What Is a Prologue? Definition & 15+ Examples

Picture yourself settling into a cozy reading nook, eager to explore the pages of a brand-new novel. As you flip to the first chapter, you’re greeted by a fascinating passage that teases the essence of the story to come: the prologue.

In this article, we will explore the purpose, structure, and impact of prologues as we go through a treasure trove of examples from across the literary spectrum. So grab a cup of tea, and let’s embark on this delightful adventure together!

Definition of Prologue

A prologue is a literary device used to introduce a story, setting the stage for the main events and providing background information to the reader. It can establish mood, tone, and atmosphere and offers a glimpse into the world the characters inhabit, allowing the reader to understand the context of the narrative.

Typically found at the beginning of novels or plays, prologues are often separate from the main story, serving as a starting point before diving into the action. They can be written in different styles, such as narrative prose, poetry, or as a letter or conversation between characters.

Prologue vs. Epilogue

In literature, both prologues and epilogues serve as useful tools for providing context and closure to a story. However, they differ in terms of their placement, purpose, and content.

A prologue, as previously mentioned, serves as an introduction to the story. It is typically placed before the main narrative and often serves to establish characters, settings, or tones for the reader.

This allows authors to provide important background information or create anticipation before delving into the main plot. Prologues can be written in various forms, such as letters, poems, or monologues.

On the other hand, an epilogue is found at the end of the story. It serves to wrap up loose ends, clarify the fate of characters, or even hint at a sequel. Epilogues are generally shorter than prologues and may be written in a variety of formats, similar to prologues.

The following table highlights the major differences between prologues and epilogues:

PlacementBefore the main narrative.Wrap up loose ends, clarify character fates, and hint at sequels.
PurposeEstablish characters, setting, or tone; provide background information.Wrap up loose ends, clarify character fates, hint at sequels.
ContentLetters, poems, monologues, etc.Letters, poems, monologues, etc.

Understanding these differences can help readers and writers alike appreciate the nuanced ways authors utilize both prologues and epilogues to enrich their storytelling.

Prologue vs. Preface

When discussing the various elements of a book, it’s essential to understand the differences between a prologue and a preface. Although both serve as introductory sections, they have distinct purposes and characteristics.

A prologue is typically found at the beginning of a work of fiction, often setting the stage for the story or introducing key elements. It can provide necessary background information and establish the tone of the narrative. The prologue often takes place within the same story world as the main text and is usually written in the same narrative voice and style.

In contrast, a preface is a non-fictional section written by the author or editor to address the reader directly. It provides the context for the work, explains the author’s motivations and intentions, and might offer insight into the research or writing process. Rather than setting the scene for the content, a preface aims to establish credibility and engage the reader’s interest.

Fictional introduction.Non-fictional introduction.
Sets the stage for the story.Explains the author’s intentions.
Written in the same narrative voice
and style as the main text.
Addresses the reader directly.

While both prologues and prefaces can enhance a reader’s understanding of a work, their relevance, and intention are not interchangeable. Recognizing these differences helps to appreciate the unique contributions each element makes within the context of a book.

History and Evolution

The use of prologues has changed over time, reflecting shifts in literary styles and cultural sensibilities. The history and development of this literary device can be traced through various periods and genres.

Ancient Greek Drama

In Ancient Greek theatre, the prologue functioned as an integral part of the dramatic structure. Appearing at the beginning of a play, it often features a dialogue or monologue by a character that sets the scene, introduces the theme, and establishes the backstory.

Famous examples include the prologues in Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex” and Euripides’ “Medea.”

Medieval Literature

In medieval literature, the prologue continued to be an important narrative element. Often written in verse, these prologues served as an introduction to the story, addressing the audience directly and offering critical context for understanding the tale.

Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” features a well-known example in its General Prologue, in which the narrator describes each of the pilgrims and sets the stage for their storytelling journey.

Renaissance and Modern Works

During the Renaissance, prologues were common in both drama and prose works. In plays, they often took the form of an address to the audience, soliciting their attention and outlining the play’s themes. In prose, prologues are used to introduce the story, providing commentary on the characters, setting the scene, and explaining the author’s intentions.

In modern literature, prologues continue to be utilized in various ways, often giving readers a glimpse into the author’s thoughts or offering a preview of the story’s events.

The history and evolution of the prologue demonstrate its enduring popularity and adaptability as a literary device. From ancient dramas to modern novels, the prologue has served a multitude of purposes and continues to enrich the reader’s experience.

Purpose and Function of A Prologue

A prologue serves various purposes and functions in literature. Its main goal is to establish a strong foundation for the rest of the story.

Setting the Scene

Prologues often set the scene and provide crucial context for the main narrative. By presenting a specific time, place, or event, authors lay the groundwork for the story to unfold. This initial introduction helps readers understand and navigate the world of the narrative.

Introducing Characters

Characters are the heart and soul of any work of fiction. A prologue allows authors to introduce significant characters, explore their backstories, and establish relationships that will drive the story. Early introductions of these key players prepare readers for their later development and the roles they will fulfill within the story.

Establishing Tone and Atmosphere

The prologue can also set the overall mood and atmosphere of the work, preparing readers for the emotional journey ahead. A prologue may establish a tone of suspense, romance, or mystery, helping audiences to anticipate the narrative’s predominant themes and motifs.

Providing Background Information

Some stories require essential background information to aid reader comprehension. A prologue can serve as the perfect vehicle for conveying these details without interfering with the main plot. By conveying historical, social, or political context in the prologue, authors expeditiously provide readers with the knowledge needed to fully appreciate the narrative.

Creating Intrigue and Suspense

Prologues can be highly effective in generating reader interest by incorporating elements of intrigue and suspense. By hinting at the conflicts, dramas, or mysteries set to arise throughout the story, the prologue encourages readers to remain engaged to discover how these entanglements will unfold and resolve.

The Function of A Prologue

Prologue Sets the Stage for The Story

A prologue serves several essential purposes within a work of literature. The primary function is to set the stage for the story, providing readers with essential background information, establishing the setting, and introducing key characters. This eases the reader’s transition into the main narrative by building the proper context.

Prologue Is Used as A Tool to Grab the Reader’s Attention

Prologues are also used as a tool to grab the reader’s attention and raise their curiosity. By hinting at future events or conflicts within the story, a prologue can spark interest and ensure the reader stays engaged. This early engagement can be crucial in maintaining the reader’s motivation to continue with the rest of the story.

Prologue Establishes the Tone and Mood of The Work

Another key function of a prologue is to establish the tone and mood of the work. Elements such as description, dialogue, and narrative style can set the atmosphere for the story and provide an early impression of the author’s narrative voice.

In some cases, a prologue may introduce a key theme or central conflict that will be developed throughout the story. It can present a narrative element that will become significant later on, foreshadowing events and relationships essential to the plot.

Here are examples of some common uses of a prologue:

  • Introducing a major event or circumstance that has an impact on the main storyline but occurs at a different time or place.
  • Offering a significant piece of history or backstory to give context to the main narrative.
  • Presenting a different perspective or alternate point of view to add depth to the central story.

Rules of A Prologue

A prologue serves as an introductory section in a literary work, often providing important context, background, or foreshadowing. To create an effective prologue, writers should adhere to a few key rules:

A Prologue Should Be Relevant to The Main Story

First and foremost, a prologue should be relevant to the main story. It may introduce characters, settings, or conflicts, but it should not delve into unrelated topics or events. Writers should ask themselves if the information provided in the prologue is crucial for understanding the subsequent narrative.

Keep the Prologue Brief and Concise

Second, keep the prologue brief and concise. Since it is an introduction to the main story, it should not be overly lengthy or contain excessive detail. The primary goal is to capture the reader’s attention and set the stage without overwhelming them with information.

Maintain a Consistent Tone and Writing Style

Third, maintain a consistent tone and writing style with the rest of the work. The prologue should not feel out of place or disjointed, so it is important to establish a similar mood, voice, and pacing as in the main narrative. This ensures a seamless transition for the reader as they progress through the story.

Consider Using Literary Devices

Lastly, consider using literary devices like foreshadowing or flashbacks to create intrigue and enhance the overall narrative. However, use them judiciously, as overdoing these elements can make the prologue seem forced or confusing.

By following these rules, writers can craft a compelling and effective prologue that enriches their storytelling and engages readers from the very beginning.

Types of Prologue

Expository Prologue

It serves the purpose of providing background information or establishing the setting for the main story. This type of prologue often presents the reader with historical context, social and political issues, or important events occurring before the main narrative begins.

Frame Story Prologue

It involves a character or narrator who introduces the main story by telling it to others, thereby framing the narrative. This type of prologue can add depth and perspective to the story by offering an additional perspective or context for the events being recounted.

Foreshadowing Prologue

It contains hints, clues, or events that give the reader an insight into the outcome or significant events that will unfold in the main plot. By creating intrigue and sparking curiosity, this type of prologue arouses the reader’s attention and encourages them to continue reading.

In Medias Res Prologue

It begins in the middle of the events or actions of the story. This type of prologue can plunge the reader directly into the intensity of the narrative, while the backstory and context are revealed gradually throughout the rest of the work.

First-Person Prologue

It is narrated from the point of view of a character in the story, usually in their own voice. This approach can create a strong connection between the reader and the character, engaging the reader with the character’s emotions and experiences.

Epistolary Prologue

It is presented in the form of letters, documents, or other written communication. This style offers a unique narrative perspective and can provide the reader with crucial information, character insights, or clues to understanding the main plot.

Poetic Prologue

It is written in verse, often incorporating stylistic and thematic elements that echo throughout the rest of the work. This type of prologue can set the tone, mood, or atmosphere of the story while also engaging the reader on an emotional and aesthetic level.

Examples of Prologues


In novels, prologues are often used to set the stage or introduce important themes.

Examples include:

  • “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens
  • “Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare
  • “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss

Epics and Poems

Prologues can also be found in epics and poems, serving similar purposes as in novels.

Examples include:

  • “The Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer
  • “Paradise Lost” by John Milton
  • “Beowulf” (anonymous)


Theater productions may include prologues as introductions or explanatory segments.

Examples include:

  • “Henry V” by William Shakespeare
  • “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder
  • “Into the Woods” by Stephen Sondheim

Film and Television Shows

In film and television shows, prologues can be incorporated to provide background information or set the stage for the story.

Examples include:

  • “Star Wars” series (opening crawl)
  • Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (voice-over by Galadriel)
  • Game of Thrones (first scene of the series)

Video Games

Prologues in video games can introduce players to the game world, characters, or plot.

Examples include:

  • “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  • Dragon Age: Origins
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Graphic Novels and Comic Books

Finally, prologues in graphic novels and comic books are used to set the mood or provide context for the story.

Examples include:

  • “Watchmen” by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
  • “V for Vendetta” by Alan Moore and David Lloyd
  • “Y: The Last Man” by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra

Dos and Don’ts of Writing a Prologue

When writing a prologue, it is important to follow some key guidelines to ensure it effectively serves its purpose in the story. Here are several dos and don’ts for crafting a successful prologue:


  • Introduce an essential element of the plot or a central character.
  • Provide essential background information, such as historical context or setting.
  • Set the tone or atmosphere of the story.
  • Use a voice or style distinct from the main narrative if it enhances the prologue’s purpose.
  • Keep the prologue brief and engaging to captivate the reader’s attention right away.


  • Include excessive exposition or unnecessary background information that could be presented later in the story.
  • Write a prologue that is overly long or complicated, as it may deter readers from continuing with the main narrative.
  • Introduce characters or plotlines that are never mentioned again in the story, as it may confuse readers.
  • Use the prologue as a showcase for your writing skills rather than focusing on its purpose for the story.
  • Include a prologue just because it seems like a popular trend, as it should only be included if it benefits the overall narrative.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long should a prologue be?

The ideal length of a prologue varies depending on the specific needs and intentions of the author and the story being told. Generally, a prologue should be concise and focused, providing necessary context or background information without overwhelming the reader or detracting from the main narrative.

As a rule of thumb, prologues tend to be shorter than average chapters in a book, but there is no fixed length that applies to all cases. The key is to ensure that the prologue is engaging, relevant, and well-written while delivering the required information to help the reader understand the story or pique their interest.

Additionally, the author should consider the overall length of the work when determining the appropriate length for a prologue, with shorter works often requiring briefer prologues than longer ones.

Ultimately, the length of a prologue should be determined by its purpose, the requirements of the story, and the author’s preferences, with careful revision and editing to ensure it effectively serves its intended function.

What are the factors to consider when writing a prologue?

When writing a prologue, it’s essential to consider several factors to create an engaging and effective introduction to your story.

First, determine the purpose of the prologue, whether it’s to provide background information, introduce characters, set the scene, foreshadow events, or establish the tone. Having a clear purpose helps you focus on what information to include.

Ensure the content of the prologue is directly related to the main story and avoid unnecessary details or tangents that may confuse or disinterest the reader.

Keep the prologue concise, balancing the need to convey important information with maintaining reader engagement. Consider the narrative voice and point of view, and ensure it’s consistent with the rest of the story or intentionally different for a specific reason.

Additionally, make the prologue intriguing and compelling, as it’s the first impression readers will have of your story.

Finally, think about the overall length and pacing of your work, ensuring that the prologue complements the main narrative without being too long or too short. By taking these factors into account, you can create a prologue that effectively sets the stage for your story and draws readers in from the very beginning.

What makes a bad prologue?

A bad prologue can detract from the reader’s experience and hinder their engagement with the story. Some characteristics of a bad prologue include irrelevance, overwhelming exposition, excessive length, lack of intrigue, and inconsistent tone or style.

A prologue that doesn’t connect to the main story or provide important context can confuse or frustrate readers, while one that is overly dense with exposition can be overwhelming and tedious to read.

A prologue that is excessively long or slow-paced can lose the reader’s interest before the main story begins. If the prologue fails to capture the reader’s attention or generate curiosity about the story, it’s not serving its intended purpose.

Additionally, a prologue with an inconsistent tone or style compared to the rest of the work can be jarring and create confusion unless done intentionally for a specific effect. To avoid writing a bad prologue, focus on relevance, conciseness, engagement, and consistency with the overall narrative.


A well-crafted prologue serves as an essential element in capturing readers’ attention and setting the stage for your story.

By carefully considering the prologue’s purpose, ensuring it’s relevant to the main narrative, and maintaining an appropriate length, you can create an effective introduction that invites readers to immerse themselves in the world you’ve created.

A successful prologue should not only provide necessary context and background information but also pique the reader’s curiosity and establish the tone of the story. To achieve this, focus on creating engaging content that is consistent with the overall narrative while keeping the prologue concise and avoiding unnecessary details or tangents.

Additionally, pay attention to the narrative voice and point of view used in the prologue, as this can impact the reader’s connection to the story and characters. Ensure that the style and tone of the prologue blend seamlessly with the rest of the work or create a deliberate contrast for a specific effect.

The prologue is your chance to leave a lasting first impression on your readers. By prioritizing relevance, engagement, and consistency, you can skillfully set the stage for an unforgettable reading experience.

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Aerielle Ezra is an enthusiastic student of architecture who has a wide range of interests, including psychology, lifestyle, and relationships. Apart from her studies, she also likes to engage in athletic activities, particularly volleyball. When she is not playing, she spends her free time watching her preferred sitcoms or reading her favorite books, which include fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and horror.