by Helena Fairfax
Prologue and Epilogue. Do they have a use? Should they be used? Can you have one without the other?
First of all, the Prologue. Oh, the dreaded question of the prologue for writers. How I’ve agonised over this at times.
According to my useful friend Wikipedia, a prologue is: an opening to a story that establishes the context and gives background details, often some earlier story that ties into the main one, and other miscellaneous information.
I think that’s a great description. BUT should an author supply this context/background in the opening pages? Or is it better and more appealing to the reader if the author gets straight into the action and allows the backstory and context to emerge as the novel progresses?
This is the big dilemma for an author. Personally, I’ve only used a prologue once, and that was in my novel A Way from Heart to Heart. I wrote two drafts of this novel. Draft one started in the present day (with no prologue), with a scene where the heroine greets the hero on the doorstep. The atmosphere between them is a little distant, and neither character appears particularly sympathetic.
I intended to drop the backstory into the book gradually, because I’d had it drummed into me that prologues were a BAD THING by lots of writing experts. I read this passage aloud at my writers’ group and it didn’t go down well. It wasn’t obvious what was going on, and my hero came across like a bit of a stalker. That wasn’t at all what I intended!
So, after trying my best to avoid a prologue because “experts” told me it was wrong, I tried writing a prologue to “establish context and give background details,” as it says in Wikipedia. In the opening prologue to A Way from Heart to Heart as it has now been published, I describe how five years before the actual story begins the heroine’s husband dies in Afghanistan. In the prologue, she is brought the news by the hero.
The reader immediately has sympathy for them both through this prologue (at least I hope so!), it’s full of action, and it sets up the entire premise of the novel – that the heroine is terrified of further loss for her son.
I think prologues can be useful, but you should think very hard before using them, and only use them if the story will genuinely suffer without one.
And now on to epilogues. As a romance author, I do love a good epilogue if it shows the hero and heroine actually living their happily ever after. Epilogues can be useful if there are a couple of loose threads to the story that might leave the reader wondering what’s happened to a particular character. I’ve only written one epilogue, and that was for my novel The Silk Romance.
Again, I thought long and hard about it. It’s obvious at the end of the book that the hero and heroine are in love (I’m writing romance, so I don’t think I’m giving away any spoilers!) I could have finished the book without an epilogue, but I thought readers might like to find out what happened to the heroine’s family and best friend, and so I wrote a scene with them all together. I love to create a really happy, uplifting ending, and so I was really touched when a reader emailed me specifically to say how much she’d loved the epilogue. Hooray!…
What I’ve mainly learned through my own writing is you can tie yourself in knots trying to stick to so-called rules, but when it comes down to it you should write the story the way YOU think is best!
Guest post contributed by Helena Fairfax. Helena writes engaging contemporary romances with sympathetic heroines and heroes she’s secretly in love with. Her novels have been shortlisted for several awards, including the Exeter Novel Prize, the Global Ebook Awards, and the I Heart Indie Awards. Her first novel was written through the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme.