Does a Prologue Count as a Chapter?

The question of whether a prologue counts as a chapter is one that often comes up for authors, especially when submitting manuscript samples to agents or publishers. Many writers utilize prologues to provide important background information, set the scene, or introduce a new perspective before Chapter 1. However, there is some ambiguity around whether this preliminary section should be counted as its own chapter or separated from the main narrative.

This article will examine the purpose and function of prologues, how they differ from chapters, guidelines around numbering chapters, and best practices for handling prologues when requested to submit sample chapters.

What is the Purpose of a Prologue?

A prologue serves as an introduction to a story, providing vital context or backstory before the central narrative begins. Unlike a first chapter, prologues are often written from a different narrative perspective than the rest of the book. For example, a prologue may:

  • Provide background information on a key event or character
  • Set up the world and rules of the fictional universe
  • Offer a glimpse into a secondary character's point of view
  • Provide insight into a villain or opposing force
  • Establish an important theme or mood
  • Foreshadow major events to come
  • Serve as a framing device for the overall story

Prologues allow authors flexibility in how they introduce their stories and can help capture readers' interest right from the start. A skillfully crafted prologue draws readers in and gets them invested in the characters and events before Chapter 1 even begins.

Formatting and Style of Prologues

Structurally, prologues are formatted differently than numbered chapters:

  • They may use roman numerals (Prologue I, Prologue II) or simply be labeled “Prologue”
  • They are separated from Chapter 1 visually on the page
  • Often written in a different narrative voice than the main chapters
  • May feel more self-contained or operate outside the central arc of events

This distinguishes them from the sequential, numbered chapters that make up the bulk of the book. Prologues have a specific purpose and help enhance the overall story, but are not integral parts of the core narrative itself.

How Prologues Differ From Chapters

While prologues share some similarities with chapters, there are several key differences:


  • Prologues always come before Chapter 1
  • Chapters are numbered sequentially throughout the book

Narrative Style

  • Prologues may use a different narrative voice, perspective, or tense than the main chapters
  • Chapters typically maintain consistency in style and perspective

Story Impact

  • Prologues provide background information but the main story can often stand without them
  • Chapters directly advance the central plot and are essential to the overall narrative


  • Prologues tend to be shorter than chapters, usually 5-10 pages
  • Chapters vary more widely in length but are typically longer than a prologue

So while prologues share some DNA with chapters, they ultimately serve a distinct purpose and function within the structure of a book. This important distinction is key when determining whether a prologue should be counted the same as a numbered chapter.

Should Prologues Be Counted as Chapter 1?

When agents or publishers request a sample of chapters from a manuscript submission, there is often ambiguity around whether the prologue should be considered Chapter 1 or submitted in addition to the requested number of chapters.

The Standard Approach

The standard industry approach is not to count a prologue as Chapter 1 when submitting samples. Some reasons for this:

  • Prologues serve a different role than sequentially numbered chapters
  • Agents/editors want to evaluate the core storytelling and writing style
  • Main chapters better demonstrate plotting, pacing, and character development
  • Samples are short, and proslogues take up limited space

So if an agent asks for a 3 chapter sample, the standard is to send:

  • Prologue
  • Chapter 1
  • Chapter 2
  • Chapter 3

The prologue is included but not considered one of the requested chapters.

When to Deviate

However, every situation is different. Some cases where it may be appropriate to count a prologue as Chapter 1:

  • If specifically told by the agent/publisher to count prologue as Chapter 1
  • If the prologue is exceptionally long (30+ pages)
  • If the prologue contains vital plot information not repeated later
  • If explicitly asked for only one chapter (send prologue)

The best course of action is to clarify with the recipient if you are unsure whether a prologue should count toward the requested number of chapters. Follow their guidelines for what they consider a chapter sample.

How to Number Chapters With a Prologue

Assuming a prologue is being treated separately from numbered chapters, there are a few approaches authors can take:

1. Include “Chapter” Only for Numbered Chapters

  • Prologue (no chapter designation)
  • Chapter 1
  • Chapter 2
  • Chapter 3

This clearly delineates the prologue as its own section, outside the chapter numbering.

2. Number Prologue With Roman Numerals

  • Prologue I
  • Chapter 1
  • Chapter 2
  • Chapter 3

Roman numerals visually distinguish the prologue but still designate it as a numbered section.

3. Simply Label “Prologue”

  • Prologue
  • Chapter 1
  • Chapter 2
  • Chapter 3

No number or numeral needed for the prologue, just a label. This also differentiates it from the main narrative.

Any of these approaches are fine as long as chapters themselves follow standard numbering. Just be consistent throughout the manuscript.

Best Practices For Writing Prologues

If including a prologue in your manuscript, keep these tips in mind:

  • Keep it short – Prologues are often best at 5-10 pages. Don't let them grow too long.
  • Consider necessity – Make sure the prologue is providing important information not easily woven into Chapter 1.
  • Unique perspective – Use a different narrative voice or viewpoint than the rest of the book.
  • Pose engaging questions – Give readers hints about mysteries, secrets, or conflicts to come.
  • Clear separation – Format the prologue distinctively to differentiate it from Chapter 1.
  • Clarify numbering – When submitting samples, ask for clarification on whether prologue counts as Chapter 1.
  • Bridge smoothly – Ensure the transition from prologue to Chapter 1 flows well narratively.

Following these guidelines will help authors utilize prologues most effectively to enhance their stories. A compelling prologue can be a wonderful literary device when done well!

Key Takeaways: Should a Prologue Count as Chapter 1?

  • Prologues act as introductions that provide backstory and context before Chapter 1
  • Prologues differ from chapters in placement, narrative style, story impact, and length
  • The standard practice is to submit a prologue in addition to the requested number of chapters
  • Sometimes it may be appropriate to count a prologue as Chapter 1, so clarify with the recipient
  • Number prologues distinctly from main narrative chapters for clarity
  • Keep prologues focused, short, and differentiated from the main story perspective

In conclusion, while prologues and chapters share some common elements, it is best practice to consider a prologue separate from the core numbered chapters. This allows prologues to serve their unique literary purpose without being constrained by chapter numbering conventions. With the right approach, prologues can be an engaging narrative tool that enhances the reader's experience. Just be sure to clarify chapter requirements when submitting samples to avoid any confusion!


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