FAQ Friday – Do I need to start my book with a prologue?
You may have seen my first post of this nature a few weeks ago addressing the elephant in the writer’s room about the nagging feeling of dissatisfaction about the previous day’s efforts. This post will take the same format as the last, where my answer is written in direct response to the original questioner, but, as always, I hope it can help one of my fellow writers who may have the same question at heart.
Question: You talked about the prologue and the promise. I am a discovery writer by the way, but sometimes I like to walk outside while listening to epic music to get inspired. The thing is that I don´t really feel comfortable doing a prologue because that could spoil a little bit the story. However, I am concerned about the readers. If I don´t make a prologue and I start with chapter one… well, of course, it will not be that interesting as the magical battle or evil growing on the prologue.
So what should I do? Spoil a little bit? Or just start showing my character from 0. I’ve had this dilemma for a while. I can assure you, Mr. Sanderson, that my story is going to be epic and different from the conventional. Just mindblowing. Transcendental. It will have a lot of scaling so I have to start from 0. But how can I lure my readers on the first pages without spoilers? (Question from A. Martinez)
Well, I’m proud to have been able to chat with you before you make it big! I like how you talk and how you think. Stay confident, but also to be willing to listen to feedback and criticism. If you want to become the great writer you dream of being, you do so (in my experience) by listening.
As for prologues, I should say that you certainly do not need them. In fact, many authors use them as a crutch. It is perfectly acceptable (even recommended by some editors I know) to skip the prologue and go right into your story. (Though it’s not something I often do myself, so perhaps this is a “do as I say, not as I do” sort of situation.)
The important part is not what you call your opening, but in making certain your opening is making the right kinds of promises. You say you want to start at zero and ramp up–that’s great, and you can totally do that. But try to devise an opening to your story that is engaging, and gives foreshadowing of the type of story you want to tell. Figure out how to start small, but make big promises. Some stories do this with a prologue. But other stories start with the protagonist trying something bold and beyond their skill, to show that they are challenging themselves–and this can be something as simple as running a foot race, or boldly speaking when others remain silent. It doesn’t have to actually include something epic to imply epic turns are coming.
Best of luck to you! I suggest just starting where it makes the most sense, then writing your story. Once you are done, you can look back at that opening and see if there are revisions you could make to better align it with the story you ended up wanting to tell.