I have written a prologue for my ‘traditional’ fantasy story, and I did it without giving it much thought. Which, ironically, got me thinking. A prologue is very common in fantasy fiction. So common that I wrote one without consciously thinking “I’m going to give this story a prologue”. But is a prologue necessary? Can a prologue be a help or a hindrance? Here are my thoughts…and a photo of a typewriter.
A prologue is risky. The reader isn’t invested in the story at this point, so you run the risk of making the reader think “who the hell are these people, and why do I care?” Either that or the events will just go over their heads. Some authors use a prologue to info dump on the reader, rather than reveal the information naturally, over the course of the story. Info dumping at the start of a story is counter-intuitive and will probably result in the reader losing interest. Don’t have a prologue stating the history of your world with absolutely no context. If you really want to show the history of your fantasy world you can always put in a glossary or appendices at the end, which so many fantasy authors do.
The general rule is that it should be relevant to the story, and that any conflict created by events of the prologue should be resolved in the plot at some point. It should also act as the hook to keep the reader reading. That’s what every guide on writing I have seen online says, and I tend to agree.
The prologue to the The Eye of the World , the first book of The Wheel of Time is an example of a good one. Personally, it really reeled me in, making me want to read on to find out the significance of events. I mean, it includes (SPOILER ALERT) the revelation of kin-slaying mass murder, suicide by magic, introduces the villain, and ends with what looks like the end of the world – it’s interesting to say the least.
My prologue introduces two characters who the entire plot will actually revolve around, even though they might not actually have that much screen time (book time?). It sets out their circumstances without giving too much away, keeping an air of mystery, and I hope is interesting enough for the reader to want to continue. Maybe I’ll post it up here sometime in the future – have a kind of beta-test to gauge its effectiveness. Not tonight though.
In conclusion; if done well a prologue can be a great tool to keep a reader hooked. If it is boring, not relevant to the plot, or an info dump, leave it out.