When to Use a Prologue

Q: When should a prologue be used? Is there a difference between prologues for fiction and nonfiction?
—Sonya Ryan

A: A prologue is used when material that you want to include in the opening is out of time sequence with the rest of the story. For example, let’s say you’re writing a book about a woman getting married. While your story focuses on the year leading up to the big day, there’s a funny anecdote from her childhood about her idea of the perfect wedding that foreshadows the actual event. Because this section is seen from her perspective as a child, it’s out of sequence with the rest of the book—which is shown from an adult’s perspective—and might work better as a prologue.

You can use a prologue in fiction and nonfiction, but it’s used only to explain key information that doesn’t follow the time flow of the rest of your book. So if your “prologue” doesn’t fit this criterion, either cut it or change it to Chapter 1.

Brian A. Klems is the online managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine.

Have a question for me? Feel free to post it in the comments section below or e-mail me at WritersDig@fwpubs.com with “Q&Q” in the subject line. Come back each Tuesday as I try to give you more insight into the writing life.

You might also like:

  • No Related Posts

8 thoughts on “When to Use a Prologue

  1. GospelWriter

    This is great information, Brian. I’m glad I stumbled across this post. My editor deleted the prologue I attempted to insert into my manuscript. After reading this post, I now understand why. I attempted to create an prologue where the main character is talking about the events that have happened. The only issue with this attempt is the character repeats his viewpoint near the end. Almost similar to the movie ‘Inception,’ where the end is told at the beginning, followed by a series of events that show how the end came to be. I especially like this concept in literature, if the author can create a great structure flow. Great post. Thanks again.

  2. GospelWriter

    This is great information, Brian. I’m glad I stumbled across this post. My editor deleted the prologue I attempted to insert into my manuscript. After reading this post, I now understand why. I attempted to create an prologue where the main character is talking about the events that have happened. The only issue with this attempt is the character repeats his viewpoint near the end. Alm

  3. Mary J. McCoy-Dressel

    This is great information, Brian. So glad you decided to do formatting FAQ’s. I have a prologue in a Time-Travel and after reading this I know I can rightfully keep it. I had a few doubts when I wrote it, but felt it needed to be there. Thanks.

  4. kbt

    Re: “A prologue is used when material that you want to include in the opening is out of time sequence with the rest of the story.”

    Is it still called a prologue if it’s something that happens in the future? I want to give my readers a hint that regardless of all the wonderful things happening in the Part 1, all is not sweetness and light in the heroine’s future. Hopefully that will create a bit of suspense, too. What would you call that?

  5. Serena

    Thanks, that was really helpful. :]

    Okay, so when I’m formatting a manuscript and I want to include a quote before each chapter [similar to Ann Brashare’s series "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants"], how do I format the quote with each chapter?

  6. Don Wiggins

    Thanks, Brian. I’ve been wondering about this very topic recently.

    The story I’m working on begins with a key background event that occurs in 1947. Once that event plays out, the remainder of the story takes place about forty years later. I’ve been trying to decide whether it’s more appropriate to use a prologue or to just make the earlier event the first chapter. From your description, I believe that a prologue is probably the way to go. Do you agree?

  7. Steve Davis

    Brian thanks for a very informative posting. I am working on a nonfiction book at the moment which has a prologue. I had been thinking about converting it to a chapter, but your posting confirms that it should be a prologue and that it serves the proper purpose in the book.

    Steve Davis

COMMENT