One of my current manuscripts is a gothic-inspired horror. It’s got teens with abilities, adults doing questionable things, and a creepy, mysterious house. This is a pretty big genre shift from my action-adventure sci-fi books, which means my favorite part of drafting — Research! Aka, the time where I watch/read tons of stories and take notes on everything from themes to plot to quirky character traits. (This is honestly the best part of drafting in my opinion. There’s no pressure, you’re just learning, it’s all fun.)
My brand of horror leans more horror lite / slasher — more like Scream and not The Exorcist. Ready Or Not is one of my faves in this genre. It’s fun, a little scary + creepy, and leans heavily on action to deliver suspense. When I began brainstorming my story, I knew this was the experience I wanted to create.
One thing that I think the movie does really well is hint / tease at the horror and violence to come in the opening scenes. Without revealing too many spoilers, let’s see how this prologue sets up a few things that will matter throughout the story:
- Foreshadowing: The opening image is a teaser for the whole movie: it shows a demon-looking face with the words “Take a risk. Gain the advantage. (Something that the main character will have to do in order to survive.) There’s also a wounded man and people hunting them, foreshadowing events and violence to come.
- Mystery Setup: This whole scene sets up questions in the audiences’ mind: What is going on with this family? Why are they trying to kill one of their own?
- It’s these types of ‘why’ questions that will keep audiences watching as they try and figure out the answers!
- Theme: We’ve got a brother helping his younger sibling, then his mom saying “she’s so proud of him”. We see the bride and we assume the man being hunted is the groom. All of this is setting up not only the movie’s plot, but the themes of family and betrayal that will dominate the rest of the story.
- Backstory: We don’t know who these characters are, but it becomes obvious as the movie progresses. This opening scene sets up backstory that will be relevant later on in the movie.
For a scene that lasts less than three minutes, there is a TON of set up going on. The Scream movies also have great prologues that foreshadow things and themes to come. The lesson I learned here is: rather than using a prologue to info-dump, use it to hint and tease, to entice the audience, to set up these big questions. For my own prologue, I even followed this list as a blueprint when drafting.
If you’re working on a story right now, would a prologue like this be effective? 🤔
A version of this post appeared in my monthly newsletter. If you like analyzing stories and seeing a close up peek at what I'm working on and HOW I'm working on it -- Get the full version in your inbox; you'll love it.