue whenever possible, but sometimes it just needs to be done. If you feel that way, then use these steps to make sure your prologue is the best it can be.

Melissa G Wilson

Melissa has been a leader in the book writing, publishing and marketing arena for the past two decades. To date, she has helped more than 100 thought leaders write, publish and market their books. Her clients include executives such as Dan Weinfurter a seven-time Inc 500 winner and Orlando Ashford, President of Holland Cruise Lines.

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