How to Use Prologues, Part 8, Outsider’s Report

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 using an Outsider’s Report in a prologue. Here’s a link to the previous post on Unexpected Clues in Prologues.

How do you write an Outsider’s Report into your prologue, and do it well?

  1. The aim is to intrigue the reader, via whatever method you want, by setting the tone and mood, introducing important information that either looks ahead or covers backstory, and/or sets up the stage for the rest of the story.
  2. The outsider’s report offers the reader an alternative view on the situation and/or the characters.
  3. The outsider’s report works in many genres of fiction, so it’s versatile.
  4. You can use a point of view from a character not included in the rest of the story or use some form of narrative media (see point 5).
  5. You can use various narrative media to tell a story. Such media can be diary entries, news reports, poems, quotes, fragments from historical reports, lines from a play, a medical report, or any written media that tells a story. How you organise such media will affect the story you tell and how it comes across to your reader. (See my examples below.)

Example 1: From my book: FALLOUT (where I used 2 quotes to set the tone) …

‘Fear is the engine that drives the human animal. Humanity sees the world as a place of uncountable threats, and so the world becomes what humanity imagines it to be. They not only live in fear but use fear to control one another.’

Dean Koontz

‘Totalitarianism […] extends the civil power beyond due limits; it determines and fixes […] every field of activity, and thus compresses all legitimate manifestation of life—personal, local, and professional—into a mechanical unity of collectivity.’

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Example 2: From an unpublished book of mine: Exodus–Book One of The Colony Trilogy … (where I used a series of holo-news articles to set the backstory and tone of propaganda) …

49 Killed in Tower-block Blaze Amidst Exxon Overcrowding Crisis

Renewed calls for action come as more deaths occur due to the overcrowding crisis in the Exxon system. Leaders from all six planets will meet on Wednesday to discuss emergency measures.

An Exxon Co executive has today told NBT news that plans to settle the newly discovered B system have begun apace. However, inside information tells us that this relief will be too little too late.

The latest deaths come as building and fire regs are once more dismissed to facilitate extra housing for young families in need. One survivor of the blaze at Tower 2500 spoke to our reporter on the ground. ‘They mashed us in together like tunafish in a can. What did they think would happen? The government are murderers. They killed my kid.’

(And …)

Exxon Co to Lose Government Grants Unless they Bring New Planets Online Fast

A leaked memo outlines threats to discontinue government funding made by the leaders of the six-planet Exxon system to the Exxon Company responsible for discovering and settling new planets. 

Due to the overcrowding crisis, the disaster alert level has now been raised to Red 8, the highest alert possible. A government insider has said that other options do exist, but that the Exxon Co is being too slow in utilising them.

‘It’s mass murder,’ one protester outside Government House yelled at gathered reporters this morning. ‘They’re doing it on purpose. They want us all to die.’

When NBT approached the minister for housing and welfare, he declined to give comment. Meanwhile, a curfew has been implemented. The new rules under marshal law state that no group larger than 20 persons may form within a 5-mile radius of any government or official installation, which includes the HQ of Exxon Co.

The total of five news articles at the beginning of book one sets both the backstory and the tone for the ensuing series trilogy of books. Book Two uses a captain’s report to offer the reader a recap of the story thus far … a neat way to provide a recap while showing without telling, and the reader can skip it if they wish.

NOTE: The narrative media tool can be incredibly inventive and take pretty much any written form you would like. Any narrative media that tells a story will work here. This approach needs to come from a point of view not included in the rest of the book, but–besides this necessity–the creativity is all up to you!

Recap: An outsider’s report can come from an alternative POV character not included in the main narrative–especially when that POV is needed only once and sets the foundation for what follows–or from any written narrative media that hooks the reader and sets up the mood/stage of the story.

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 Wednesday 2nd November, when we’ll take a look at In Media Res 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

Part Seven, Unexpected Clues

©2022 Harmony Kent

53 thoughts on “How to Use Prologues, Part 8, Outsider’s Report

  1. Pingback: How to Use Prologues, Part 11, Prologues and Epilogues | Story Empire

  2. Pingback: How to Use Prologues, Part 10, Recap of Tools | Story Empire

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

  4. HI Harmony, I discovered last night that I can no longer comment on the SE posts from my ipad. So weird. Anyhow, I had to come back this morning to comment from my laptop. I have used outsiders reports in my writing, but only within the main body. I’ve never used a prologue but I would used this technique if it suited a prologue to be sure. Thanks for the great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve never used an outsider’s report in a prologue but I’ve read a number of books that have. I never stopped to think about how it set the tone, but it’s definitely an intriguing story starter.
    Great examples, Harmony!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post, Harmony. I’ve read “outsider reports” as prologues before, and they work well. I especially liked your comment about using them in series or serials as opportunities to catch readers up on what happened in a previous book. That’s clever! Great post, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Excellent post, Harmony. Your examples are very helpful, and your accompanying advice is clarifying. Thank you for delving into the topic. I’m holding on to the guidance for future use. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Excellent, Harmony! Your post is another “keeper” for my writer’s database. I’ve seen a few authors add starting-chapter snippets of news or quotes related to the Outsider’s Report started in the prologue. Useful for maintaining the tone and interesting when kept short.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: How to Use Prologues, Part 8, Outsider’s Report | Legends of Windemere

  10. Pingback: How to Use Prologues, Part 8, Outsider’s Report — Story Empire – Typography

  11. Great stuff, Harmony! The use of different kinds of media really appeals as a strategy and I can see multiple benefits in snippets of news reports, a diary or other factual accounts. As you say, the voice of someone not directly connected with the story can introduce a layer that adds something in a neat, detached way that would be difficult to do so succinctly in the body of the novel. In fact, you give so many useful ideas in this I’m going to bookmark it for future reference! I used a quotation from The Ancient Mariner in my first book to set an unsettling tone and a few people did get back to tell me they liked it. Many thanks for a genuinely useful strategy and how to apply it. x

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Hi Harmony.
    I’ve introduced a prologue into my WIP after reading your articles, but that is from the POV of a character who appears, but never again has a POV. It sets the scene four years before the story opens.
    I love this idea. I often use newspaper reports within a book. I shall keep it in mind.
    Hugs, Sarah xx

    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