Peggy Bechko Ponders the Prologue

This is the Audi Prologue. Cool Car, yeah?
This is the Audi Prologue. Cool Car, yeah?

by Peggy Bechko

Ya gotta start the story somewhere right? Whether screen script, TV or novel. Sometimes we can just jump right into the story following that old adage “start late and finish early”, but other times we need a little something to kick start things. It can be particularly important in Science Fiction or Fantasy or Horror to give the viewer a hint at what’s coming and engage him.

It’s a bit more straightforward with a movie. The prologue can actually be a springboard into what happens next. It’s usually something that foreshadows some element in your script that slithers throughout the main element of the story or it’s something that lets the viewer know the characters of the movies wouldn’t have been in the upcoming situation if not for this happening. Think about the latest Jurassic World. The gigantic water predator (whatever the heck its long scientific name was) leaping out of the water and devouring… foreshadows what happens later in the movie. Ponder The Sixth Sense in which the viewer sees a shooting of a psychologist before the meat of the story begins.

Now I do want to add here, since I’m writing on TV Writer, that TV is a different animal in that TV most often offers ‘teasers’ rather than full prologues. Instead of a flowing element like in a movie at the beginning it more likely to have bits showing to entice viewing – such as a shot of this or that, the arrival of main characters on the scene and into the story. HOUSE, one of my favorite shows, did it admirably with medical conditions, who’s sick, how, why, what’s House’s (or one of his doctors’) problem this week, and into the story and the scrolling titles.

Now, really there’s no reason a movie couldn’t have a teaser or TV a prologue. Yep, you can do that. But keep in mind a teaser or prologue can’t be boring (let’s skip the character getting out of bed, or hanging at the office, or reading a newspaper at a coffee shop – unless there’s something really unusual about those). Make sure a ‘teaser’ actually teases (hints at what’s coming) and leads into the story. And make sure it somehow connects to something later in the story. Creating a question with a teaser is a solid winner in most cases, but of course your imagination is key – come up with something better.

So back to Prologsue. Don’t try to put too much into a prologue. You can’t squeeze in the entire backstory there. So stop. Instead use the prolog to let the viewer (or if a novel, reader) see that the characters really have no choice but to do what they do in the story. The Prologue is your catalyst, not your whole story. You can offer up some character flaws here, it’s a great gateway. But be sure you don’t reveal too much so your plot is laid bare from the very beginning. So a great prologue has a way of jumping your characters from one situation into another, ideally from the frying pan into the fire. You know, it just gets worse…and worse…and worse until the wonderfully satisfying resolution you create. But of course that last part I mentioned comes AFTER the Prologue.

Ponder the Prologue. Consider how it fits into your writing style and your story. Then let’s get it right.

Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her HERE. And don’t forget Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle.  Grab your copy of Book 2 now! And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page