How to Use Prologues, Part 7, Unexpected Clues

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 Unexpected Clues in a prologue. Here’s a link to the previous post on Foreshadowing.

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

  1. Unlike the foreshadowing, which we looked at last time, introducing an unexpected clue means giving something vital away … read on!
  2. With the unexpected clue, you let your reader into a secret. However, this is a secret that your main character doesn’t know about.
  3. In a way, this mimics foreshadowing in that it gives your reader an insight into what’s coming, but in this instance, your reader gets to see the main character stumbling around blind while knowing vital information that the poor protagonist doesn’t. I love this kind of stuff. I sit and yell at them, while reading with hand over mouth, “No! Don’t do it!” lols. Somehow, knowing something the character doesn’t feels like great fun.
  4. This type of prologue should give your reader a sense of suspense and a thrill at knowing something vital the main character doesn’t.
  5. This works well in genres such as mysteries, thrillers, and suspense, etc.
  6. The reader should feel a sense of satisfaction … an “aah” moment, when all is revealed, and the clues planted in the prologue enter the main story.
  7. Such unexpected clues bring the plot full-circle.
  8. This type of prologue can avoid an obvious ending.
  9. This type of prologue can also avoid a “deus ex machina” (god in the machine) ending, where the resolution comes completely out of the blue and hasn’t appeared anywhere in the narrative thus far. While this was acceptable in, say, Greek Mythology, such “miraculous endings” are definitely not an acceptable plot tool nowadays. If you’ve painted your main character into a corner, you need to get them out of it without resorting to something completely out of their control, unless you’ve planted the unexpected clue and, thus, shown your reader what’s what already. This way, by planting the clues in the prologue, and burying them here and there in the narrative, even if deeply, the eventual outcome won’t come as a complete and unbelievable surprise to your reader. Which, in this case, is what you want. (See “Note” below.)

NOTE: To put this in context, such clues are planted in much the same way as “Red Herrings” and general “plot clues” in your story. The whole idea is that you’ve led your reader to a certain end-point where, even if “seemingly” out-of-the-blue, it isn’t. And when the finale occurs, your reader will recognise where you, the skilled writer, have planted clues, and/or misdirections, along the way.

Recap: Don’t rely on miracles or “the god in the machine” fix to end your story or resolve your plot. Unexpected Clues have a specific purpose and help to avoid such disappointing endings. Unexpected Clues give away key information that your main character doesn’t know about to excite your reader and keep them on tenterhooks throughout the story. 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 Friday 7th October, when we’ll take a look at Outsider’s Reports 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

Part Six, Spoilers Ahoy

©2022 Harmony Kent

69 thoughts on “How to Use Prologues, Part 7, Unexpected Clues

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  6. Being a HUGE fan of well-done prologues that whet my appetite for the upcoming tale, I have been enjoying this series thoroughly, Harmony! I have prologues in all my books, though I’ve been learning to pare them back considerably from my first effort. And because so many people shudder when they see the word “Prologue” at the top of the page, I don’t call them that now. I just put the date and location, and then move on to Chapter 1 next. So far, I’ve been happy with how that’s working, and I’ve saved every one of these posts to remind myself of ways to make them stronger and more effective.

    Thanks for a wonderfully helpful series, Harmony! Looking forward to the next post! 🤗💖🤗

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Another fantastic post on prologues, Harmony. I have learned so much through this entire series, with this post being no exception. I like the idea of letting the reader in on a secret that the protagonist doesn’t know. I can see where it would serve to hook them into the story to see how it all turns out. Thank you for sharing! Good stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I really like the tension that comes from knowing something that the character doesn’t. Prologues are great places to set that up. And it’s very satisfying as a reader when the relevance of the prologue and its clues show up in the story. Another great post, Harmony. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. A fantastic post, Harmony. I love when a writer drops unexpected clues and does it well. Like you, I’m on pins and needles as I read along, knowing what the protagonist doesn’t. As you said it can be a lot fun–both as reader and writer!

    Liked by 1 person

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  11. Another great incentive to use a prologue, Harmony! I really hate it when the resolution comes out of the blue with no prior reference – it’s akin to that infamous shower scene in Dallas. It’s a sneaky, lazy way to bring about an ending but by referencing something in the prologue it’s there in the back of your mind as the storyline unfolds. ♥♥

    Liked by 2 people

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