Throwback Thursday: Prologues and Epilogues – Is There a Point to Them?

 

Throwback Thursday is a series where we take a look back at some of AWP’s most popular posts. Enjoy!

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!

 

 

 

Original article here.

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.

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21 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday: Prologues and Epilogues – Is There a Point to Them?”

  1. Thank you for this post. I’m using a prologue in the first book of my series, because it sets the stage, sort of, by creating a somewhat dark opening and provides a bit of background. I can’t think of a better way to reveal this information, given that it comes from the PoV of a character who will not be introduced until a later chapter. For the last book in the series, I’m planning an epilogue, the rough draft is already written. But I do have a good reason. Unfortunately, I can’t say what that reason is, because it would be a spoiler.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well said! And coincidentally I have a blog post under construction with the words “To me, prologues are an unnecessary extension of the backcover blurb. I often don’t read them” but I do go on to say that occasionally one will work well. I think epilogues are pointless, a good fiction story with a good ending doesn’t need reinforcement.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It does in some instances. Like, for example, if it is a doomsday story where everything and everyone is annihilated, but then comes the epilogue providing readers with a silver lining. To simply say a writer should never include an epilogue or a prologue is just limiting the possibilities and putting creativity into a closed box. Conform or else!

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Not always, but also not never. Depends on the story. I have a scenario in which the final book will absolutely need an epilogue. There is no other way of imparting that information without beginning a whole new story and book/s. And who knows. Maybe I’ll carry on with that thread and begin a new series loosely related to the first. But the main objective is to get this first series written and then we’ll see. Have you read a song of ice and fire? Those books open with prologues, but it works. If something works, then use it. If not, find another way.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. My mentor once stated “The rule is there are no rules”. As you rightly said, they are a guide. Otherwise writers would all be generic, bland, stereotypes. A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan has superlative written and visual concepts which won her a Pulitzer Prize.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Strange! The description you found on Wikipedia of a “prologue” is not at all how I would characterize the one I wrote, which precedes Chapter One of my book. Mine tells of an incident which is meant to whet the reader’s appetite for more, and in fact ends on a cliffhanger, spurring him/her to read on. So to me, the prologue is a kind of teaser.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I think the problem with prologues and epilogues is that people use them too lightly and so end up writing useless prologues and epilogues.
    Personally, I think most stories don’t need either.
    I only wrote one prologue in my writing life and I got rid of it on revision. Nobody ever noticed.
    But I also read a prologue from a friend that, like yours, added to the story and there was no other way to convay that info.

    So I agree. We shouldn’t demonise prologues and epilogues. But really, we shouldn’t think they don’t hurt either 😉

    Liked by 4 people

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