I came across prologues of several novels, and I noticed that they all were different from each other. Some had a short excerpt picked somewhere from the novel, a few included some private notes from the author, while others had an introductory part by the narrator of the story (in either first person or third person).

All these variations are stretching the definition of a prologue (at least for me). So I need a clear explanation:

  • What is a prologue?
  • Why does an author need one? Is it is really important?
  • What is the proper way of writing a prologue? (Which way is the original method?)
  • Can one violate the original methods to write a prologue?

Thanks in advance

4 Answers 4


A prologue is pro, before, the logos, word. It's text before the main body of the text.

Whether a work needs a prologue is entirely up to the author. There is no right or wrong way to write one. There is no right or wrong content. It can serve as an introduction, a teaser, a flashback, background material, a recap, or anything else the author thinks might be useful or interesting.

Since there are no rules, there's nothing to violate. It's purely Your Mileage May Vary.

  • 6
    There is one rule that shouldn't be violated: Don't be boring. Too many prologue-writers use the prologue as a chance to infodump, forgetting that rule.
    – Standback
    Commented Aug 21, 2014 at 6:11
  • ooh, yes, good point. Strictly speaking, none of a book should be boring, but particularly any part of the opening, I agree. Commented Aug 21, 2014 at 9:33
  • 1
    Thank You Lauren, this really helped me to clear my misconception... And well said @Standback. +1 to you both.
    – Saharsh
    Commented Aug 22, 2014 at 7:41

I agree with Lauren's answer: A prologue is anything before the main body of a text, and can be whatever the author wants it to be. What matters is that it reads well.

However, in my experience, an introduction, preface, or forward is usually written in the writer's or editor's voice; prologues are usually (but not always) part of the novel's story.

All of these sections - along with acknowledgements, copyright page, title page, table of contents - can be referred to collectively as front matter.


Usually a prologue is outside the main flow of the story in some way:

  • Tease with an out-of-sequence scene. The prologue might tease us by previewing a pivotal scene that will occur later in the main storyline. Often this is a snippet of the climax.
  • Give context through a different viewpoint. A prologue might put the story into a wider context by offering a viewpoint that does not otherwise occur in the main storyline. Perhaps the viewpoint of a character who does not otherwise have a viewpoint scene (or appear directly in the story at all). Or a viewpoint from a different timeframe, either before or after the main story.
  • Dramatic irony. A prologue might tease us by giving information that the hero will lot learn until much later in the story. Thrillers, for example, often feature prologues from the bad guys' viewpoint, giving us readers information about the scope and dastardliness of the bad guys' plans.

When a prologue is used if Fantasy, Science Fiction, or Historical novels it's common to show some of the historical, cultural, or political background leading up to the action.

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