A while back I wrote a prologue about the beginning of time and space and all that. One thing I noticed later is that between the prologue and the story itself, the prologue ate out the chapters not leaving much for me to write out for the actual start. I did some backtracking but the point where I want to end the prologue and begin chapter 1 puts me in a bind. I'm pretty sure its at 18k now.

Question: Exactly how long can a prologue be and what should I not do?

Sidetracked: When introducing a story, would a prologue be best for those with historical and adventure genres?

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    Get rid of it,,,try to integrate some of it in the story, throw away the rest! Jul 21, 2015 at 1:25
  • The later Wheel of Time books by Robert Jordan has inordinately long prologues. I remember one that was longer than the first five chaps combined. I recommend that you avoid that length. Feb 2, 2018 at 15:04
  • @Reed What's wrong with prologues?
    – Mast
    Dec 29, 2019 at 18:19
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    Serious question: what if you rename your prologue 'Chapter 1'? Sep 26, 2020 at 11:52
  • Pardon the crassness of the following advice, but it was given to me by a teacher in an all boys school and thus was targeted to 16 year old boys' mind: The length of a good piece of writing should be judged under the same guidelines as the length to a girl's skirt: It should be long enough to cover everything while being short enough to keep it interesting. There's no right or wrong answer to your two questions, but if you're bored with it, chances are your audiences will be too.
    – hszmv
    Nov 12, 2020 at 17:28

16 Answers 16


I never read prologues. They bore the hell out of me. Start with your story. That's what I want to read. Weave in the information I need, and don't bother me with what's irrelevant.

What I dislike the most:

  • a prologue that makes me identify with and invest emotions in a character that does not appear in the main narrative
  • the myths of a fictional world (that is, the fiction of a fiction)
  • "what went on before" (I just read that in the previous volume, and my memory is fine, thank you)
  • pseudo-philosphy and pseudo-wisdom ("The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and bla bla.")
  • dreams (please don't narrate a character's dreams anywhere: science doesn't understand dreams, so don't claim that you do)
  • the history of the fictional world (why would I care about the history of a place that doesn't even exist?)

Elizabeth Haydon's Rhapsody: Child of Blood has a wonderful prologue. It is one of the best fantasy short stories I ever read. Unfortunately the book itself was a drag and I didn't finish it. That was unique (I haven't found any other grood prologues), but I take this as a sign that if the prologue is actually good I need not waste time reading the main text.

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    On the contrary to @what, I don't mind prologues. It is a nice way to introduce some elements that are relevant for the understanding of the world, or the situation, without being connected to the main characters. But indeed, one should make it relevant. No need to mention "Forces of Light and Darkness", if the characters will never ever face one or the other. And furthermore, better to avoid mentioning them at all, they are quite cliché now. Jul 15, 2015 at 7:13
  • @what You seem to have read a few even if you don't read them now. Jul 15, 2015 at 7:39
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    @what I agree. I often want to see what the beginning of a novel is like, flip to the first few pages and there it is staring at me -- prologue. I just flip past it to the real story. Seriously, Author, you were too lazy to just incorporate the prologue info into the real story? Life has no prologues. You experience life as it comes. :)
    – raddevus
    Jul 15, 2015 at 18:30
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    i most often skip them too... more importantly, it will affect my buy-not buy decision, as i would consider a prologue as a potential sign of a bad author or a boring story... Jul 21, 2015 at 1:39
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    The Wheel of Time "intro" that you mentioned was always at the start of the first chapter, after the (sometimes five-chapter-long) prologue. And it wasn't more than a paragraph or two. Feb 2, 2018 at 15:14

Firstly, I would say that if your prologue is 18k long, it is not a prologue it is your story in chief. Or it is a prequel to your story in chief.

I think the problem with a lot of prologues is that they are a device of laziness. it is heaping a whole lot of information into the storyline without putting the effort into making it a part of the storyline.

A prologue should be something that gives the reader some pertinent information, that is potentially skippable, because some people do. It is the writer's chance to give some information outside of the normal voice of the story. Details and specifics don't belong in a prologue, it isn't the place for telling the reader that when John was five he squashed a bug. That is what the story is for.

Personally I would say write the prologue once you have finished the rest of the story. Write it to fill in whatever aspects didn't fit in the story. Make it very short, no more than a few hundred words, and work at it like you would the first paragraph.

If at the end of the prologue the reader isn't saying 'wow! I really want to read this book' then you should tear it out and burn it.


As for anything else in a work, you must ask yourself: "what is this for?". Everything you put must be there for a reason. So what is the reason for a prologue? Why a prologue and not, for instance, a chapter 1? Why not spread the prologue info in your normal text? Why does my prologue need a separate identity in the narration flow?

Only by answering these questions you can understand if you need it, and how it must be written.

As a personal opinion, I love prologues. What I like about them, when they work, is:

  • They set the mood and tone of the world
  • They introduce fundamental plot elements that are outside the main narrative arc, but become revelead later (for instance: the prologue of Martin's A Game of Thrones shows white walkers very clearly, but they are unseen again for a very long time after that. So why introduce them here? Because the reader must remember that the threat is present)
  • They can serve as exposition for something you don't want to spend too much time later on. For instance, in the Lord of the Rings movies, the whole Ring's story is condensed in a prologue, so that the viewer knows everything he needs to know right away - that's done, moving on
  • For these reasons, it must differ a bit in terms of style and pace

The don't list is kind of the opposite of this one:

  • Don't write a prologue set up in the same time and place of the main plot
  • Don't write a prologue with the same style and pace of the main plot
  • Don't use it for exposition that can be spread elsewhere
  • Don't use it as background for something that can return later
  • 1
    "Don't use it as background for something that can return later" could you explain how that's different from the whitewalker example?
    – Andrey
    Oct 19, 2017 at 14:08
  • The key is the difference it makes. "Something that can return later" means something that makes no difference if told at another point in the story. The WW thing is a scene that shows one important element - supernatural zombies - that we don't see again for the rest of the whole book, but we hear talking about here and there. But they need to be at the opening, because they say: despite what happens in the next 300 pages, this is what the novel is about. If the novel opens with Winterfell, and delays the WW later when we get to the Wall, their function loses importance.
    – FraEnrico
    Oct 20, 2017 at 7:05

I know this is an old question, however there have been more recent replies so I figure it's not terrible of me to add one more on.

I'm not a published author yet, as I'm still working on my novel. But I'd like to contribute my opinion as an avid reader. I'm sick of seeing the hate for prologues. I love them, so long as they are gripping and add to the story something that is necessary. If it provides important information essential to the world (though not in the form of an info dump of course), or the POV of someone other than the protagonist, or will be necessary in order to understand events/scenes in following chapters or later in the story, but it just doesn't work within the main narrative, then yes it would be fine to make it a prologue. It depends entirely on each individual story whether or not a prologue is needed. For some it is, for others it's not, and genre comes into play here too. Someone else in these replies gave a pretty good Do and Don't list. You would do well to follow it. There are other good lists like that if you Google it, as well.

I have never skipped a prologue personally, and frankly the people who do are the lazy ones. It's not laziness on the writer's part. That's just a ridiculous accusation coming from someone who doesn't know how to write a good prologue themselves. I can't understand why anyone would skip prologues as a rule... it's like tuning out of a teacher's lecture on a subject and jumping straight into the assignment (you may get lucky sure, or you may fail that unit). Or fast forwarding the first 5-10 minutes of a movie. You're only going to be confused throughout the rest of the story, or you'll be asking questions that were probably already addressed in the prologue, but you were too impatient to read it. I'm honestly surprised they would even bother to read a whole book at all if they're too lazy to even read a prologue.

A well thought out prologue takes as much work and care as every other chapter in a story. And If publishers/agents toss your manuscript without reading it simply because it has a prologue, they're garbage and you're better off without them anyway. They're probably going to do a very lazy job or just be generally nasty people to work with. If you think of it like that, keeping a prologue means you can weed out the less desirable publishers and agents, haha.

As for length, there's no set limit. However, If your prologue is even longer than the average length of your chapters, you may want to think about what you can cut out or disperse throughout those main chapters instead. As much as I love a good prologue, even I would find one upwards of 10k or more a bit too wordy. Personally, I would try at least not to exceed 5k words with 2-3k being ideal, though ironically my current novel has a 7k word prologue (It's still a rough draft, so the length may be subject to change). So it really is a case by case basis.

In summary, above all YOU decide what's best for YOUR story. Don't let other authors dictate to you that you shouldn't have a prologue if you feel your story needs one. Length is as subjective as the necessity of prologues themselves, but a good rule of thumb is that it should probably not exceed the average length of your main chapters, and in fact is best off being a bit shorter than them. Since your question is years old, I hope you were able to finish your novel and maybe even publish it by now. Happy writing!

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    Welcome to Writing.SE! It's perfectly acceptable to answer old questions here as long as your answer contributes something new, which yours does. I hope you enjoy your stay!
    – F1Krazy
    Nov 12, 2020 at 9:18

To answer your last question (and sort of the rest of it):

Sidetracked: When introducing a story, would a prologue be best for those with historical and adventure genres?

Prologues are very common in the fantasy genre. It's a good way to introduce different elements of your world to the reader.

As I read mostly thrillers, here's what I've noticed in that (and mystery/suspense/adventure novels): most do not have a prologue. Those are stories where you need to start with the action almost right away and preferably start with relevant action. However, for historical thrillers, prologues are common as well, because they start with something that happened a long time ago to set the stage for the rest of the book.

In my opinion, prologues shouldn't be more than a few pages (book pages, that is). That's enough time to get some important information down, but not so much as to wear the reader out and think "good grief, when's the darn story going to start?!". 18K seems like an awful long prologue. That's about a fifth of a book.


Personally, I'd say keep a prologue under 5 or 6 pages; also, instead of using the prologue to introduce the main story, use it as an interesting way to introduce the setting and set the tone for the rest of the story.

Let me use one of my personal stories as an example. I'm writing an adventure fantasy story, that I want to read similar to a fairy tale. So I've written the prologue like this "Many people say, that Fairy tales are nothing more then stories for small children. Some meant to teach, other to scare. But those people are wrong. Magic exists; and most fairy tales happen right under your nose."

Try to keep a prologue simple. Use as few words as possible. Like one of the commentators already said, they, want to get right to the main story. So make the path to that story as short, and easy as possible. As to whether or not you should do a prologue in the first place, it all depends on the story. You might get halfway through writing something, only to realize that the information in the prologue is better explained through elements of the main story and vise versa.


I appreciate all the ideas flowing in this thread.

However...one sentence has hijacked my thinking about prologues.

"Many agents and publishers immediately throw a manuscript aside when they see the word "prologue" at the opening." If that is true, I imagine all other considerations are moot. Bummer. I have prologues in two of my manuscripts. They conform to all the 'good' reasons enumerated above.

So what? I'm not ambitious with my writing but I'd hate to be scratched from consideration automatically over a decision to use the word Prologue...

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    I also got bothered by this sentence a few weeks back and asked about it a sci-fi meet up that I attend. The response that I instantly agreed with is, "You don't want that agent anyway." I realized they were right. there are plenty of agents, and I don't want to work with someone who thinks prologues are worthless.
    – SFWriter
    Oct 17, 2017 at 16:18
  • I personally never read them because I just want to get to the main story, however for them to be completely dismissed is a bit off-putting. It's not hard to skip 5 pages and it costs them an extra what 25 cents?
    – ggiaquin16
    Oct 17, 2017 at 20:06
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    I think that perhaps this is a separate question, as it doesn't directly answer the question above. Please consider opening a question of your own about this. Oct 21, 2017 at 15:32

Prologues are good for the author's purposes (fleshing out your backstory), but consider whether the reader needs to know it.

Many agents and publishers immediately throw a manuscript aside when they see the word "prologue" at the opening. This is because quite often, what we write in a prologue is actually backstory that is more for the author's sake than the readers. I have a friend who wrote nearly 500,000 words of backstory. He could have included a lot of it in a prologue, but he opted not to because it isn't something the readers need to know. Unless the prologue is absolutely, completely critical to the story and nothing would make sense unless it's included, it might be better to cut it.

If you do need a prologue - for instance to show something that happens outside of your protagonist's point of view - it should be written with great care. Make it as short as possible to get your point across. If your prologue is longer than an average chapter in your book, that's a red flag. If your prologue is a couple thousand words of essential information, that's ok. (Just name it something other than 'prologue' so an agent/publisher doesn't skip your manuscript.)

  • I have a friend who wrote nearly 500,000 words of backstory. Is this even possible? That's like 5-10 books, did they spend a decade writing 5-10 novels-worth of background story? Or was this a typo and you meant 50,000?
    – Water
    Jun 8, 2021 at 2:44

Obviously, there is no definitive rule on how long a prologue can be. If I were you, I would approach a prologue with caution. Why?

  1. Usually the first chapter sets the tone, style and themes of the text. If the reader doesn't like the first paragraph/page/chapter etc. they will put down the book.(permanently) A prologue (by definition) is not written in the same way that a chapter is written. So what impression is it giving the reader about the method of storytelling used by the author?

  2. Prologues are not that common and may be misunderstood. Does the reader know that they are supposed to read it before chapter 1? They might confuse it with a 'Forward' and skip it, thinking that it is irrelevant rubbish. (Forwards are more common than prologues and are full of uninteresting trivia about the authors career and associates and stuff)

If your going to have a prologue, I think you could make it as long as half a chapter if you wanted. However, just make sure that its length is properly offset by how "Intensely Interesting" it is. Prologues by nature tend to introduce a long list of historic facts without using any dialogue, action, characterisation, or any of the techniques that actually make a story interesting. So you need to develop a writing style explicitly for prologues.

Having said that, I think that it is generally better to skip the prologue, jump into the drama at some point, and then find clever techniques of establishing the backstories later.


The best prologues that I have read have action in them. Instead of weighing the reader down with info (that you can give to them gradually later in the book), you hook them and make them want to read on, to find out what this action is all about and who these characters are.


Well... I'm currently writing a story that has a prologue that is more than 5 pages. I mean, I personally don't mind prologues (unless they are boring). As long as the prologue isn't extremely long you should be fine.

I really can't answer your second question though (the What to avoid? question) since most of the books I have read so far don´t have prologues.

Please just don't write the kind of prologue where the characters are all grown up (I've read a book with it and hated it).

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    – Secespitus
    Feb 1, 2018 at 22:06

What do you count as a prologue? In some way, there are two types of prologue:

The explanatory first act

The Greek tradition demanded, that a play or piece starts with some kind of framing device that tells us who is to be depicted and where we are set.

For example, let's take Oedipus Rex. All the text in lines 1 to 150 is the prologue. It starts with the prologue of Oedipus sitting in his throne room and getting confronted with the plague. The whole reason is, to give us some background of who is who, and why he will send for the oracle and seers. But without telling the audience about the plague, showing that Oedipus tries to be a good and just king, how should the audience know? The appearance of Creon brings the audience a new plot element, revealing that the current plague is the result of some action happening in the past, the murder of the former king Laius and that they didn't pursue the murderer then because of the Sphinx. All in all, the Prologue is a huge infodump that puts the spotlight on why the whole drama is about to happen.

The outgrowth that delays the start

Roman writers took the Greek prologue and turned them into long, finely crafted pieces that were hugely elaborate... and took at times just as long to write as the rest of the play. It was around Plautus time when they started with using throwaway characters. On Plautus works did the Renaissance grow and fester, detatching the contents from the main story and making it pretty much superfluous.

How to do a good Prologue

  • Stay on track, it shall serve to introduce not tell the whole story.
  • Tie it into the actual story!
    • You might use the main cast1
    • or make the happenings appear later2
  • keep it reasonably short

Footnotes & Examples

  1. As in Oedipus Rex
  2. Example: The Prologue tells a scene of some hero slaying a dragon. The following up story tells us that this scene was the turning point of the last dragon war and later we encounter the tomb of the dragon slayer and the protagonist picks up his sword.

You have correctly identified your issue: Your prologue has cannibalized your main story. A prologue should generally be brief, otherwise, your reader may grow invested in it to the point that they reject the switch to the main narrative. I've read books by very good authors where the extended prologue was great, but I barely even made it through the rest of the book (Enchantress of Florence, Rushdie, Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, Delany).

Now for solutions: A) Omit the prologue, and think of it as world-building. Most great writers understand that some of the necessary writing you do on a book project is for the readers, and some is just for you, the author. If you have all of this information in your back pocket, you can draw upon it whenever and wherever you need to, in order to make your story more rich and three-dimensional. B) Stop thinking of this as the prologue, and find ways to make it work as the first section of the main narrative. (If it's the prologue mainly because it doesn't actually advance the plot then go back to choice A.)


This is an interesting discussion. The prologue i have written for my current project (climate fiction/fantasy) is 2200 words. It feels long to me, but I like it.

I saw writing it as a way to provide supplemental info, as Nicole says. It complements the story and takes place 17 years before. It fleshes out two characters that have less play in the main text.

I loved writing it, and I like it. It complements the story. And I see prologues and epilogues in fantasy. But about half the people I see/share with say to ditch it.

Since we live in an age of webpages I am thinking of putting some of these things on a website for anyone who starts to nerd out on my world. I like the idea of weaving the essential info in. But, I gotta say, I still aesthetically like the idea of a section of the book that provides a different feel.

This is not so much an answer as a response to the thoughts here which are along the lines of "here's my experience." My experience is I love my prologue but 50% of the people I share with, don't. If publishers don't want it, then I think it makes sense to build a website and push my (fantastic) manuscript with the teaser that a website adds supplemental info.


The longer the length, the more you have to think about how it influences the story. Instead of having this long backstory when you first open to the chapter, the prologue is kind of that back story, so you can jump into the action.

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    Hi Madelynn! Welcome to Writing.SE! I'm not sure I understand what you're trying to say. Could you edit your post to clarify your idea, and perhaps expand it? You might also find it helpful to take a look at our How to Answer page. Jan 20, 2019 at 18:49

So if there's 18000k words that's slightly under 2/5ths of a novel (50,000+ words). I'll say right now that by 1/5th in, I'm ususally getting into some meat and potatoes. (Hell, my novels are broken into short stories with the same principal characters and several events acting in a serial fashion from chapter to chapter. 10,000 words is easily decently sized story, but I've gone higher than that).

I would approach this like "Star Wars" in that the first six films started as the plot for 1 film, but Lucas rightly realized there was too much going on and decided to put out a snippet of the story to get the idea across. In a modern setting, there are three schools of thought as to how to properly watch these films for the first time to get the best of the story (Name in quotes is by me): Chronological Release Order (Watch in order IV, V, VI, I, II, III), The "Tradgedy of Anikan Skywalker" order (Watch in order I, II, III, IV, V, VI), and the "Epic of Luke Skywalker" order (Watch in Order, IV, V, I*, II, III, VI).

In the Chronilogical order, the two trilogies are taken seperate stories in the same verse with the original version where Luke is the Protaganist and the prequel where Anikan is the Protaganist. This preserves how audiences were first introduced to Star Wars in real life and allows a first time watcher to have the same questions and answers.

In "Tradgedy" order, it fixes Anikan as a protaganist going through a fall and redemption arc and follows him from a wide-eyed idealist with romantic notions about life outside of Tatooine, to the hubris of wishing to saving people who are important to him causing his descent into Darkness, until he is at war with his own son. It means that Vader's actions in VI in siding with Luke show that he now understands what he did wrong in III and counters his selfish acts in the latter with selfless acts in the former.

In "Epic" order, Luke is the Protaganist, Anikan the Antagonist, both are human and both are very much a like in that the ultimate moment of their final two chapters shows that they are facing a similar thematic choice: Loyalty to Family vs. Loyalty to a cause they believe in. Love is contrasted with desire for power, as Anikan's desire to control that which he could not is shown in counterpoint by Luke's rejection of selfish desires for a greater good.

I bring these points up to show that it's not a bad thing to show that the setting of your story is a lot more than just what is intended to be seen in the book. Star Wars is almost 40 years old and runs on the notion that every extra has a story to tell giving the whole setting a very grand and lived in feeling. It's not a bad thing to give your readers more... but you need to ask "what is the story I want to tell first." And then look for what is the most thematically important aspect to that story (and maybe tease the rest in subtle mysteries).

  • When I was originally was introduced to Epic Luke order, Episode I was omitted or told to append to the end if your new watcher wanted more Star Wars. However, David Filoni's (One of the producers on Mandolorian) comments in the making of series have caused me to greatly re-evaluate the importance of Episode I in Star Wars, and has largely given me a critical lens that redeems it out right (I still make Jar Jar jokes, but half the fun of Jar Jar is laughing at/with him. He a lovable loser to me.).

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