Amber Morn
Brandilyn Collins

Brandilyn Collins is a best-selling novelist known for her trademark Seatbelt Suspense™. These harrowing crime thrillers have earned her the tagline “Don’t forget to b r e a t h e …®”. She writes for Zondervan, the Christian division of HarperCollins Publishers, and is currently at work on her 19th book. Her first, A Question of Innocence, was a true crime published by Avon in 1995 and landed her on local and national TV and radio, including the Phil Donahue and Leeza talk shows. She’s also known for her distinctive book on fiction-writing techniques, Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors (John Wiley & Sons), and often teaches at writers conferences.
Visit her blog at Forensics and Faith, and her website at Brandilyn to read the first chapters of all her books.


There are exceptions to my prologue guidelines. I’ve made a few of my own.

In Parts I and II, we covered general principles for writing effective prologues. Although I warned to be cautious in using prologues, a number of my novels do include them. When did I write them and why?

All four books in my Hidden Faces series include prologues. This series is written in the first person POV of Annie Kingston, a forensic artist. All its prologues were written in third person from another character’s POV—they were “removed by space.” One (Stain of Guilt) was also removed by twenty years’ time. All four books had fast-starting first chapters but were made stronger by the addition of a prologue. (Hyperlinks are to these prologues.)

In Brink of Death and Stain of Guilt, I set up two-part inciting incidents. The crimes, from the POVs of witnesses, are in the prologues. The pulling of the protagonist into the solving of those crimes is in the first chapters. In Brink of Death, for example, the prologue is from the POV of a thirteen-year-old who sees the murder of her mother. Because she’s so traumatized, she never speaks much of the crime throughout the book. Annie has to jar her memory enough to draw a composite of the suspect. I wanted the reader to see the crime and feel the girl’s emotional state. And I wanted to set the tone for the book and its intensity. Did the book “need” this prologue? No. Is the opening enhanced because of it? Yes.

The above two prologues are an exception to my “make a prologue short” guideline. Both are seven pages.

The Dead of Night prologue is short—two pages. It’s a rant from the first-person POV of the killer. Again, the book didn’t need to start here. But I wanted that voice right up front, even before my protagonist’s. I wanted it to chill the reader, showing immediately what Annie would be up against. Web of Lies is different in that it blends the protagonists from the Chelsea Adams series, written in third person, and the Hidden Faces series, in first person. These variant POVs are kept in Web of Lies. (Don’t try this at home, folks. It nearly killed me.) The prologue begins in Chelsea’s POV, third person—and is very short. Chapter one switches to Annie’s first person POV.

I can’t cover all my novels, but I will also mention Capture the Wind for Me, third in my Bradleyville series (back when I wrote women’s fiction). I wrote this book’s first fifty pages or so without the prologue, but then decided I wanted to show an additional element up front. In the main story, the sixteen-year-old protagonist, Jackie, is trying to play “mom” to the family after her mother died over a year previously. I added the prologue of the family at the funeral to highlight the family’s

grief and that moment of switching from daughter to “mother” that Jackie had to make. I also wanted to establish up front the perspective of the POV. This first person story is told from the perspective of years later, looking back. The prologue establishes the narrative voice of the character, who is older and wiser than the sixteen-year-old we see in chapter one. This prologue is short and is removed in time.

As you can see, there are exceptions to my prologue guidelines. I’ve made a few of my own. You’ll likely find exceptions in various novels you’ve enjoyed. This three-part series on writing prologues wasn’t written to say, “Never write a prologue!” But I do hope these general guidelines will make you think twice about writing one, and that you now have a better understanding of what makes a prologue work.

One final caution: Just because you’ve seen an effective prologue that falls outside the guidelines we’ve discussed (perhaps even in classical literature), that doesn’t necessarily mean you should write one like it. What works in one novel doesn’t always work in another. And what one author is allowed to do doesn’t translate to all authors. Apply the guidelines I’ve given you to check if the prologue you’re considering works best for your book—and will help sell it in today’s market.

Read the Reviews for Dark Pursuit

Dark Pursuit