How long is a Prologue?

The title says it all. I’m curious to know what everyone thinks the length of a prologue should be? When should you switch to Chapter 1 or something alike. I normally see the Prologue as something that happens before the story, like a background or LORE. But I’ve come to realise that depending on your story, that can be just as long as a normal chapter.

Most stories I’ve read have their prologues pretty short, either a quarter of a normal chapter or half…? So, what’s the verdict?


The prologues I have written for my IF projects all have ended up be chapter length (4,000 to 15,000 words).

These are not final draft prologues, but they tend to follow the main structure I establish for each story in general terms.

1 Like

Between 4k to 15k is a big JUMP but I hear you. Mine is bordering 15k + and I’m not sure when it would be smart to cut it. I guess I could simply have the first chapter focus a lot on the background of the story as well… if there are any rules against that or taboo?

A story usually starts when a pre existing balance is either altered or broken.

Pro (before) + Logos (discourse)

Therefore the prologue is not exactly a “chapter”, because it tells the premises before the actual story starts.

As for the length: the shorter is it, the better… Readers nowadays have less patience and spare time than in the past.


But that’s exactly my problem! :persevere:

The prologue focuses on the background of the current plot, but it’s turning out much bigger than I excepted. Should I continue this throughout Chapter 1 (even though the story hasn’t actually started) to save readers the boredom of reading a Lord of the Rings length of a Prologue or keep it all in the Prologue since it is before the actual story?

I mean, in my story, the Prologue is only the Prologue in plot and name. There are still normal choices happening as if the story had already started. Does that mean that the story did already start? Am I confusing the start of the story with a huge timeskip? Writing is indefinitely hard…


My last prologue was shorter because the introduction to the game world and setting was easier (Greek myth is better known than say Scythian hunters) but I use the prologue to get the reader “connected to my writing”…

I am uncomfortable with my prologues becoming bigger than three normal short stories … so at about the 10,000 to 12,000 word length, I look to restructure/rewrite them.

These are my personal thoughts on the topic of prologues, so remember there is no “singular right answer”.

At the point that you are, 15000 words, I would look to do this.

No, there are no rules or taboos to include your info and world building within the main story… many readers have expressed their preferences for this over the years too.

How much branching, interaction and choice is in your prologue? Occasionally, the amount of these things you have will inflate or deflate your numbers.

One of my largest prologues had turned into a full fledge chapter because the amount of character customization I have in it is extreme, so I ended up just restructuring the story.


Then… it would be a book as of itself, no?


That makes sense, I’m no expert world-builder, my story is set in a fantasy fictional world and I’m not very good at exposing that to the player. The world is only minimally different from any other fantasy world so I only mention things that are actually important (to the plot or the aesthetic).

I do have a big chunk of customisation and choices in the Prologue (and I was thinking of adding more). Right now as it stands at 15k, that is only because there are different branches in some choices. A single playthrough of the Prologue would probably be half of that or less.

Either way, solid advice. I will cut the Prologue up and have Chapter 1 focus on the background of the Main Character as well. It’s not overwhelming (at least to me) so I don’t think readers will dislike it. (I might be jinxing it)

Minor exaggeration but sometimes that’s how it really feels… :face_exhaling:


Prologues are used to show you events before or separate from the events of the story (the destruction of the kingdom 100 years ago, the MC witnessing their mothers brutal death, etc). But they shouldn’t over take the actual story. It shouldn’t be used to dump a pile of information on the reader they could learn later. And it shouldn’t be used to have fun exploring a different story/setting. The last thing you want is the reader to say “why isn’t this the book? It’s way better!”

Ex: the destruction of the kingdom prologue takes us through the events of the final battle through the perspective of a certain character. It isn’t a textbook explaining everything that happened in detail.

Ex: the mothers death prologue should take us through the day of her death, showing us the family dynamic and the destruction of that dynamic. It isn’t an excuse to take us through days of the MCs life, meeting every possible character with a “wink* you’ll meet them again”

My rule of thumb: if it’s longer than your other chapters (not my chapters, not J.K Rowling’s chapters, but yours) then it’s probably too long (but not necessarily. Just be careful)


For context’s sake. The story is about the MC and their child. That’s literally the whole story. But I wanted the prologue to focus on before the MC had the child, and setting up the main antagonist. However, it is getting very long so you’re right in “exploring different story/setting” because at the end of the Prologue there would be a major choice that would impact the rest of the story.

Can’t speak for this point since I am not sure how long the chapters would be. I guess, I’ll have to write the Prologue and at least one Chapter to see where I should divide them. There’s also a major timeskip that would happen between the Prologue and the first Chapter, but if the Prologue is getting too long, I might put that timeskip at the end of the first Chapter.


I think one of two things are happening with you

  1. You’re focusing too much on the aspects of the MCs old life that won’t matter after the time jump. In that case, you should try to condense those sections

  2. Everything you’re saying IS important to the rest of the book. It might be long, but there’d be no story without it. In that case, you should see if any of it can be said later. But if you can’t move anything, it’s fine. It’s as short as it can be without messing with things


You make a very fair point, I think I got to stuck with the backstory because when I first started writing this story, I had already written a big chunk of the background. But yes you’re right, most of these things won’t matter in the future.

This really put things in perspective for me. Thank you so much!


What is a story? :joy:

Anyway, just going with the most widely accepted division for structure. Protagonist life is in a certain state (Stasis), something unexpected happens that shifts or unbalances the current state (Inciting Incident), introducing chaos, now, for the rest of the story, the protagonist will gradually move to a new state of balance which can be the same as before (restoration) or a new state (transformation).

Everything that happens from Stasis to New State is part of the main story. However, you may feel the need to introduce certain characters or plot points before the story begins. Keep in mind that background information can always be given organically as the story progresses.

Ask yourself if what you’re displaying in the prologue is utterly indispensable.

Now to examples.

Star Wars – A New Hope (Episode Four)

The movie jumpstarts with Darth Vader boarding Princess Lea’s ship. She manages to send a message out to Obi Wan Kenobi.

Later we are introduced to Luke and his Uncle Owen looking to buy new droids (Stasis). They come across R2D2, which shows the message from Lea. Luke figures Obi Wan is an eccentric hobo living nearby. Luke finds out that Obi Wan is a former jedi and the message is from the Rebellion. Agents of the Empire, tracking R2D2, come accross Like’s home while he’s away, and murder his family (Inciting Incident). Now Luke is determined to join the Rebellion against the Empire.

Note that, strictly speaking, we don’t need the scene where Darth Vader boards Lea’s ship. We can infer a lot from what we see in the story. However, the prologue does setup a smooth transition and establishes a few things, such as tone, the main external conflict, introduces Lea (which only shows up again in the second half of the movie), etc. So there’s value there, but even if you remove the prologue, the story stands on its own. If that’s not the case for you, it might be the case that either the prologue is really part of the main story, or you need to work more on the main story and not rely too much on the prologue.

Hercules (Disney Animation)

The movie starts with Hercules “christening”, all the gods come pay tribute to the first born of Zeus. Hades is clearly dissatisfied with his position in the cosmic hierarchy. Hades leaves Olympus in a fit of anger and consults with the Three Sisters. They tell him that Hercules will become an obstacle to his plan to take over Olympus. Hades sends his minions to kidnap and kill Hercules, but they screw up and Hercules survives, stripped down of his goddly status. He’s found and adopted by a mortal couple.

Many years later, Hercules is shunned and despised by everyone because he’s a clumsy teenager with superhuman strength (Stasis) and destroys everything he touches. He finds out that he was adopted and his real father is none other than the Almighty Zeus (Inciting Incident). Now he’ll spend the rest of the movie trying to reacquire his goddly status so he can return home to the other gods and not be shunned or despised anymore.

Again, strickly speaking, we don’t need that initial prologue, we learn what happened to Hercules together with him in the main story. But the movie is all the better because we get to witness all of that. We see Hades and his arrogance and resentment which will lead him to try to murder his own nephew. We get first hand account of the prophecy from the Three Sisters. We get one of the best songs in the movie (:joy:), but even if you were to watch without the first few minutes the story still stands on its own. That’s what a prologue should do.


I was about to say something similar to what Anna had said, so I’ll just add on this. Backstory is usually best explored through things that happen in the front story. In my own WiP, I try to do this by implementing an optional Extra Scenes tab in the stats page. When MC’s pick certain dialogue options, certain extra stories unlock in that tab and they have the option of going to read them if they want to learn more about what was said. You could also do this by having “collectables” in your game and they unlock when the MC picks up a certain item, or looks at a certain picture. That’s the best way I’ve found to do it, personally.


That’s a great point, the fact that the story has to stand on its own without the Prologue is something I hadn’t thought about. But you’re absolutely right. I wanted to use the Prologue for the readers to meet one of the parents of MC’s child, and their ex partner. By allowing them to meet, it would help the readers understand the anguish of grief and loss.

However, I did get bogged down with details and might made it too long in hopes of creating a connection. That, in my opinion, can be avoided, as the connection is already made and there’s no point in deepening it. But these are great examples and I very thankful you took the time to write them and explain them for me, examples really make my brain understand a situation better, so thank you!

I have never seen a story do this! That’s really cool and unique. I will definitely use that as inspiration. Perhaps the reader can find Letters (it fits the theme of the story) and can read them in the stats to understand more of their backstory. Thank you so much, this give me lots of ideas!


Short prologue is probably best. Readers are often impatient. Exposition can come with narrative. Though a backstory chapter for something like the 2nd or 3rd chapter can be quite lovely if done well.


Thanks, will definitely keep that in mind. This whole thread probably saved me a headache…