The bits at the ends, prologues and epilogues


Welcome back to another blog hop, with #OpenBook. Here’s this week’s prompt.


Prologues and Epilogues. Yes or no?


The simple answer is, it depends.

I realise that’s not a proper answer and I know that there are some who will argue to the death with me about that. There is an opinion that you should never use either and I (sort of) understand their reasoning.

BUT

I do believe that there is a place for a well written prologue and possibly an epilogue as well, although I’m less convinced about the latter, with one exception, which I’ll come to in a moment.

Prologues can be useful, to set up a story and impart background. Having said that, they should be carefully created and should NEVER be an information dump. I think that‘s where the opposition comes from, nobody wants to see something out of an encyclopaedia at the start of a novel. Nothing will put a reader off more than a long-winded description passage right at the start (or at any time).

The crazy thing is, it’s not necessary, there are plenty of ways of imparting background, such as in a conversation, or during an action scene that make it much more interesting and readable.

Done properly, the prologue can be a scene/confrontation/conversation that gets the reader so hooked into the story that they will have no choice but to read on.

I must admit that I have used them a few times. My Steampunk novel The Sensaurum and the Lexis has a prologue that is a scene between two pivotal characters, a conversation that justifies a lot of what is to come. information is imparted, but in a non-encyclopaedic way.

In one of my Andorra Pett mysteries, I used the prologue to give the ending away. The story then worked towards that point. A reviewer said,

I love that you know who the bad guy is from the prologue but the way the story unraveled to that inevitable conclusion was awesome!

 So I guess that one worked!


Epilogues, on the other hand, can end up as a sort of catch-all. A place to put all the plot points that haven’t been resolved by the time you get to THE END. I would say that if they are done like that, they’re the lazy way out.

If you couldn’t be bothered to address everything in the story, why have it there in the first place?

If all the epilogue exists for is to tell you what happened next (like those captions at the end of a movie), then you obviously have some idea of where the story could go. Why not write another few chapters, or even a sequel to explain it all?

The only sort of epilogue I like to see is Chapter One of the next part of the series. Then I know that there’s something to look forward to.

Even if it does have a prologue.



Let me know what you think about this week’s subject.

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10 Responses

  1. Stevie Turner

    Yes, some stories do benefit from a prologue to get the reader hooked. I like prologues and epilogues, but don’t use them for every story.

    • Richard Dee

      There’s a place, but they have to be both interesting and relevant.

  2. P.J. MacLayne

    My epilogues clean up the subplot points of the story. The “what happens after the mystery is solved.” Could they be another chapter? Most often, no. But I don’t want the reader to have to guess, either.

    • Richard Dee

      That’s fair enough, what I dislike is when the fate of the main players is relegated to a couple of lines. I often wonder if the growth of fan-fiction wasn’t a direct result of unfinished stories. Written by people who could see that there was a need for “what happened next.”

  3. Lela Markham

    I largely agree with you (and you and I have lots of similarities in our writing process). It depends on the story and what it needs. A writer needs to make a calculation of what does the reader want and need to enjoy the story to its fullest. Sometimes that’s a prologue and/or epilogue, but sometimes it’s not. And how an author does them changes from author to author. Unfortunately not all authors do them well.

    • Richard Dee

      I wonder if people think that they are different, a separate thing to the story? They approach writing them as such, not as a part of the narrative.

  4. Roberta Eaton Cheadle

    An interesting article, Richard. I have not used either in my books to date, but I only three novels so there is still time. Maybe it depends on the type of book and whether some background needs to be imparted to set the scene. I am thinking of War of the Worlds, where H.G. Wells described how the Martians had been watching mankind for years, planning to take over our planet, and that humans in our incredible arrogance, never appreciated any of the warning signals.

    • Richard Dee

      I felt that I had to put a prologue in one of my Steampunk adventures, but I tried to ensure that it read like Chapter Zero.

  5. Phil Huston

    Epilogues generally, as you suggest, are a lazy way out. And a good way to call attention to your fluff that went nowhere that maybe the readers read through an$ forgot.

    Ever had the experience of reading the end of a book, not knowing it, turning the page for the next chapter and it’s an excerpt from another book and you’re going W.T.F?

    • Richard Dee

      Like when you turn two pages at once and an extra character appears? Hell, yeah.

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