Saturday, December 17, 2016

Include a Prologue or Epilogue, Yes or No?

I think this is an interesting topic, but the answer depends on the story the author is telling. Recently I've read many epilogues in books, particularly romances both historical and contemporary, where the epilogue shows how happy the couple finally are together with all the misunderstandings presented in the story at an end. My personal feeling after reading these is that some work, some don't. The same goes for prologues. These are very popular in scifi and fantasy books, and in mysteries or thrillers. They help set up a background event for the story, and because they are labeled a prologue, don't create a jarring jump for the reader when the second chapter starts in another place and time from chapter one. Yet sometimes a time or location byline at the beginning of the chapter accomplishes the same transition. Again, I think some work and some don't, mostly based on whether they draw me into the story or don't. Everything depends on the author's purpose for including a prologue or epilogue.

Prologue, according to Merriam-Webster Online, is "the preface or introduction to a literary work." I've seen introductions called preludes and prefaces, too, which seems incorrect to me. A preface is "the introductory remarks of a speaker or author," which to me in most cases appears in nonfiction rather than fiction. For me, a prelude is a more music-related term, although the definition could meet the label for a prologue. 

I admit to having used a prologue in Devil's Due, but I had a purpose. The previous two books in the Black Angel series had mentioned an event out of some of the characters' pasts to explain their present behavior, but many questions remained about exactly what happened. In the prologue of Devil's Due, I gave the perspective of what occurred from the person most involved in the disaster's results. That way the reader knew the character, who also had an active part in this book's storyline. It gave a historical background for his decision, his mental state, and his family's influence.

I will also admit I have yet to find the need for an epilogue, or "a concluding section that rounds out the design of a literary work." My last chapter usually completes that function, and I haven't found the need to have an epilogue to finish the storyline. (And yes, I know, it can be either storyline or storyline--I love English and its many peculiarities of spelling.) I have read some that worked, particularly in an ongoing series where the last chapter concluded the story's action, but the epilogue showed the continuation of some aspect or action within the story ancillary to ending.

Personally, I think the author needs to seriously consider what the prologue or epilogue add to the story, and if it is better explained in the story itself before using either one.

So my answer depends.

Visit these blogs for more opinions on this topic:
Margaret Fieland
Skye Taylor
Dr. Bob Rich
Marci Baun 
A.J. Maguire 
Victoria Chatham
Anne Stenhouse 
Helena Fairfax
Beverley Bateman
Connie Vines
Rachael Kosinski
Kay Sisk


  1. Hi Rhobin, Yes, it depends. One or two epilogues I've read are an 'expansion'. The book told a story, resolved a problem, but life goes on and the writer seems to have believed the reader needed to know what life went on to be... Maybe I just haven't written the kind of story that needs either yet. anne stenhouse

  2. I agree with you, it depends. It depends on the story and the abilities of the author. My most recent novel-length book The Whispering House has an epilogue. It's only a few paragraphs long. I added it because the story isn't really a romance, but there is a romance between the protagonist and someone who helps her. While the final chapter ended the storyline, it didn't give an ending to their love story, which was happy, of course. The epilogue was less than a page.

    There are people who believe prologues and epilogues are completely unnecessary. For instance, I met an agent a few weeks ago who firmly believes that they are completely unnecessary. (shrug) I've come to learn in my time as a publisher and editor that there are no absolutes, even if we'd like to think so. LOL


  3. Very much depends on the story - agreed. But experience with readers who have "issues" with either or tends to NOT read them on principle leads me to be very cautious about including them.

  4. Yes, Rhobin, I have often read prologues that were distinguished from the rest because of a time jump. To me, that's not a necessary reason, because, with my crazy complex mind, I have time jumps in all sorts of places within my stories. I can't have middle-logues all over the place, can I?

  5. Rhobin, one of my books has a 5000 word chapter that takes five years before the rest of the action. All I did was title the second chapter "Five Years Later."

  6. It seems to be that the common census of opinion is that if a P &/or E is used, it has to be short and very much to the point. However, Margaret's comment on how she dealt with a time jump, is just about a perfect solution for disposing of the dreaded P and not losing that sometimes crucial time span.

  7. A very well thought out blog and I found it interesting. I also agree the author needs to seriously consider what the prologue or epilogue add to the story, and if it is better explained in the story itself before using either one.

  8. The post is well written by the author. Jessica