Prologue Or No Prologue

by Bryce
(United States)

Hi, I have just started to write a fantasy novel, but I am in a bit of a jam. I have a rough outline of the novel, as well as the events that occur within it, and a pretty good plot. On top of that, I have a good array of characters and the roles that they play in the story. So, at first, it may sound like I have everything I need and should have no trouble moving on from here. But, I am having a hard time trying to find a good place to start the story. I've tried writing a prologue of sorts to help the reader understand the events of the story itself, but that has gotten next to nowhere. So, my question is: should I drop the prologue, since it is not working, and somehow explain past events to the reader as the story progresses, or should I keep trying at the prologue until I can get it to work?

If this helps, here is a rough outline of the story, though I shall not reveal everything: an evil Lord kidnaps the ruler of a certain kingdom in order to reign over it, casting the Prince (who is not the son of the ruler) of that same kingdom in prison and declaring himself ruler of the kingdom (that is what I had for the prologue). Following the prologue, three wanderers rescue the Prince and take him up out of their homeland, away from his enemies. They travel to an Elven sanctuary, where they find protection from the evil Lord's henchmen. Then, claiming that the sanctuary does not provide enough safety, the Prince's rescuers lead him away in search of safer lands. But, unbeknownst to the Prince, his rescuers care little of his safety, but rather seek to use him to rescue the kidnapped ruler of their homeland. Traveling through dangerous lands for a number of months, their true intent remains unknown to the Prince, until at last, they arrive at yet another Elven land, where they seek refuge again from bad weather as well as living adversaries. Then, the Prince's rescuers reveal to him their true reason for rescuing him, asking for his help in rescuing their ruler. But, caring little of their cause, the Prince refuses, insisting upon staying with the Elves (as he himself is part Elf and gravitates towards them). Then, after his rescuers depart from him, he has a change of heart and chases after them, eventually reuniting with them. Then, they travel to the land in which the ruler of their land is imprisoned, eventually rescuing him and returning to their homeland, dethroning the evil Lord and restoring the true ruler to the throne. However, I must point out that not all three of the Prince's rescuers survive the entire journey, falling to a number of adversaries, and the Prince encounters a number of other companions along the way, as well. I also have ideas for an epilogue, which I intend to use as a launchpad for a sequel series later.
So, as before,
should I drop the prologue and somehow explain past events to the reader as the story progresses, or should I keep trying at the prologue until I can get it to work? Moreover, any opinions on the overall story? Do you think I should add/take away/change anything? Thank you so much!


No hard rule exists here, so just take the following as guidelines or considerations.

As with most stories, your prologue covers the initial driver (or inciting incident) of the story. It is where the story begins chronologically.

However, many readers skip prologues, especially when the main character is not present or aware of them. They do this because they make their decision whether to keep reading a novel based on their impression of the main character in the opening pages, and many prologues take place before the main character enters the story.

For this reason, it is often more effective to begin where the main character enters the story. Show the reader who this character is in the opening pages and make the reader fall in love with him before the adventure really starts.

This technique also creates a little mystery. The reader may see other characters reacting to the initial driver, but not know why they are doing it. So the reader wants to keep reading to find out what's going on.

You can then fill in the reader on what happened in that initial driver later on.

In the case of your story, you are introducing the Prince in the prologue, as an adult I assume. So you may be able to make the reader like the character enough to keep reading. (But then, why call it a prologue? You could just call it "Chapter One.")

However, you might not create as much mystery that way. So it might be more effective so begin with the Prince in prison. Show who he is, his current situation in a way that the reader feels empathy for him. Maybe fill the reader in on how he got there a few pages in.

You might also consider how the Prince will react to his rescuers when they arrive on the scene. Does he know them? Will he trust them? Maybe he's become comfortable in prison and doesn't want his world disrupted. A little mystery regarding the rescuers may also help. You may want to drop a hint that they don't tell him the whole story.

The crisis of the story seems to be the moment when the Prince finally decides to join the cause, so you might consider what changes his mind. Give him a good reason for changing. (What does he realize, discover, etc.?) You may want to develop one of the rescuers as the impact character -- someone with the opposite attitude to the Prince. Perhaps it will be someone who puts the cause above his self-interest? (Could be a love interest.)

I don't see any initial problems, though you need to develop the story a bit, either in your outline or in the writing of your first draft.

Best of luck.

Comments for Prologue Or No Prologue

Click here to add your own comments

May 29, 2019
I'm also torn
by: Darrach

I'm having a similar issue, but my prologue introduces the MC. I'm worried people will skip it and thus fail to gather important introductory plot points. It's too short to be a standalone first chapter. Would it be better to add it as the first scene in Chapter One? It doesn't feel right, and I'm torn.

May 29, 2019
To Darrach
by: Glen

Again, there are no hard rules here. You have to do what seems right for your story, after weighing up the issues discussed above. Some options...
1) Keep it as a prologue.
2) Present it in a flashback or as a memory, perhaps later in Chapter 1.
3) Expand it into a first chapter (just make sure there is no "filler" material).
4) Present it as Chapter 2 (as an entire flashback chapter).
You might want to do several versions, show it to some people, and ask them which version gets them hooked on the story better.

Click here to add your own comments

Join in and submit your own question/topic! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Questions About Novel Writing.