Writing

Prologue Vs. Chapter One: Three Reasons Why You Need To CUT Your Prologue

Hey, TWNers. Wow, it’s been forever since I’ve posted over here, and I’ve missed y’all so much. But good news is I’m officially BACK to Teen Writers’ Nook!! Cue the fanfare!

And if you can’t tell, I’m making up for all the time I’ve missed using GIFs. You’re welcome. 

Anyway, to kick off my return, I’m here today with a writing tip post on prologues! I’ve worked with a lot of teen writers over the past almost two years side note: HOW are we coming up on almost two years? It feels like TWN just started up last month XD. If there’s one common thing I see among newer authors (and even seasoned-pros) it’s the use of a prologue. Sometimes they’re added and it’s awesome. But most times, it needs to be cut. I’m not one of those writers who think prologues need to be cut all the time, but there are some instances where they’re used that they just need to be chopped out. The opening of your story is SO important. You have such a short space to hook your reader and convince him/her that this story needs to be completed. Think of it like this: let’s say a reader is considering your novel, but he/she will only read your first five pages. If you’ve hooked your reader at the end of it, that reader will buy it and read it. But if you haven’t, the reader will move on to another book.

Wow, that’s harsh, and pretty tough. However, I use this example because in reality, that’s what happens.

Like. All. The. Time. 

So it’s highly crucial you start your story off at the best place with the strongest beginning you can! So, before you include a prologue ask yourself these three questions that’ll help you determine if you should keep it or… 

Cut it!!!

*dramatic music*

#1 Are You Info-Dumping In Your Prologue?

While this might seem pretty obvious, it’s actually… not. yeah, not sure any better way to put that. So what exactly IS info-dumping in your prologue? It’s when you use your prologue as a space to give the reader alllll this background information, maybe about your world or your characters previous lives or just any information at all. And your dumping this all on us. Anytime you info-dump, whether it’s in the first chapter, prologue, etc., is bad. It bogs down the story and can bore your reader. We need to be gripped immediately into the story and have the excitement and interest carry through for the rest of the book. So if it’s not vital information, your reader NEEDS to know right at this moment, cut it. This is often why writers are discouraged from using a prologue, because often, writers use it to info-dump. You might think the reader will like to be explained about everything, but in reality, we really enjoy figuring out the world and backstory of characters while we’re reading. Not before it. So take a look at your prologue. Are you info-dumping? Anywhere at all? Let’s consider chopping it out!

Note: I have often written an info-dumping prologue for a lot of my WIPs. However, this is usually so I can get a grasp of my world and story, and then it’s always cut when I move on to second draft. So if you have one because it’s your first draft and you wanted to write it, I do this all the time and it’s okay!!! This is just something you’ll want to cut when it’s time for rewrites and edits!

#2 Does It Introduce a Character that Isn’t the Protagonist?

I can’t tell you how many times I see new authors do this, think it’s gonna be awesome, and then completely miss why it’s not. Let’s be honest, I’ve done it myself. It’s just fun to write y’all. But this is a very risky way to begin your prologue. Your book’s opening is kind of like your contract with the reader. That’s why you introduce your theme and have your inciting incident all within those first couple of chapters. You’re promising your readers that this book will be an exciting, gripping read about perseverance and friendship. Or a slow, contemporary read about family and hope. Etc. That’s why this is a risky beginning. You want to spend your opening introducing the readers to the main character. Remember that limited space I talk about earlier to hook your readers. You want to spend all of that time telling them why they should love YOUR protagonist, why they should follow them through this journey and root for them. Don’t make your reader fall in love with another character only to disappoint them when they realize, this isn’t who’ll they’ll be following. While there are books that have done this and done it well, it’s not something I would recommend doing often. Start the book where it effects your protagonist the most. 

#3 Does It Give a “False Hook”?

Ah, one of the most common prologue uses I see. Even in a lot of published books. The good ole false hook. So what IS a false hook? Basically, it’s when you grip your reader into your story, only to move the plot and have to hook them all over again. Examples of this is when you start your story forward in time, and then back up to some many weeks, months, years earlier. This can also be when you start off with an exciting fight scene moment (usually from another character’s point of view than the MC) and then we move into chapter one where the main character is waking up in bed and thinking about how beautiful the sun is. Do you see why I call it a false hook? You’ve grabbed the reader, and then we don’t follow through with this exciting moment. The worst time this is done, is when we have an exciting, thrilling opening, and then we make it to chapter one and this is really a slow paced, character-driven story. Remember that contract I mentioned? Yeah, so basically you’ve broken it. You promised one type of story only to deliver another. Why is this so risky to do? I can’t count the number of times I’ve considered a book and gone to Amazon, using their look inside feature. I start reading the opening prologue, it’s exciting, cool. I’m instantly hooked and desperate for more. Then I make it to chapter one and I’m bored because we’ve moved to a less exciting place. Openings are usually anything but thrilling and that’s okay. It’s better to hook us by the end of chapter one and carry us through the book, then at the very beginning and quickly loose interest!!! 

Exceptions?

Like everything with writing, there are ALWAYS exceptions to the rule. Sometimes these instances work, but most of the time they don’t. So continue with caution. Are prologues entirely bad? Of course not! I’ve written and read novels with amazing prologues, they’re just not commonly used because they’re not needed most of the time. When it doubt, it’s best to cut or seek advice from a trusted beta reader or writing friend.Β 

Chat with me!

So does your WIP have a prologue? How do you feel about prologues in books, enjoy them or not? What book has the best prologue you’ve ever read? Which of these three instances discussed above annoy you the most in fiction?Β (It’s number one for me. Info-dumping always bugs me. πŸ˜‰ ) Who’s happy I’m back to TWN? *raises hand*

Until the next post,

Keep on being awesome and never stop writing,

Issabelle Perry

Issabelle Perry is a proud Jesus follower, an extroverted writer of historical fiction, and a homeschool graduate. When she's not writing, you can find her reading, jamming to Skillet, bullet journaling, hunting for Narnia in wardrobes, or envisioning herself wielding a magnificent sword (but due to her clumsiness, let’s hope that never happens). This self-proclaimed exclamation mark enthusiast can be found hanging out at Teen Writers’ Nook, a community of teen authors Issabelle co-founded in 2020. Her short story β€œFairly Impish” was featured in Owl Hollow Press’s Change the World anthology, and Issabelle is the co-editor for Teen Writers’ Nook’s Imagine anthology and Grace A. Johnson's upcoming Christian romance anthology. What she’s probably doing right now is fangirling about her favorite books to random people or scanning the pantries for chocolate.

45 Comments

  • Saraina

    LOVELY tips Issabelle!!!! Thank you so much for this awesome post!! My fantasy WIP does have a prologue and it’s given me a lot of trouble, lol… I’ve been back and forth over whether I should cut it. (The thing is, I LOVE the opening line… it’s just so epic and I’m determined to keep it whether I get rid of the prologue or not. LOL.) It does info-dump in a way because it describes a country’s backstory, and even though I wrote it in a non-info-dumpy way, I know I need to start the book with the MC right off the bat. So that something I’ll have to figure out when I get to rewriting it! πŸ˜€ πŸ˜‰

    • Issabelle Perry

      THANK YOUUUUUUU SARAINA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Awww you’re very welcome. Thank YOU for reading it!!! Aaaah girl I feel you. My WIP has a prologue too and it’s also giving me a bit of trouble, been debating back and forth whether I should keep trying with it or cut it. (OOOOooooOOOoooOooo this opening DOES sound pretty epic!!!!! Good luck in figuring it out!! I know whatever you decide will be fantabulous!!!) Ah, yeah, that makes sense! And, hey, you ARE writing fantasy and I know a ton of fantasy books that info-dump in a prologue, so you might have a shot at keeping it. πŸ˜‰
      THANK YOUU for reading!!!

  • Allie Jo Andersen

    These are some awesome tips, Is!!! I totally agree; this is part of why most people skip prologues in books–because a lot of the time you can just take it out and the story works fine without it! XD
    Anyway, it was great reading a post again from you, friend!! This was so good, thanks for your tips!!

    • Issabelle Perry

      THANK YOU SO MUCH ALLIE!!!!!!!! Yes, I’m glad!!!!! *gasp* You mean other people skip prologues in books??? I thought that was just something I did. XD Yes, that’s a really good point!!!!
      Awww THANK YOUUU!!! It feels great to be writing posts for TWN again. I forgot how much I enjoy it!!!! YES I am SO thrilled to hear that!!!! You’re welcome!!! Thank YOU for reading!!!

  • Rylie πŸ˜‰

    Ohh, great post!! I’m not in the position to be able to write a novel any time soon, but i’ll definitely come back to this for a Prologue! I like Prologues in some books because their like mysterious and you have no idea where it fits into the story or anything, but it sets the mood for it. XD Idk how to explain it. lolll

    • Issabelle Perry

      THANK YOUUUUUUUU!!!!!!!!!!!! For now… one of these days I’m gonna get you to write that novel. XD I’m very persuasive. XDD YESS!!!! That sounds like a good plan!!!! oooo yeah, I totally get what you mean!! Plus mysterious prologues are always super fun to write (even if I usually have to go back and cut it *sobs* this writing stuff is HARD XD). Haha, that’s okay, I got what you were saying!!!
      THANK YOU for reading!!!!!

      • Rylie

        XDDD I will. One of these days…… Maybe in ten years? XD Those novels written by two people are always interesting. How does it even work?? Must take a lot of teamwork to decide exactly what to write. XD

        • Issabelle Perry

          Hahaha I SHALL HOLD YOU TO THAT!!!! oooo yes they are!! I have no idea. Every time I’ve tried to co-author a project it’s never ended up very well. XD I’m usually the one who walks from it, though, so it might be an Issabelle-problem, rather than a team problem. XD Oh, yeah, it definitely must!!!

  • Lorelei Angelino

    IZZYYYYYYYY!!! *tacklehugs* 🧑 GIRL this post is such a coincidence, because I was JUST reading a book that somehow managed to have both an info-dumping AND false hook prologue. It was pretty bad lol.

    *looks around* WHOA wow . . . my WIP prologue actually introduces a character that isn’t the protagonist . . . I WILL HAVE TO CUT THAT NOW; THANK YOU FOR THE WARNING! πŸ˜…

    I think info-dumping is my least favorite, too. It’s just plain BOR-ING. XD

    *raises hand wildly* I’M HAPPY YOU’RE BACK, IS! <33333333 I've missed youuuuuuu.

    • Issabelle Perry

      LORELEI!!!!!!!!!!!!! (We need to get you a nickname. XD) *hugs you back* AAAAH WHAT THAT IS SO INSANE!!!!! Lol that author should’ve waited to read my post before publishing the book. XD

      Aaahh girl I’ve definitely been there!!! One of my early novels I had tried to publish did the same thing in the prologue and I ended up cutting it and liking the opening a lot better. Which was surprising cuz I loved my prologue. YOU ARE SO WELCOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I’m SO glad I could be of some help!!!!!

      Yes, girl!! *high fives* It ISS!!! Like I want to find that information out FOR MYSELF, please don’t just dump it all on me. My brain can’t even handle all that info at once. I almost always end up forgetting something important that way. XD

      AWWWW GIRL YOU ARE THE SWEETEST!!!!!!! THANK YOUUUUUUUUU!!!!!! I’m missed you too!!! <33333333333333333333 Thank you for reading!!!!!

  • Kayti

    First off so happy your back! Eek!
    Second, info dumping is a pain to read and I somehow always seem to write it *facepalm* but I’m getting better at cutting it out of the second draft!
    None of WIP’s have a prologue, my sisters and I have a group project (Unfortunate Events) which does include a prologue…it could fit sort of in your category two…minus the fact that the character is important to the role the MC will play in the series and prologue man is in the book later…
    I definitely enjoyed your thoughts on this!

    • Issabelle Perry

      Awwwww THANK YOUUUU KAYTI!!!!!!!!! I’m SO happy to be back!!!!!
      Girl, I know it!! It’s such an eyesore, lol. Aahh, the pain is real. The good news is that you’re actually aware you do it, which makes it easier in editing. Authors who refuse to believe they’re info dumping… those are the ones you’ve gotta watch out for. XDD YESSS THAT SOUNDS AWESOME!!!!!!!! And, hey, I info-dump a LOT in first drafts myself just because I’m trying to grasp my world or setting, so it’s easier to get it out of my system and then edit it later!!!
      Ooooooo that sounds suuuuper interesting!!!!! I’m already intrigued!!!! Can’t wait to read Unfortunate Events one day!!!
      Awwww THANK YOU SO MUCH, Kayti!!!! That just made me so happy!!! Thank you for reading!!!

    • Issabelle Perry

      THANK YOU SO MUCH KRISTIANNE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yes, I definitely agree with you there. Most times they’re not necessary but then there are those times when they’re just so well written and perfect and you wouldn’t want it to start any other way!!! You’re very welcome!!! Thank YOU for reading!!!!

  • makaylajesalyn

    Hey Issabelle!! I’m sooo glad you’re back!
    And yes. Prologues are things I love to love and hate! I’ve totally just recently even, read a super good book that had a very emotional prologue, but it was so confusing. They used a nameless character that wasn’t the MC in the first chapter, so I didn’t know who they were talking about until the end of the book, at the epilogue! 🀣 In my own writing, I’ve written up a quick sketch of a story idea, with a dramatic, cliffhanger prologue that really says almost nothing but leaves the reader wanting more. I love that kind of thing, so I’m glad you pointed out that the next chapter would have to flow with the theme if the prologue is dramatic. I’ll keep that in mind!

    • Issabelle Perry

      Hey, Makayla!!! Awww girl, you’re so sweet. Thank youuuuuuu!!!! I’m SO thrilled to be back!!!
      AAA GIRL YOU JUST SO PERFECTLY DESCRIBED MY OPINION ON THEM!!!!! Prologues and me have this love-hate relationship. XDDD Wow, that does sound confusing!!! Lol, aahh that’s why you always read the epilogue. XD 🀣🀣🀣 That sounds to me like an author who thought they were doing something really unique and cool but didn’t get a second opinion on it and it turned out pretty confusing and bad. OOOOOOOO THAT SOUNDS SO AWESOME!!!!!!!! Those things are SO much fun to read!!! Aww well I’m glad I gave that tip then. πŸ˜‰ GOOD LUCK with you’re writing!!!! THANK YOU for reading!!!!

  • Diamond

    I feel like there are a lot of good books with prologues, but I’m still unsure whether to use them in my own books. I think in fairytale retellings they might work…but I also just don’t know if they’re the best opening. I normally use them because there’s an event that happened in the past that is important to the story, but I obviously can’t start the story five years in the past!

    • Issabelle Perry

      Yes, I definitely agree!! Ah, yeah, I know the battle/feeling. I haven’t read a ton of fairytale retellings, but I have seen them used a lot and been great!!! One thing you can do is test each opening out on a group of readers. Give them the opening with the prologue and then the one without and see what their opinion is on it. πŸ™‚ Aaah girl that’s exactly what I do when I use prologues!!!!! I’ve only ever kept two of the prologues I’ve written and they were both giving a quick, very brief glimpse of something that had happened in the past couple of years before speeding to the present. I have no clue if those work or not, but I’ve done them before!! πŸ˜‰ THANK YOUUU for reading!!!!!!

  • Em Elizabeth

    I feel like prologues are really a judgement call. It depends on what kind of story you’re trying to tell and the way you want it to feel/unfold.
    To me, an effective prologue should set up the context and/or stakes for the rest of the book, all while hooking the reader in a way that accurately reflects the book as a whole. If there’s something that the reader needs to know or understand right off the bat in order to process the story the way you want them to, then a prologue might be a good idea. They key is to get this across while avoiding the pitfalls listed above.
    I think a good way to avoid an info-dump prologue is to apply the “show don’t tell” principle. Example: say that an ancient prophecy and the fall of a kingdom are crucial details in your story, and you want a prologue to get this across. Don’t tell the reader about it via third person narration. Write a scene where the prophet is hunkered down in their home as the battle rages outside, desperately trying to record all their visions before the chaos reaches them.
    Granted, this puts you at risk of Problem 2- False Protagonist, but I think there are ways to pull this off too. You could either mention/reference the main character in a way that gives an impression of who they are while making it clear that they will be important, frame the other characters in such a way that it’s clear they’re not here to stay, or a combination of those two options.
    Prologues do have potential if done right, but doing them right is the tricky part. If you can’t decide whether or not to keep one, ask yourself, “What purpose does this prologue serve, is it essential/what will happen if I don’t use it, and if I need it, what can I do to make it the best it can be?” There are so many factors at play, but that’s the fun of writing I guess.
    (Sorry for the long comment, I just found this quite interesting.)
    Also, side note on info dumping: If it’s your first draft, I encourage you to go absolutely crazy with info dumps. If you want to tell other people this story, you need to tell it to yourself first, and sometimes the best way to do that is to just pour it all on the page in the most literal, straightforward, bare-bones, rambling manner possible. Extract all the pieces you need so that the story makes sense to you, then rearrange them to make it fun for the readers.

    • Issabelle Perry

      Wow, girl, do not apologize for this. I LOVED reading this comment, and I am SO glad you shared all of your thoughts here. Your insight is seriously fantabulous. Honestly, I just need to get you to write a follow-up post to this one to share it all!!! I agree that prologues do have potential if done right, and I LOVE that question you say writers should ask themselves. I’m going to have to take a lot of this advice for my own book! THANK YOU for sharing!!!! (And I second the info dumping in first drafts!!)

  • Anna

    This is actually really helpful!!! Thanks, Iss.
    One thing that I typically use a prologue for is showing a small scene that occurs before the actual story, but is referenced in the story. I’ve only done that two or three times, but it seems to work out pretty well.

    • Issabelle Perry

      EEEEK I AM SO GLAD TO HEAR THAT ANNA!!!!!!! THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!!!!!! You’re very welcome!!!!!
      Ooooo I love that!! I’ve done that before in a prologue and it’s super fun!!! Yessss that’s awesome!!!!!! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for reading!!!!

  • Lily

    Hi Issabelle!! Welcome back!! *runs over and smothers you in big hug* I’m so sorry I almost missed this post, girl!
    Thank you so much for these tips! Honestly, I don’t usually write prologues (I think I did once, but looking back, it would probably be wise to cut it Lol.)

    However, you’re right; sometimes a prologue can be done well. The only one I can think of are the ones from Enola Holmes. I know there are others, but my poor brain won’t work with me today XD. What’s your favorite book that has a well-written prologue?

    • Issabelle Perry

      Heya, Lily!! THANK YOUUUU!!!!!! *squeezes Lily back* Aww, girl, that’s totally okay!! Trust me, I completely get that. I don’t know how, but I always miss a million posts. It’s my inbox. I’m telling you I believe it’s a literal blackhole. ;P
      You are SO welcome, girl!!! Thank YOU for reading!!! Haha, I envy you then. I almost always write a prologue and almost always end up cutting it.

      Yess that’s true!!!! Oooooo I need to check that author out!!! Haha I feel your pain. XD Ooo I don’t know honestly. Most of the ones I read I don’t like. I remember really loving the prologue in The Captive Kingdom, but if it wasn’t a return to the series, she probably wouldn’t have been able to keep that prologue. Ooo I also really like the prologue in There You’ll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones, though it’s been forever since I’ve read that book so I can’t say if the rest of it is any good. ;P. THANK YOU for reading!!!

  • Joy C. Woodbury

    Issabelle, these are great tips! The info-dumping prologue is probably the one that annoys me the most. We all know we’re not supposed to info dump in chapter one, so why do we try to do it in a prologue πŸ˜…

    My WIP, Where Faith Remains, has a prologue. I really like the opening it provides for the story. I love prologues in books, personally. (Epilogues too.) I’ve read some books that start with a chapter that reads more like a prologue, but is labeled Chapter One, and I think that’s an awesome trick since readers tend to skip prologues that have too many pages!

    As for amazing prologues, I absolutely LOVE the prologues in Nova McBee’s Calculated series. My favorite one is the prologue for the first novel, Calculated (since it has such a mysterious and enticing tone), but the prologues for Simulated and Activated are SO GOOD as well!

    Also – happy you’re back! I’ve missed your posts! πŸ˜‰

    • Issabelle Perry

      THANK YOU SOO MUCH, Joy!!!!!! Ah, girl, saaaaame. Yes, exactly!!! Though it could be an author who’s never heard of “info-dumping” so I guess we could give ’em the benefit of the doubt. But I still find it annoying. XDD

      Ooooo that’s AWESOME!!!! That sounds super cool; I can’t wait to read it when it releases!!! Prlogues are a LOT of fun to write and read, especially when done right!!!! Oooooo I’ve never seen that before but that IS an awesome trick. Will have to remember that in the future. πŸ˜‰ Thank youuu for sharing!!!!!!

      OOOOOOOO *rushes to go read the prologue on Amazon* *comes back* Oh my goodness that prologue IS good!! (For the first one. I didn’t read the prologues to the other two books for fear of spoilers but I’m sure they’re just as fantabulous!!!!) Aah I’ve got to read that book sometime *adds it to TBR*.

      Awww THANK YOU SO MUCH, girl!!!! That means SO much to me!!! Thank youuuu for reading!!!

  • RangerElfLegend

    Late again to the post…oops. XD Love this post! I’ve been trying to decide if I need a prologue in my book, and while I’m still not sure if I should put one or not, this post was super helpful! Definitely going to use this for reference if and when I write a prologue!
    Personally, I don’t mind the info dumps too much. I would prefer to learn all of the information throughout the book or series, alongside the main character, but the type of prologue that REALLY irritates me is the false hooks XD. I HATE those.

    • Issabelle Perry

      Haha that’s totally okay! (I am almost always late to posts… *hides*) EEEK THANK YOUUUU!!!!! Ah, yes, one of the biggest writing decisions. Good luck, and I’m sure whatever you decide will be fantastic!!!! Yaaaaay I am SO glad to hear it’ll be helpful!!!!!!! You go!!!!

      Oh, yeah, that makes sense. Sometimes writers leave out too much information and then the reader’s just plain confused. Aaaaah YESS!!!! False hooks irritated me SO much too. I’ll usually just not read a book if it does that for the prologue. XD It’s like my mini-act of rebellion, lol. XDDD THANK YOU SO MUCH for reading and stopping by!!!!!!

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