How to Use Prologues, Part 6, Spoilers Ahoy

open book with sketch of 3D pirate and treasure on the left and a sailing ship on the right.
Image courtesy of Tumisu via Pixabay

Hi SErs! It’s a day of Harmony here at Story Empire 🙂 Today, I’d like to talk about Foreshadowing in a prologue. Here’s a link to the previous post on Backstory Delivery.

How do you write foreshadowing into your prologue, and do it well?

  1. This type of prologue teases and entices the reader by showing crucial events to come later in the book.
  2. These events need to hook your reader by piquing their interest, whether this is done via an intriguing, scary, heartwarming, disturbing, terrifying, amusing, or exciting scene, etc. (Did you notice how these all arouse one emotion or another?)
  3. Some books need to open a little more slowly than others, and a ‘spoilers ahoy’ prologue can launch your reader straight into the plot with a promise of the action soon to come. However, this never gives away the plot or twists, and it should never be used to prop up a weak opening chapter. (See point 4, below.)
  4. To foreshadow means to leave your reader with a burning question of what’s going to happen next. The opening chapter should pique their interest further because of such foreshadowing, even if the inciting event isn’t obvious. But the set-up must be there. (See “Note” in the yellow paragraph below.)
  5. Foreshadowing in prologues is good for slow-burn stories such as literary fiction, suspense, horror, romance, and psychological thrillers, etc., where the action doesn’t, necessarily, happen right away.
  6. Such a prologue has done its job if it entices your reader to keep on turning those pages and devouring those words. Even more so if it makes their heart race and/or feel an emotion (other than boredom!).
  7. These kinds of prologues can be just one or two lines of prose, or they can be a full chapter length. Use whatever your story needs.

NOTE: A recent read where I saw foreshadowing with a slower opening chapter work well, while also introducing an incredibly not-obvious inciting event, was The Catch by T M Logan. In this book, the prologue was quite short, and it showed one person being murdered by another. However, it gave away no identities nor other crucial plot details. Instead, it led us into the opening chapter with a lot of questions … the main ones being, “Who dies?” and “Who did the killing?” The opening chapter is quite slow in comparison, with a family get-together where the parents meet the new boyfriend. However, it is hate at first sight from the father’s perspective. Because of the excellent foreshadowing in the prologue, the reader immediately knows this is more significant than it first appears. Even though nothing other than a glance and a regular, even boring, family event unfolds in Chapter One, the reader is hooked and wants to find out more. You just know it ain’t gonna end well! In this instance, the set-up worked so much better than leaving the opening chapter to stand on its own, even though it was strong in itself. The scene-setting and characterisations were brilliant. Yet, the narrative demanded something “extra” stand alongside Chapter One.

Recap: Don’t give the plot or twists away. While you’re showing a spoiler, in a sense, you’re also holding the crucial stuff back for later. Use a key event to hook your reader. Keep it short, concise, and relevant. Show don’t tell.

TOP TIP: When you write a good prologue, and have a valid reason for using one, it will enhance your story rather than detract from it.

Remember: There are NO hard-and-fast rules. You can do anything you want, as long as you do it well and with good reason.

That’s it from me today. I hope you’ll find this series of posts useful. I’ll see you again on Monday 12th September, when we’ll take a look at Unexpected Clues and Prologues 🙂

Bio Box for Harmony Kent that links to her website

The prologue series so far:

Part One, Prologues Overview

Part Two, What a Prologue Is and Isn’t

Part Three, Prologue Dos and Don’ts

Part Four, Does Your Story Need a Prologue?

Part Five, Backstory Delivery

©2022 Harmony Kent

72 thoughts on “How to Use Prologues, Part 6, Spoilers Ahoy

  1. Pingback: How to Use Prologues, Part 9, In Media Res | Story Empire

  2. TOP TIP: When you write a good prologue, and have a valid reason for using one, it will enhance your story rather than detract from it.

    Really like this, Harmony. I love the idea that it will enhance rather than detract. I’ve done a few prologues but kept getting warned not to use them as editors don’t like them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interestingly, I’ve read a few new releases with a prologue that the publisher leaves as untitled text. Regardless, they are prologues. Seems the editors are turning back from their own advice, lols. So pleased you enjoyed the post. Thanks, Traci 💕🙂


  3. Pingback: #ReblogAlert- #TwoFer #ThisWeekOnStoryEmpire & #SmorgasbordBlogMagazineWeeklyRoundup | The Write Stuff

  4. Love this post and this series, Harmony! And I love prologues, too! (As long as they’re well done, of course.) I always use them in my stories, and like to think I’ve gotten better at them as I’ve learned more and more about writing. I’ve saved all your tips for future reference, and think you’ve done a fine job laying out the case for well done prologues. Thanks! 😀 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I personally do not like prologues. I tend to skip them and don’t find them necessary to move the story forward. But that’s the beauty of writing it’s very subjective. I did like the way B.A. Paris wrote her prologue and titled it “Present.” Hers was very short and I prefer them short as opposed to very long prologues.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Very informative post, Harmony. I’ve used prologues in the majority of my books, and have introduced a murder or two in the process. I really like the example you used with The Catch. That prologue would have definitely kept me reading, despite any slow down in the following chapters. An excellent Day of Harmony on Story Empire! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Excellent, Harmony! I think we make up our minds about whether or not to read a book within a few pages. A good prologue can grab us and carry us through — until our questions are answered, etc. Thank you for another great post on this topic. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This is another fabulous post about prologues, how and when to use them, and what not to do, Harmony. It can be a slippery slope between enticing the reader and telling too much. This series has been super helpful in knowing how to navigate that slope. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: How to Use Prologues, Part 6, Spoilers Ahoy | Jeanne Owens, author

  10. Like Sarah, I loved the example you used, Harmony. I can see how having that at the back of your mind would make you question all the interactions between the characters and add to the suspense. xx

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I’m writing a mainstream literary trilogy. Each of the volumes has a piece of a faux New Yorker article on the main questions in the trilogy as a prologue, and the final volume will be followed by an epilogue.

    The New Yorker article is wrong in several very important ways – as is possible with articles written by people without key inside information. I use these, and a series of chapter epigraphs that include media, positive and negative about the main characters and their relationships, the ‘outside world view’ of a complicated story. We all know that what’s in the press may or may not be accurate.

    It’s an important part of the story since the characters are two actors and a writer – and emphasizes that only the people involved in the relationship know what really happened, and they’re not talking. The reader puts all this together with the story – and comes to know the truth. Willful disinformation is part of the story.

    That is the world our characters live in, and this has been a way to show that world. It all hangs together, but you get the pieces over time.

    Readers who skip prologues and epigraphs will get the main story, but miss important bits of the context. I don’t think I’ve seen this done – epigraphs are often barely connected to the stories I’ve seen them in – so I’ve been having a great time constructing this extra level. It has made the story better for me, the writer.

    Liked by 4 people

      • I love the flexibility of the add-on pieces of text – one of the pleasures of writing hasn’t been selecting the epigraphs per se, but the reaction of my beta reader when she gets why I’ve picked them, sometimes not until AFTER she’s read the chapter. She reads everything at least twice.

        This bodes well for it being possible to re-read my novels – there is definitely subtext you may not get the first time around which will bowl you over on a later read (if I’m doing my job).

        Liked by 1 person

We'd love to know what you think. Comment below.

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s