How to Use Prologues, Part 10, Recap of Tools

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 summarise the tools available for prologues, seeing as we’ve covered a lot so far. Here’s a link to the previous post on In Media Res in Prologues.

Tools for Prologues:

  1. Backstory Delivery
  2. Spoilers Ahoy
  3. Unexpected Clues
  4. Outsider’s Report
  5. In Media Res

Backstory Prologue Summary:

A Backstory Delivery prologue will introduce either both the characters and events or one of these elements to provide a crucial key, or keys, to the reader about what follows in the main story. This prologue will provide information important to understanding the plot, and/or the world, etc. Use this narrative to introduce an element of mystery and make your reader question and want to know what happens next. Standalone events are excellent ways of introducing a much broader theme/issue to your readers without going into overkill. In your prologue, take care to utilise moments of tension, action, drama, and all the other good stuff with which you fill your stories.

Reminder: This is not an information dump. You need to keep your prologue concise and well-structured, just as you would with your opening chapter.

Spoilers Ahoy Summary:

A Spoilers Ahoy prologue will tease and entice the reader by showing crucial events to come later in the book. 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?) To foreshadow means to leave your reader with a burning question of what’s going to happen next. 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.

Reminder: Don’t give away the plot or twists. 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.

Unexpected Clues Summary:

An Unexpected Clues prologue will give away something vital. You let your reader into a secret. However, this is a secret that your main character doesn’t know about. 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. This type of prologue should give your reader a sense of suspense and a thrill at knowing something vital the main character doesn’t. This works well in genres such as mysteries, thrillers, and suspense, etc. Such unexpected clues bring the plot full-circle.

Reminder: 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.

Outsider’s Report Summary:

An Outsider’s Report prologue will 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. The outsider’s report offers the reader an alternative view on the situation and/or the characters. 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.

Reminder: 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!

In Media Res Summary:

An In Media Res prologue will open in the middle of the action. The purpose of an In Media Res prologue is to inspire intense curiosity in the reader by slamming them into the midst of an action-packed, emotionally charged moment. This type of prologue opens with an effect, then the ensuing chapters will backtrack to explain the cause. You put your reader in the thick of the action with characters they haven’t yet met with things happening that they don’t yet understand. Such a prologue is good for sensation-focused narratives such as erotica and horror. It also works well with westerns, spy thrillers, war chronicles, etc.

Reminder: In Media Res is easy to write but difficult to do well.

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’re finding this series of posts useful. I’ll see you again on Friday 23rd December, when we’ll take a a break from How to Write a Prologues for a Christmas Post. The Prologue posts will continue near the end of January 2023 🙂

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

Part Eight, Outsider’s Report

Part Nine: In Media Res

©2022 Harmony Kent

81 thoughts on “How to Use Prologues, Part 10, Recap of Tools

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  4. Sorry to come so late to this excellent final installment of your prologue series, Harmony. It’s obvious from all the comments here that it’s something that’s triggered an interest in us and I’m grateful to you for the advice. ♥♥

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I think I need to write a prologue for my story but I have no idea how. I finished writing the story a year ago and I’m stuck in the editing phase. I want to add a prologue and epilogue as well but I get this crippling anxiety whenever I think about it. I wish I could pay someone to finish it for me but I don’t have the money.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wonderful! I’ve been loving all the great advice here. I do have a question. What do you think of a Prologue that is in first person, present tense, with the rest of the novel (supernatural mystery) in third person with 4 POVs? I ask because I have the ghost speaking in the opening prologue who is foreshadowing a number of events that happen later. And the ghost continues to speak in first person to a character at certain intervals of the story. Is it really an absolute “don’t” as you say ‘Don’t write the prologue in a completely different style and/or voice than your main story” in Part III? Are there exceptions and would my situation qualify? Please advise! Thank you.

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  7. Goodness! I’d never considered prologues in such depth – thank you for detailing the options!
    As a fantasy reader, I am well versed in several of these techniques, but I hadn’t thought to actually categorise them like this.
    As a fantasy author, I do use prologues – they seem to be more acceptable in fantasy novels than in many other genres – starting with In Media Res as the opening of my series (I do love a bit of action to start with), and then each subsequent book in the series opens with Backstory, given by a new viewpoint character to the previous book.
    I shall think more about what I am doing in future, now I’m about to start the next series.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. This is a great way to look at prologues. It made me think about the times I’ve seen them used, or have used them myself. I have always been one to defend prologues, but I see that they need a specific reason. Thanks for the great advice!

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  9. As a HUGE fan of prologues (done correctly, of course), I’ve saved every one of these posts, and I love this one. I’ve been absent a lot lately, I know, but I had to take a moment to tell you how much I’ve appreciated your series on something that many writers don’t understand how to use effectively, or don’t see the reason for using at all. Done right, they are an absolutely great way to start a book, in my opinion, though I don’t always label mine “Prologue.” (Sometimes I just use a date, to help draw in those who are put off by the term.) Either way, I love them in other authors’ works, and I will continue to use them in mine.

    Thanks for a super series, and for this wonderful recap! 😊❤️😊

    Liked by 2 people

    • I appreciate you dropping in, Marcia, and understand fully with all you have to cope with. I’m so pleased you’ve found this series helpful. I’m with you on well-done prologues. Such a shame bad ones have given them such a poor rep! 💕🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  10. This has been a fabulous series, Harmony. My current WIP will have a short prologue, and I will refer back to your tips before I write it. I’ve pinned these for future reference. Thank you for sharing your expertise!!

    Liked by 1 person

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  12. A fascianting reminder of the “prologue” series, Harmony.
    I notice how often you repeat “show not tell”. A writer friend and I exchange chapters as we write – a very useful exercise – plot flaws – character inconsistancies – typos – and we have a code, like RCAFS, which means remove comma and add full stop (period). The most useful of all is SnT!

    Liked by 2 people

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