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Prologues and Epilogues. Yes or no?
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The advice on prologues and epilogues varies from person to person. You’ll get either response depending on who you talk to. In fact, I could argue either way. In my opinion, the use of these literary tools greatly depends upon the story. I’ve used them. I find them useful.
The industry, however, has taken a hard turn away from the use of either prologues or epilogues in books. A reader once stated to me, why not just make that chapter one? The simple answer is, the text in the prologue is important to context but is not the story taking place in that book. The text in prologue elucidates the past, as the epilogue does the future. They’re short, related stories. When used properly, this piece of the text provides information to the reader that will be of use to the broader narrative. They are too much to break up throughout the book, and too large but not large enough to make a first chapter. See this article on them: https://www.nownovel.com/blog/what-is-prologue-epilogue/
The reason to not use them is that they’re thought to be superfluous. In many cases, fledgling authors misuse them. They’re either confused about what they do or are copying formats they’ve seen elsewhere without understanding the point of the format. A writer should ask themselves a few questions before employing the logues. Is it necessary? Is it a dump? Can it be broken up? Is it past or future of the main story?
Perhaps, you could unroll the information you wanted to provide in the prologue in the chapters of the book at some point (not to early or late to make an impact). Prologues could just be exposition (info dumps). If you find yourself just dumping information here, think about ways it could better roll out throughout the narrative. It doesn’t have to make a spectacular entrance. A prologue shouldn’t deal with future events coming post story (that’s the epilogue). A writer doesn’t always know if they’ll continue a book onto a series. Sometimes, however, they may wish to provide closure to the reader or hint at something future. This gives them the starting point for a sequel, but doesn’t lock them into it.
The way I treat these two tools is like the pre-credits and post-credits scenes in films. They set up your perspective and then they give a last tantalizing tale to get readers interested in more to come. For my series, this works well, just as it does for the Marvel franchise. The prologues provide a scene that can stand alone from the rest of the book, but is important to that book, information needed to make something click later. The epilogue tells readers, this story isn’t over, and here’s the preview of what’s next.
My work is cinematic in nature. My studies are around film and film writing, so it was always very natural for me to incorporate tools from one to the other. This is why my dialogue is so important, and you’ll see verbal cinematography taking place. That’s not a bad way to think about your book, either. Films use show-don’t-tell form better than any other medium because it is so visual. Films are also very close to books despite the visual nature. Firstly, they’re written (play format). Then, they’re produced by a marriage between photography and novel.
I don’t recommend them for most books. They don’t make much sense in something modern, romances, or memoir. A cozy mystery might benefit from one, but the writer will need to take care not to give away their mystery here. In writing history, I find myself drawn to their use. I cannot be certain that this is always necessary, but it can be a subjective matter. Blue Honor does not have a prologue. OP-DEC does. The choice to do this as stated above.
Blue drops you straight into the story and covers many years of time from beginning to end. The story did not require a prologue. The narrative is a grouping of events that did not need explanations. OP-DEC, however, was a top spinning on a pivotal event in Claire’s past. That event takes place well before the current story. Although resolved within the story, and shapes Claire’s decisions, this event wasn’t the main story. It was a rather enormous event, too. Treating it as a conversation or side idea didn’t feel right. The reader needed to witness it with Claire. It ties them to her and shows her humanity. Without that piece, readers may dismiss Claire as a spoiled young woman, or the entire affair flippant. A prologue is useful in preparing the reader and explaining why they should bother to care.
When I write, I tend to view my work as a conversation. I see myself sitting before you telling the story over coffee. The fact that the tale is fake doesn’t matter. Your belief is what matters, and I will use whatever tools at my disposal to achieve it. Thus, taking conversational tools, such as backstory, creates a nice connection between us, and thus engagement.
Readers may feel that prologues are skippable. I’ve known students who skip them in their readings, insisting they add nothing to the book, and they’ll save themselves ten pages. I can’t disagree with the assertion, especially if information in the prologue gets rehashed later. (That’s another way to know that the pro/epilogue isn’t necessary.) Yet, I have found that when cutting this corner, I have missed out on important insights. Therefore, I fall back on what I said above: it’s a place to share important tidbits with the reader or give them closure in the end.
If you feel that you don’t need them, then you’re likely 100% right. Using them is a choice, but it’s also an informed choice (or should be) about what they can do. Their use should be purposeful, calculated. Don’t write them because other books you’ve read have them. Those books had them for a reason. Look into how they function with those books to gain greater insight. Tidbits can always lead a breadcrumb trail from chapter 1 to chapter last. That can be a powerful impetus to the reader to keep them going.
Let’s hop on over to see what the other authors have said about prologues and epilogues on their blogs…
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