Foreign Friday: Prologue

“What is past is prologue.” – The Tempest


One of the best things about summer is that I have a lot of free time. One of the worst things about summer is that every else knows I have a lot of free time. The end result is that all my free time gets planned out for me with (albeit fun) activities that don’t leave a lot of…free time. Good for my social life, bad for my writing. Well, that’s just how it goes.

One of these fun activities was to go and see Shakespeare’s The Tempest performed in an outdoor theater. Brilliant production! If you’ve never seen Shakespeare acted out by people who know what they’re doing, you’re really missing out! Wooden O has been performing “Shakespeare in the Park” for 20 years in my area, and they are truly to be commended.

There is a famous line in The Tempest (which I quoted above), which gave me writing food for thought. Prologues (or so I’ve been told by my personal critic whom I respect most) are often useless, poorly written, and actually miss what a prologue should really be. What should I prologue really be? I haven’t reached that peak yet, but I’m scaling that mountain.

I know for myself that while I always felt that prologues are a waste of paper (because usually the information they give is either marginally irrelevant, or could easily be summed up in a paragraph in the main story), I find myself writing them anyway. There is something about prologues that makes me want to put something down. But is it the sort of information that needs to be placed in a prologue? Is it really the first thing I want readers to experience in the story?


I know that if done well, prologues can be very tantalizing, or very frustrating. Take the first page of Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle – that is a prologue of events to come. There are no words, but the action and the desperate emotion jump of the page at you. Yet the events they are prologue-ing don’t occur until THE LAST VOLUME! You plow your way through the series trying to find out how that single page fits into the story! I’d say that is an excellent use of a prologue (and yes, I am a CLAMP fan.) Another great use of the idea of prologue is the series Pandora Hearts by Jun Mochizuki. While there isn’t actually a prologue, the whole vibe of the story is centered on things in the past. It’s almost as if the main character’s life was a prologue to the events that follow in the series.

What do you think? Ever read a great – or terrible – prologue? Any prologue writing tips out there?

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