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To Prologue or Not to Prologue: A Battle of Wits

I’d like to ask if you’re pro-prologue or not, but I’d be asking if you’re pro-logue, which gets us away from the point of this post and makes things all sorts of confusing.

To prologue or not to prologue, it’s a question that’s set the writing internet aflame since the dawn of the internet itself.*

So, I'll start by asking: do you prologue?

A draft prologue sits crumpled at a typewriter. Image:

I, Annie, do not. Fred does, sometimes. Here at Loud Coffee Press, we're have a battle of the


Annie: I see the temptation to start with a prologue, but I feel like it’s starting the story cold. The reader doesn’t know the characters, the setting, the plot, but by prologuing, you’re dropping them into some random point and then next flipping to chapter one and going “just kidding!” “Not there!” “Try to remember what I already told you!” Which you, the reader has already promptly forgotten. If there is already a starting point for a story, why not start it there?

Fred: It’s got to be well-written. A well-crafted prologue can set the stage for a good story. You need to avoid a few things to make a good prologue: openings that don’t hook the reader, information dumps, or using it unnecessarily, say, if all it’s doing is providing atmosphere.

Annie: So, what’s the point? A well-crafted story can start at the beginning and do all of the same good things. That’s a whole lot of “don’ts” you just listed. I’d argue that anything you can put into a prologue can be otherwise inserted in the main story. How about a flashback? A memory? A conversation between two characters?

Fred: There are certain genres that benefit more from prologues. You tend to see more of it in science fiction and fantasy than you might in romance, for example. In the book, “How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy,” Orson Scott Card talks about how Lord of the Rings begins by “establishing Frodo’s domestic situation… [and] the viewpoint character, not the narrator, is our guide into the world situation. We start with the small part of the world that he knows and understands and see only as much of the disorder of the universe as he can see.” You’re not getting the whole history of Middle Earth.

Annie: Did you have that memorized?

Fred: No, I’m literally reading it to you.

Annie: But, Lord of the Rings has a prologue.

Fred: And it probably doesn’t need one.

Annie: So, you’re coming over to my side.

Fred: I see value in both sides.

Annie: Fine. I guess I do, too. I can’t say that I’m all for it, but…

Fred: You’re also not a sci-fi/fantasy writer.

Annie: Good point. Okay, how about when you need to “head-hop” outside of the main narrative? Or, foreshadow, or drop in something handy to know but otherwise wouldn’t make sense to introduce until way later?

Fred: All decent reasons for a prologue.

Annie: Can we agree on some ground rules?

Fred: Like what?

Annie: If you’re going to write a prologue, only do it if it’s really, really necessary.

Fred: Yes. If you’re going to write one, keep it straightforward, interesting, and don’t write for the sake of writing.

Annie: So, hook us.

Fred: Basically, yes. I still don’t necessarily love prologues.

Annie: Should we end the post here and go get coffee?

Epilogue: And so they went, off to coffee; a latte for Annie and a matcha for Fred. Annie’s future novel stayed on the NY Times Bestseller list for 58 weeks. Critics hailed it as, “a stellar story, sure, but it was the prologue that propelled it to superstardom.”

*It was a cold, dark time in a very dark, feisty corner. Its numbers are small.

Hit the heart if you prologue, hit the heart if you don't. We love all-comers here.

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