Purposeful Prologues

Prologues have gotten a bad rap. Busy editors and harried readers think, “Just tell me the story, already. Don’t waste my time with a prologue that has nothing to do with the rest of the book.” But a prologue is a great place to set character motivation in motion that will explain why a character does everything he or she does throughout the book. That’s the key. The purposeful prologue must set the motivation for not just a hero or heroine but the entire story. If you can weave points into the prologue that support the events and choices and changes your characters experience, then no one will be bothered by your prologue.

To hook a reader from the very beginning of your story it’s important to start where the action begins. Sounds simple but if the prologue happened twenty-five years before the actual story begins, what do you do? A purposeful prologue also begins with enticing action that compels the reader forward into the “future” which begins with chapter one. Here are the opening lines of the prologue for my novel Message to Love:

 

 

November 1873

Santiago de Cuba

The November midday sun bore down on the heads of the men kneeling in the Cuban prison yard. Dust from the boots of a hundred Spanish soldiers and their restless horses swirled onto the prisoners. A translucent, gold film of dirt coated their matted hair and stung their eyes. The powdery haze adhered to the blood concealing on battered faces.

Want to know more? Hope so. That’s part of the practice of purposeful prologues to inspire readers to keep going through the book. In the case of Message to Love motivation for both the hero and the heroine and the historical plotline are presented. The rest of the story explains how the events that happened in that Cuban prison yard  compelled people and countries to do and say everything years later. It explains why things happen and helps readers understand the theme of your book. Yes, all books have a theme whether you set one down before you write or not. Theme is the motivation for another day’s blog. Meanwhile, give your prologue more than one purpose and no one will complain that it’s wasting their time to read it.

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Published in: on January 4, 2011 at 2:57 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I have always loved prologues in books.

  2. I LOVE prologues…when done correctly. It’s a great way to give backstory without dumping it in the first chapter where it bogs the reader down or slows the pace. Backstory “should” give background info by showing the reader in story format rather than “telling” the reader what happened before the story started. It’s kind of like a story before the story. I use prologues often and used one in both Out of the Darkness, my paranormal romance and Slightly Tarnished, my up-coming historical from TWRP.

    Great post, btw! I’d love to hear what other writers/readers think.

  3. I love a good prologue. One of my WIPs has one set 20 years earlier — I’ve tried to take it out but it sets up the hero’s motivation with action, rather than bogging down the rest of the manuscript with tons of back story. So, unless an editor tells me otherwise, I’m keeping it!


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