by Kelley Lindberg
“Write me a prologue…”
– A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare
Many people admit they never read prologues. They skip right over prologues and go straight to where any self-respecting story should start: Chapter 1.
So welcome to Chapter 1 of my blog.
But wait…I’m curious. Why don’t people read prologues?
Maybe they confuse them with introductions. Or prefaces. Or forewords. Okay, I’m beginning to sense a pattern – lots of stuff at the beginning of the story that prevents the story from getting started. No wonder some readers skip them.
But a prologue is different. A prologue is part of the actual story. It might be an event or action that happened earlier and that launched our hero into his current predicament. It might be a glimpse of the bad guy’s past, or of a seemingly innocent encounter between two people that will result in a dire situation later. But it’s part of the story – a “prequel” if you will. It just happens before the rest of the story, the same way an epilogue is the part of the story that tells what happens after the story (the “Where are they now?” part).
If a prologue is the “prequel” to the story, what are the intro, the preface, and the foreword? There seem to be a variety of definitions, but all agree that these front-matter pieces can do a lot of things for the story, but they aren’t part of the actual story itself.
In a preface, authors explain why they wrote the book, and they might share their background or credentials in the field.
Introductions, which are most common in nonfiction, generally explain how the book is organized and what you can expect to learn from it.
A foreword is usually written by someone other than the author (preferably someone well-known in the field), and it offers information about the author or the actual writing of the book. For example, an anniversary edition of a well-known book might delve into the author’s life or the impact that book has had on readers over time. Forewords by famous people can help lend the book more credibility, so they are often used as marketing tools.
And sometimes authors blend all three into a single “Introduction.”
So if you’re anxious to jump right into the story, it’s presumably safe to skip the introduction, the preface and the foreword. Since they talk about the book itself, the author, and maybe the topic, you can read those at any time (or not at all), and not lose any pieces of the actual story.
But the prologue? Don’t skip the prologue. It’s a key piece of the story puzzle. Skipping the prologue is a bit like deciding you don’t much like first chapters, so you always start reading at Chapter 2.
(But if you do skip prologues, you’re in good company, because an awful lot of folks seem to do the same thing. You can all be puzzled together.)
If you’re a writer and you’ve begun your book with a prologue, what can you do to make sure your readers don’t skip your prologue?
That’s easy. Rename your prologue to “Chapter 1.”
And thanks for visiting my Chapter 1.