So here we are at the beginning of our story. Our fingers are on the keys, our pen is twirling in circles over the page (or our thumbs are alternating between various letters and the delete key on our touchscreen) as we try to figure out the best way to start. It only seems natural to start as close to the beginning as possible, right? We can spend the first few pages explaining the main character’s past and bringing our readers up to speed, and then we can see where that takes us. That would be the logical way to go, wouldn’t it? Well, unless your story is a high fantasy containing a completely new world that defies the laws of nature, a rich history that directly impacts the main story, or the main character has a past that cannot be easily explained, you’re probably better off going a different route.
Prologues have a strong history of being the foundation for many successful and memorable works. Most of the classics contained a prologue, and to this day high fantasy novels usually require them to help the reader understand the new world they are venturing into. Sometimes, prologues are necessary and beneficial. Other times, not so much.
One question we should be asking ourselves is: As a reader, would we want to prep for a story before we were allowed to actually start it? Or would we rather dive right in and have things shown to us between the many adventures? As a confessed prologue-skipper of my youth, I would choose the latter. A story is meant to be engaging and fun, and you’re less likely to pull your readers in with a history lesson before they’ve had a chance to figure out what your novel is about. And if they’re reading the sample from Amazon, they’re unlikely to follow through with a purchase if they can’t grasp some basic understanding of the main plot.
Try, instead, to imagine a situation you would likely find your main character in and start the story there. This is much easier if you’ve already done your due diligence in developing your characters and plot. You should be able to imagine your character and how they would react in any given situation. It’s better if you jump right into the action. Begin as close as possible to the initial problem that sets everything in motion–you might even choose to start with that scene if it isn’t too confusing–and you will find your readers more likely to follow through with purchasing after reading the sample.
If this doesn’t come easy, if after trying and failing you still find your fingers only yearn to write that prologue, go ahead. Write it. Once you’re finished, you’ll likely have a much broader understanding of your plot, and a starting scene should flow freely from your fingertips (or thumbs).
Nothing in life is definite, and not every bit of advice applies to every situation, but if you can reel your readers in with action, you always should. Showing rather than telling pulls the reader into your world, and continuing to dish out in-depth, engaging scenes offers no chance (or desire) for escape, even long after your story has been told.
Jessica Victoria Fisette is the author of The Soul Reaper series, Fragments, and The Aldurian Chronicles. Her hobbies include discovering the benefits of natural medicine, wine tasting, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. She likes to unwind by typing out a scene or two in her latest obsession or indulging in a good book. Having been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, she is constantly coming up with new ideas for future stories and creating unique, strongwilled—albeit flawed—characters to overcome the difficult obstacles she places before them. Having spent all her life in rural Southeast Texas, she appreciates the tranquility of country living and hopes to implement such a love for nature into her beautiful, ever-so-curious little girl.
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