– To have or not to have, that is the question
Last week a member of my writer’s group asked the rest of us if we thought the novel he was working on needed a prologue. The answer was unanimous—no. The other question he raised was if a book had a prologue, did that mean it required an epilogue? That question also got a unanimous, negative response—one does not necessitate the use of the other. Epilogues, like prologues, are done at the whim of the author.
As a reader I like prologues. The ones I don’t like are italicized and make it difficult for me to tell how far back in time they’re going, if at all. I hate prologues that involve a dream sequence, or long dream narratives anywhere in the book unless they’re short and meaningful to the storyline. But that’s my own taste as a reader.
Epilogues? I love epilogues. They’re very satisfying to readers like myself who enjoy knowing how the characters fared after the mystery is unraveled. Prologues and epilogues are most common in the mystery/suspense/thriller genre. If you’re writing in one of these genres, a prologue gives you the chance to begin your story twice, at two different points. But adding a prologue can work for or against your story.
Before adding a prologue, ask yourself three questions:
- Do you really need a prologue?
- What do you need the prologue to do for the story?
- Will it get the job done for you?
The prologue needs to be an integral part of the novel by offering the reader a compelling hook that will propel him into the first chapter. The prologue generally takes place in a different timeline from the rest of the novel. This timeline needs to be made clear in the prologue and again in the first chapter.
Advice from the pros is most often against using a prologue. Before including one in your novel, I’d advise doing some research first, and again I’d suggest adding Don’t Murder Your Mystery, by Chris Roerden, to your how-to library. The entire first chapter is devoted to the use of prologues.
I hope all of you had a nice Mother’s Day. I’d like to hear from everyone on the topic of prologues. Readers, do you like them? Writers, do you use them? If not, why? How about the use of italics? I find reading italicized sections annoying, so when I write I try to avoid using italics for lengthy sections. Any suggestions on how to set something apart from the rest of the story without them?
As always, I look forward to your input.
Have a happy and healthy week,