To some editors and many readers that “P” word, “prologue,” is almost a swear word. Piles of readers skip over prologues to get to “the meat” of the story. Some editors HATE them.
But…what if your story needs one? Here’s a strategy used by Lisa Unger in Beautiful Lies:
October 25th, 1972
There were times when she wished he were dead. Not that she’d never met him, or that he’d never been born, but that he’d get hit by a car or get himself killed in some other violent way like a bar fight, or his arm would get caught in a machine and he would bleed to death before anyone could save him.
She starts with a date instead of that “p” word, and pulls you right into the story. No need to label it “prologue”; it begins where it begins.
Michael Slade avoids chapter titles entirely in Headhunter,and instead chooses to go with a location, title, and date for each separate section.
For example, here are how the first two “chapters” of his book begin:
Medicine Lake, Alberta, 1897
The body hung upside down from the ceiling by nails driven through both feet. The head was missing, the neck severed to expose vein and muscle, artery and bone in a circle of raw flesh.
. . .
IS SOMEONE HUNTING HEADS?
Vancouver, British Columbia, 1982
Because his story jumps around a fair amount (even though it focuses on 1982), Slade uses this device to keep readers focused. In this way, it makes his prologue just another chapter of the book. It’s an opening guaranteed to be read (especially because of its opening line!).
Lesson learned? If you’re trying to avoid that “p” word, ignore it completely and move into your story with a specific date. It will ground your reader, and even a picky editor will have nothing to complain about. Problem solved!
Choose a date below and write a prologue that’s not a prologue. Notice how the date may affect the type of tale you tell? Here you go…
July 27th, 1967
December 24th, 2015
March 15th, 4444
Now choose the first one you have any kind of thought about, and start writing!