I've just spent the better half of a month writing and perfecting my prologue. It sets the tone for the rest of the story with an event which kickstarts the main narrative of the book.

Why should I avoid a prologue?

Is it the type/style of narrative in a prologue that needs to be avoided or is it the stigma of a prologue?

  • Best use of prologues - Clive Cussler. He uses them in every book, and they each give a living, breathing glimpse of the characters and locations which are now ancient history in the main story. It makes the whole story more poignant and human.
    – user6648
    Jan 6, 2014 at 21:59

3 Answers 3


Orson Scott Card has discussed, in several places, how prologues (particularly to fantasy epics) tend to be dull, disembodied history lessons. For example, from an interview:

The most common mistakes come in picking where and how to begin their story. Too many people believe that old canard about plunging into the middle of the action: in medias res, the way the classic epic poems began. We see it now in the meaningless car chase, where you don’t know who is in either car, so you don’t care whether the fleer is caught or gets away. The lonely sad person crying, as we then flash back through the entire story.


But the flip side of the in medias res opening is the hideous dump-the-trunk prologue opening, where the writer thinks we won’t understand anything unless we are first told these eight paragraphs (or eighteen pages) of really boring, unintelligible, and unmemorable facts.

Beginnings are all about expository flow — getting information from your head into the reader’s head as painlessly and memorably as possible.

If you have selected the right point-of-view character, then you can simply tell us, as it comes up, what the character already knows and is already thinking about, and then bring up each new piece of information as he or she learns it. If you need a prologue, or a flashback within the first chapter, or a long explanation to catch the reader up, you’ve started in the wrong place.

And most — no, nearly all — first novels make one or the other mistake in how the opening of the story or novel is handled.

To generalize a bit further, I'd say this: Even if your prologue is a great snippet of riveting fiction, it probably feels disconnected from your first few actual chapters. (If it weren't, it wouldn't be a prologue. It'd be Chapter 1.) But the beginning of your novel is a really miserable place to have a disconnected piece of fiction. The reader wants to find out what the story is and what it's about; starting out in one direction and than shifting immediately into another becomes an obstacle to doing that.

As all writing advice, there's no rule without exceptions. I don't recall anybody objecting to the prologue in the first Song of Ice and Fire book, which sets up a major menace and also introduces important parts of the setting before the main plot can get there. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has a short little prologue which is pitch-perfect in setting the tone for the entire book. Understand the risks, know what problems to watch out for, and then you'll have a decent idea of whether your own prologue is problematic or not.

  • If I remember correctly, my impression of the Song of Ice and Fire prologues was that they were simply Chapter 1’s told by a minor (non-PoV) character. They even fit exactly and chronologically within the narrative. In fact, you could replace the word Prologue with the name of the PoV character for that prologue, and it would be no different from any other chapter.
    – user2686
    Jan 21, 2017 at 2:10

You need to start the story with a hook, something to get interest started, the hook can be in the prologue, but seldom is, and once hooked switching on your reader tickes them off. Does the prologue draw people into your narrative? If it does then it is fine, otherwise It should be less than 3/4 page and in a different font so that a bored reader will know that the story will start at the bottom of the page.

The main reason prologues are frowned upon is they often tell instead of showing, when you should normally show instead of tell.

  • What about crime novels where the killer's first victim bites the big one in the prologue? Surely those type of prologues hook the reader
    – Dan Hanly
    Nov 29, 2013 at 22:03
  • 5
    Great big fat hook. Good prologue. 15 pages of dry history. bad prologue. -- the problem is not having a prologue, it is what you put in it, but many critics get this backwards.
    – hildred
    Nov 29, 2013 at 22:07

I don't know about your prologue, but as a reader I seriously despise prologues that don't feature the protagonists, for two reasons:

I read novels, because I am interested what happens to the protagnonists that I identify with and care about. When I alread know what and who the novel is about, I don't care about "what went before" but befell someone else. I always skip the prologue and start right at the first chapter.

If I don't know what will happen in the novel and start with the prologue, beginning to care about the characters in it, I will feel cheated when they are replaced by the true protagonists in the first chapter. I have often found it difficult to get into the characters after a captivating prologue. There is some resistance in me, like the hesitation I feel at the end of a great book that keeps me from immediately starting in on the next book. I want to remain with the people I love.

  • I hear you. What about the prologue that introduces the antagonist? My baddie appears throughout my story, though his first appearance is in the prologue. Essentially, he's a ruthless and violent killer and the prologue is written from the perspective of his first victim. Would this be okay considering the antagonist character remains?
    – Dan Hanly
    Nov 30, 2013 at 15:45
  • Well, I'm just one reader, and I hear people are different, but yes, even for me, a prologue can be good if it gets me into the text and does not unhook me at the beginning of the first chapter. Often prologues present the crime, and the first chapter has the sleuth starting with that or part of that information. This works well, because I observe the inspector arriving at what I know or working with the same puzzel pieces I have. This works, althout the protag. is not part of that exposition. So I'd generalize: it depends on how well you weave the threads of the two parts into each other.
    – user5645
    Nov 30, 2013 at 21:50

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