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Gigi Will Know: How can I know if a prologue is the right way to open my novel?

"I have a short prologue written, but I’m not sure if it adds to the story or takes away from my opening chapter."

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Dear Gigi,

I am working on the second draft of my first novel. It would probably fall under the genre of thriller, though that wasn’t exactly what I had set out to write. I have a short prologue written, but I’m not sure if it adds to the story or takes away from my opening chapter. Any advice on how to know if a prologue is the right way for a writer to start their novel?

—Prologue Ponderer



Dear Ponderer,

When I was a kid reading books for school, I used to skip all the prologues because I was convinced they didn’t add anything. And then I realized I was wrong, in a lot of cases: Good prologues set up the narrative in the pages that follow by giving the reader information they won’t otherwise be getting. 

Some of them are historical in nature, in terms of the timeline of the book: they lay out the background. Some of them are told from the point of view of your protagonist, but in the future (by the time the reader gets to the end of the book, they “meet” the protagonist of the prologue). Some prologues are from the point of view of the villain of the book, so you get a different viewpoint, or even, in the case of some mysteries and thrillers, from the point of view of one of the victims. Either way, this is also a kind of historical prologue.

Whichever point of view you take, know that the prologue can be in any form and that this form does not necessarily have to appear again in the book, nor does it have to be labeled a prologue. I know one writer whose “prologue” consists of two fictional historical newspaper clippings. 


One final piece of advice: your prologue must add something to the book, to the overall plot. If it doesn’t, then it’s not doing its job. You may not know this until you’re done with the book. You can probably wait until then to make that decision, though. 

Don’t ponder too long,