What is a prologue? How is it different from a regular chapter? Should you include one in your book?

If you’re asking these questions, you’ve found the right guide. We’ll explain what a prologue is and how to decide if it’s right for your book.

Many writers don’t feel they need a prologue or they are not sure how to write one.

A prologue is like an extended preface or introduction. It might provide background information, character details, or set the mood.

The prologue sets the stage for the story and introduces characters who will be important later on.


What Is a prologue

What Is a prologue?

The prologue is placed at the beginning of a narrative and is used to introduce important information about the story.

It provides background information, context, or a frame in which to interpret the events that follow.

Use the prologue to give your reader an overview of what’s going to happen in your story.

If you’re writing fiction, you can use this introduction as an opportunity to introduce your main characters and foreshadow important plot points.

If you’re writing nonfiction, use your prologue as a chance to describe relevant background information that will help readers understand what they’re about to read.



What Is A Prologue?

A prologue is a short section of text, usually before the story itself.

The prologue often serves to deepen the reader’s understanding of the story, and it can also be used to present backstory that is essential to understanding the plot.

A prologue can range from a page or two to an entire chapter, or even several chapters.

Telling a story in a nonlinear fashion — jumping from one time period to another and from one character’s mind to another’s — can be confusing for readers. Use a prologue (or epilogue) to help them get their bearings.

The way you construct your prologue depends on your story. What’s most important is that you use it wisely.

For example, if your story revolves around one specific event — say, an heist or even something as simple as a birthday party — then using a prologue might be appropriate as long as you don’t just retell the event in the prologue.

Rather, you use it to set up the event later on in the story.


A common mistake writers make with prologues is they see them only as backstory-intro machines, but they are so much more than that! Think of how Harry Potter and Game of Thrones begin: with action!

Prologues are sometimes confused with epilogues because both are placed at either the beginning or end of a work.

However, there is a significant difference between these two literary devices: prologues reveal important information before the story begins; epilogues reveal important information after the story has ended.

You may be inclined to call these introductory segments prologues simply because they come first chronologically.

However, technically, if they meet one of the criteria I’ll discuss below, they are actually epilogues.

It can be used to set the scene, explain the story, or give some background information on the characters or their setting.

Examples Of Prologue In Literature

A prologue (from the Greek prologos, meaning “spoken before”) is an opening to a story that establishes the context and gives background details, often some earlier story that ties into the main one, or else throws light on the main story.

Prologues can be used to frame the story and to explain things in advance. Their purpose is to draw the audience into the story, create interest and excitement, and lay out important details about the setting, characters, and conflict to come.

The prologue sets up what is about to happen in the narrative.

In many cases, it also reveals information about a character that later becomes important in the main plot line.

Examples of Prologues in Literature:

Prologue from The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

The opening lines of The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer are an example of a classic prologue. Chaucer’s use of a framing device allows him to introduce the pilgrims — each of whom will tell his own tale — as well as establish their relationships with one another and describe their journey from Southwark to Canterbury.

In this opening passage, we learn that Chaucer has decided to gather a group of people together and go on pilgrimage together.

Examples Of Prologue In Film

Prologue is a literary term, but it can also be applied to film. In film, a prologue occurs before the opening credits and is used to introduce the audience to the characters and story line.

Sometimes it has a title like “Day 1” or “The Beginning” and is introduced with music to add drama. A prologue can ccur during the credits after the main titles.

As in literature, there are different types of prologues used in movies which I will explore below.


Flash Back

A flash back is a scene that occurs before the main story line. It gives background on a character or situation and occurs at any time during the movie.

The best example of this would be when Indiana Jones remembers his first meeting with Marion Ravenwood in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” This memory comes to him as he searches for the Well of Souls so he can find the Ark of the Covenant.

The most common type of prologue used in film is an exposition prologue which provides exposition, or information about some aspect of the movie.

For example, an exposition prologue might explain what led up to an event that takes place later in the movie like in “Back to The Future.” It shows how Marty’s parents meet.

First Known Use Of Prologue

The first use of the prologue in a novel was by the Ancient Greek writer Herondas, who wrote The Tale of Kharesmane and Macarenos, which is about how two half brothers fight for their inheritance.

The first use of the prologue in English literature was by Geoffrey Chaucer. He wrote his Canterbury Tales in the 1380s, which is a collection of stories told by various pilgrims on their way to Canterbury.

Chaucer used a prologue to explain why there were different stories being told.

The Prologue is another name for an introduction. It can give more information about what you are going to talk about or what you want the audience to take from your speech or writing.

It can also be used as a means of building up tension or suspense before you get into the main part of your speech or writing.

In King Lear, Shakespeare uses a prologue to build up tension before he has any of the characters speak. The tension is built up because we know that Lear has already given away all his land and power and that he is going to divide his kingdom among his daughters at the end of Act One.

So when Lear speaks at the beginning, in a state of madness, we know that everything will change.

History And Etymology For Prologue

PROLOGUE is a word that comes from the Greek language. It was formed by combining pro, which means “before,” and logos, which means “word” or “account.”

A  prologue is a literary device that introduces a piece of writing or a speaker. In ancient Greece and Rome, a prologue was spoken to introduce a play.

In the Middle Ages, the prologue often took the form of an address by an actor to the audience. The prologue became an established part of English theater in the late 14th century.

In Shakespeare’s time, it was customary for actors to speak directly to the audience as soon as they entered the stage. If there were no other characters on stage, then it fell to the actor playing Othello to deliver this speech.

For example, in Act I Scene i of Shakespeare’s Othello:

I pray you, in your letters, When you shall these unlucky deeds relate, Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate, Nor set down aught in malice: then must you speak Of one that loved not wisely but too well; Of one not easily jealous but being wrought Perplexed in the extreme.

Prologue vs. Preface vs. Foreword vs. Introduction

What’s the difference between a foreword and an introduction? The answer may surprise you.

Tense and Tone

The prologue, preface, foreword and introduction are usually all written in the past tense.

The prologue is often written by someone other than the main writer — it is the author’s way of setting up or introducing the story or book. It will often reflect the author’s voice but be written by someone else.

The preface is written by the author, often reflecting on how they came to write their piece or how they’re feeling about it during its publishing process. It’s usually included in nonfiction books.

The foreword is usually written by a notable figure — someone who knew the writer or has special knowledge about what was being discussed in the book. Often this person will endorse the writer or book and generally introduce it to readers.

The introduction is written by the main writer, often reflecting on why they wrote their piece or what inspired them to do so. It’s generally used in fiction books and sometimes with nonfiction as well as a way for readers to get acquainted with the writing style of an author before starting their work proper.

What Is The Purpose Of A Prologue?

A prologue is a short introduction to a literary work. The word itself comes from the Latin word prologus, which means “prelude.” That’s because it serves as a kind of prelude or preview to the story to follow.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that every piece of literature has to have a prologue. You will find some literary works without any introduction or preface at all.

However, for many writers and readers, a prologue is an important and useful addition to the book.

The purpose of a prologue can vary widely depending on what type of writing you’re looking at. For example, in plays, prologues were often used in order to give an overview of the play and introduce important characters who would be mentioned early in the story but would not be introduced until later on.

In some cases, they were used simply as comedic relief—to create laughter both before and after the more serious play began.

Prologues were often used by writers in order to give background information about their characters and events that occurred before the main story itself started in poetry. In novels, prologues are sometimes used in order to give background information about characters.

How To Make A Prologue Stand Out

Prologues can be a great tool for a writer. They are an opportunity to give backstory, or even just to make the reader feel more connected; however, they can also be easy to skip if you don’t know how to make them stand out.

Tone and voice are the two most important things when it comes to prologues. If your prologue is just as cheery and happy as the rest of your novel, then why would anyone want to read it?

It should have a different tone altogether. Darker, more mysterious, you get the picture.

Likewise with the voice of your narrator. If you’ve chosen first-person narration for your novel, but you’re writing a prologue in third-person, then that’s going to throw people off.

Keep your prologue consistent in tone and voice with the rest of your novel, so readers know what they’re getting into immediately.

Another thing to remember when writing a prologue is that it doesn’t have to start from the very beginning of your story. It can start anywhere in the middle and still serve its purpose.

You might think that starting from the middle is cheating, but if you’re trying to hook readers from the beginning, this can be helpful. 

How To Determine If You Needs A Prologue

Prologues – do you need them? Prologue (from the Latin prologus, meaning “preface”) is defined as a short piece of writing that comes before the main part of a book or other literary work. They are also used in films and plays, but more frequently in television shows.

Treatments, outlines, synopses and pitches are also considered to be prologue material.

The prologue is usually placed at the beginning of a story to explain or summarize events that took place before the story actually begins. It can also be used to provide information about characters and settings, including historical data or biographical information about the author.

In some cases, it can simply set up the basic conflict or premise of the story.

This being said, not every work requires a prologue. You will have to determine whether your work requires one. Here are some questions you need to ask yourself:

Is your story too complicated? If so, a prologue could help in clarifying things for your readers.

A good prologue needs to set up all important components such as characters, conflicts, setting and plot of your novel/story. It should have something interesting going on which will get your reader’s attention.

How To Write A Good Prologue

A good prologue is an essential part of a novel. It’s the part that hooks the reader and makes them want to keep reading. In fact, a good prologue can help make or break the book.

There are a few things you need to know about writing a good prologue, so let’s get started.

Tone The tone or mood of your story should be reflected in your prologue. The prologue should set the stage for what is to come later on in the story. Make sure your tone will mesh well with what you have planned for the rest of your novel.

Emphasis In most cases, prologues aren’t supposed to give away any major plot secrets or surprises. They’re supposed to be there as an introduction or background for everything that comes after it in the actual story. 

A good prologue does this by emphasizing certain points that will come up later on down the line in the main plot of your book.

It should introduce some key characters and/or settings that are going to be used later on in the story at hand. This gives us a chance to see how these characters act and react in their natural environment, which helps us become more attached to them when we read about them later on as well.

What Is The Main Purpose Of The Prologue?

A prologue is a short essay that’s positioned before the main body of the text. It’s typically used to provide background information for the story at hand, or to set the tone for what’s to follow.

Prologues are most often found in longer works of fiction, like novels and plays.

In some cases, a prologue is written by someone other than the author, and can help establish an unbiased, neutral point of view. The prologue can also add an element of suspense or mystery by leaving a question unanswered until later in the work.

In some cases, the prologue will include a disclaimer or a statement about how the events described therein are factual.

The term “prologue” comes from ancient Greek theater, where it was used to introduce an actor who wasn’t playing a major role in the play. The prologue would usually enter mid-scene and deliver one or two lines before exiting again.

Prologues are common in medieval literature and poetry, where they were sometimes known as proems. Geoffrey Chaucer made extensive use of prologues throughout his Canterbury Tales.

The Canterbury Tales is a 14th-century collection of stories told by pilgrims on their way to Canterbury Cathedral.

Example 1: Prologue On The Greek Stage

The urns containing the ashes of the dead are on display in a museum in Washington D.C. One of the urns is for Ireneaus. The other urns are for his wife, his child, his parents, and so on.

The narrator says that it is exactly one year ago that Ireneaus died from the bubonic plague.

According to the narrator, Ireneaus was a well-known man during his lifetime. He was a great scholar and an expert in ancient books of wisdom. His writings were read all over Greece, Italy, and Turkey.

The narrator says that modern people often think of the plague as being a punishment from God against sinners or immoral acts. The narrator disagrees with this idea because he thinks that the plague was just another part of life at that time. 

It came and went like other diseases and natural disasters like floods and earthquakes.

The narrator says that they had just arrived in Asia Minor when the plague came to their town. A few people died right away but most survived it well enough to go home to get better.

There were no medicines back then so people were just left to get better or die without any help from doctors or medicine. 

Example 2: Prologue On The Latin Stage

A great prologue can set up your play’s themes and create a dramatic scene all its own. It can also be a way for the author to introduce an important character that will appear later in the play.

Terence’s “The Self-Tormentor” is a short, one-act comedy that acts as a prologue to his longer play, “The Self-Tormentor.”

As the title suggests, this play tells the story of someone who torments himself with his own thoughts and fears. Philintus is a wealthy young man who likes to gamble on chariot races with his friends.

When Philintus loses money at the race track, he worries that he has wasted his life and that he will never have enough money to retire comfortably. Instead of wasting more time worrying about his lack of security, Philintus decides to do something productive with his time. 

He turns over management of his estate to his slave and goes on a journey to learn about philosophy from professional teachers.

The prologue begins with what sounds like a conversation between two characters from another play: Proteus and Pamphilus. As it turns out, this isn’t an actual conversation between two characters.

Example 3: Prologue On The Elizabethan Stage

The Elizabethan stage, then, was not a complicated affair. It was a long platform at one end of the hall, with a gallery for musicians above it, and an open space for the stage-players at the other end.

In front of the stage was the orchestra or dancing place; to the left, “the upper end” or “upper bench”; to the right, “the nether end,” or “lower bench.” The play began in the early afternoon and usually lasted until dusk.

As soon as it was over, candles were lighted; but they did not improve matters very much.

The candles only made it possible to see that the actors had disappeared and that there was no play going on at all. When we go to a theatre nowadays, we expect to see something worth looking at; but in Shakespeare’s time people went chiefly to hear fine speeches set off by fine acting.

The best plays were those with most fine speeches and those with most exciting acting.

It is said that sometimes ten thousand people went to see one of Shakespeare’s plays. Sometimes they stood around on the floor in front of the stage.

Sometimes they sat up in galleries hung from the ceiling or they occupied seats along three sides of the room.

Example 4: Non-Dramatic Prologue

I’ve written this at a time when I’m feeling some degree of despair about the world, and about my place in it. For some time now I have been asking myself what it is that I can do to help improve the state of our planet, and, indeed, humanity itself.

This question has led me on a quest for knowledge and understanding, which has taken me down many different avenues over the past few years.

From science to religion and from politics to poetry; from investigating our history to exploring the reaches of our universe; from studying the intricacies of our bodies to unravelling the mysteries of consciousness; from considering the effects we have upon this planet to seeing how we are affected by it – I have been trying to educate myself as fully as possible on every aspect of human existence that I can come across.

I think everyone should ask themselves this same question. If you knew you only had a short while left on earth, what would you want to do with your time?

What would be your legacy? And most importantly, what would give you peace?

When I first started asking these questions, my life was ruled by fear and anxiety. I was constantly worrying about things that didn’t matter or that were out of my control.

Give Your Prologue A Purpose

Prologues are tricky. They’re not quite the meat of the book, but they’re also not quite a teaser for what’s to come.

The best prologues are short and to the point. If you could sum them up as a tweet, it wouldn’t be much more than 140 characters.

The prologue is an important part of your novel, so make sure it serves a purpose beyond giving away a few details about your story. Here are some questions to ask yourself before you write your prologue:

What question does my prologue answer? Your prologue should be answering a question that your readers would have after reading the first chapter.

Maybe it will explain how the main character got into their current situation, or why they’re making a particular decision.

This is something that you can play around with until you find something that works for your story; just try to avoid prologues that simply rehash what happened in the first chapter.

What purpose does this serve for my reader? If your prologue answers a question for your readers and meets their needs, then that’s great!

But if it doesn’t do either of those things, then you might have to rethink how you’re going to use this section of your manuscript.