4 Ways to Use a Prologue in Your Romance Novel
Prologues play a unique role in novels. What’s most interesting is that prologues exist beyond the main scope of the story. They provide readers with information or context needed before readers begin the main story of the book. That’s why they are a separate section and not the first chapter.
So, knowing all of this, when should you use a prologue in your romance novel?
When something happens before the true beginning of the story that plays a large role in the book.
Does your character get a promotion and have to move states for her job? If you want your first chapter to begin with your main character moving into her new apartment or office, then you may show your character getting this promotion and agreeing to move in your prologue.
Perhaps you are writing a mafia romance, and a main character has a run-in that is going to come back to haunt him in the future. The prologue would be a great place to show this run-in or deal-gone-wrong that comes into play later in the story.
When a character, who in no way plays a role in the story, helps provide an introduction to the story or provides information that needs to be known.
This kind of prologue is one I saw for the first time in a romance novel only recently, though I recognize its importance. The character in the prologue is exploring a Salem cemetery and while there speaks with a possible ghost. The young ghost girl tells the woman the story of the person whose headstone she is looking at. This prologue was used to give context to the history of witch hunting and how it differed in Europe from the American colonies. It was an interesting use of a prologue and very helpful. As an American, I’d really only learned about the Salem witch trials. I needed the context of the European witch hunts before I began reading the story about a young woman accused of witchcraft and the man who helps her escape death.
If it is still hard to imagine what a prologue like this would be, think of the movie The Princess Bride. The movie begins with a young boy sick in bed and his grandfather coming to read him a story. These two have nothing to do with the story of Buttercup and Wesley, except to provide an introduction for the story to be told in the movie. This is pretty much the movie equivalent of this kind of prologue.
When you want to create dramatic irony, by showing readers something that the main characters would have no way of knowing.
I love dramatic irony! I am a big fan of prologues establishing dramatic irony for me as a reader. Basically, you are writing something that happens outside of your main characters’ sphere that they would have no way of knowing about. For example, you could have your antagonist speaking with someone about how he wants to sabotage a deal your main character is working on. Neither of your main characters would know this is happening, so you can use a prologue to tell your readers about this without your main characters being involved.
When the characters have a history together that occurs before the beginning of the story (usually a significant length of time).
This is one of the most common uses of a prologue in romance novels, in my experience. Often, this prologue is used to show the main characters interacting as children or teenagers. It can help readers understand the length and full nature of the main characters’ relationship. Whether they hated each other as children or were high school sweethearts who broke up for college, this prologue establishes context for the relationship between your characters.
These are the uses of a prologue that I have seen most often in romance novels. Have you used a prologue for a different reason? Comment below!