I knelt alone on the dungeon floor with my eyes shut. That way the darkness was a choice.
Thunderous cheers echoed down from the stadium. Already, they were beginning to chant my name. Draco. A name born out of irony.
As if on cue, steel-toed boots suddenly became audible over the cheers, signaling the guards’ approach.
My breath quickened as I struggled to calm myself down, my heart throbbing against my chest.
Three guards, I guessed, distracting myself with the sound of their boots. It was a game I’d been playing for years. I’d lost only once.
Suddenly, the boots stopped inches from my face. Reluctantly, I opened my eyes and looked up at three sneering faces, the crookedness of their smiles highlighted by a flickering torch.
Beardy, Nosy, and Torchy. None of their names were ironic.
I smiled back at them. Thirty-five out of thirty-six. Not bad.
“Smile all ya want,” Beardy growled, “we’ll break it off of ya yet.”
I believed him. Still, I kept the smile, if only to claim one last victory over the darkness.
Beardy just shook his head and kicked me in the chest with his steel toes.
With a bloody cough, I doubled over, barely staying conscious as Nosy unlocked my chains.
“Careful,” Torchy said, holding the torch close to my face. “I have money on him lasting longer than last time.”
Beardy picked me up by my collar. “He’s fine,” he said, spitting on my chest. “He can fight. Right, Draco?”
I nodded, the pain in my chest already receding as my rib cage snapped back into place.
“Come on now,” Nosy said as he twirled the key around his fingers. “We’ve gotta rough him up a little right? Even things out a bit.”
At that, the other two guards smiled maliciously. I could see the glint in their eyes as they considered whether or not to beat me. I’d learned not to let them stew on those thoughts.
“My audience awaits,” I said, struggling to maintain my smile as I gestured toward the ever-increasing shouts.
Beardy frowned at me for a moment before finally shoving me down the hallway, my hands still clasped together.
Condensation dripped from the stone ceiling, adding to the puddles that lined the hall. At first, a single torch was all that illuminated my path.
Seventy-three steps later I caught my first glimpse of daylight at the end of the tunnel. Even knowing what awaited me, I picked up my pace, blinking against the tears falling from my eyes.
I was still half-blind when I emerged onto the stadium floor, forced to keep my eyes on the hot sand hugging my feet.
Even as I stumbled in the sand, the stadium erupted in deafening cheers. Thousands of people crying my name.
Slowly, my eyes adjusted as Nosy released my hands from bondage, focusing on the pools of blood scattered across the white sand. A part of me wondered if the blood was my own.
Then, suddenly, the cheering ceased, leaving in its wake a reverential silence. My heart beat louder, causing me to shake as my audience held their collective breaths.
Squinting against the sun, I forced myself to look up, searching the clouds for my foe. The people in the stands did the same, each listening for the sound of wings beating against the sky.
I heard it long before I saw it, like thunder cracking against the stadium.
Too afraid to look away from the sky, I knelt in the sand, grasping for the blade I knew would be there.
The thundering grew louder as my fingers ran across the leather handle. A useless weapon, but a weapon all the same.
With my hands securely fastened around the blade, I took a calming breath. And for the thirty-sixth time, I was ready to die.
How do you write a compelling prologue?
Set the stage & Make them care.
1. Setting the stage
Your prologue is more than just the beginning of your story. It’s what tells the reader if they should keep reading. Through this prologue, I’ve told people what to expect in the rest of the book:
- Medieval environment
- And implicitly; redemption and freedom
Because your prologue is so important in this regard, you should be honest with it. I could have started this book out with a simple conversation or someone walking down the street, but neither would have hinted at the nature of my book as a whole. Show your reader what they’re in for.
2. Making them care
If you want to tell a story, go right on ahead. But if you want someone to listen to that story, then you have to make it worth their while. No one is going to sit through (potentially) hours of reading if they don’t care about what happens.
So how do you make people care… Ask interesting questions!
Now, in truth, there are many ways to make someone care about a story, and we will address each of these over time, but at its core, I believe good storytelling is all about satisfying questions and answers.
In the prologue above, I gave the reader plenty of questions to ask and very little answers.
Potential questions are as follows:
- Why is he in a dungeon?
- What did he do wrong?
- Who is keeping him there?
- (That’s all in the first two lines)
- Who is cheering and why?
- Why was he named Draco?
- Why is that name ironic?
- Why are the guards coming for him?
- How long has he been in there?
- What does he have to fight?
- How did his rib cage heal so quickly?
- How has he died thirty-five times already?
- How will he break out of the cycle?
There are more, but the questions above are the most pressing and engaging. Some which are answered within this same short passage and others which are only half-answered or not answered at all. All of which should leave you wanting to know what happens next.
It’s natural for humans to want answers to questions. Just make sure the questions are interesting enough, and they will keep reading for the answers.