Often demonized, the prologue can be a helpful tool for a writer or the true mark of an amateur.
You should never begin your story with a prologue.
That seems to be the hard and fast trend of recent years. No one wants to see your glimpse into the past because we need to be thrust into the now, the immediate present, to get into the meat of the story. All the stuff you put in that well-crafted prologue is the stuff that can be integrated into the story.
This is both true and a complete load of bullshit.
Do you want to have a prologue in your story? Then, by all means, have a prologue in your story! There is no writing rule other than an opinion that says you can’t put in a prologue.
In fact, there really are no “rules” for writing other than grammatical ones. There are specific ways to craft stories, techniques that work better than others, but there are no rules. Write your prologue.
So, why are so many people against the concept of a prologue? It’s rather easy to explain if we’re honest…
Most new writers use a prologue as an info dump. This is not what the prologue is for, and that’s why it is generally looked at as a horrid thing. I would advise any new writer that they must put a very critical eye on their piece if they choose to preface their novel with a massive info dump to bring the audience up to speed.
I hate to break the bad news to you, but info-dumping, anywhere in your story, is generally dull as hell. Is it sometimes necessary? Absolutely! Don’t abuse it, be concise, and for the sweet love of crab cakes, don’t info dump on your audience first thing.
Not only is this boring for the most part, but it’s also a lot of information to shove down their throat. People read fiction to relax and escape not to take a master’s class in the history of your make-believe world before getting there. Save the lengthy info-dumping for your world-building bible. You have to ease the audience into the intricacies of your world, not try to drown them in word vomit.
Use the prologue to serve the main story.
A good prologue gives you a look into what we can expect from the story further down the road. It’s no different from a typical opening chapter other than it can zoom back and forth through time. This is a tool that can be used to significant effect if used correctly.
Maybe we’re shown a traumatic scene from the MC’s past or a defining moment of the culture your intrepid explorer is about to dissect. Possibly we are taken to the final confrontation for a moment where our MC is struggling to survive, and the story itself is a flashback. There are many possibilities.
A prologue should always include some action.
Again, a properly deployed prologue serves to drive the story, and if you want to get the reader to continue reading the story, you need to hook them from the outset. You can’t do that if you’re telling someone what the world is all about. If you’re going to use this device in your storytelling, then you have to make it count. You need actions, key plot points that will reverberate through the story and make an impact overall. When you reach the end of the tale, that first mystery you introduced needs a resolution.
Most of the information in a prologue CAN be placed into the story along the way.
I would never suggest that you shouldn’t write a prologue. If it makes you feel good, do it. I would suggest you make sure that you look at it closely, though. At the end of the day, does it make your introduction to the world clunky? Then you need to junk it or work it into the story elsewhere. If at any point, you find yourself in doubt of having a prologue, chances are it’s unnecessary and will not lead you to a tightly woven tale that will amaze your audience.
Your real power as the creator of your tale is to write a concise story, delivering the maximum punch, as quickly as you can do so. This keeps the pace fast, the pages turning, and the audience begging for more.
There is nothing wrong with using a prologue as long as it adds to the overall narrative in a productive way. Please don’t use it as a world-building info dump.