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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Prologues and Epilogues by Kaye Spencer

I love a book or a movie that has a prologue and an epilogue. It's like getting mini-stories within the larger story. Prologues set me up right at the get-go with background information that kick-starts the story and gives a mind-set for what's to come. Epilogues wrap-up the story in a nice tidy package with information about what happened later.

I like that. I really, really do.

In the prologue, I love to read what happened to the heroine that brought her to the doorstep of Chapter One or about the terrible angst in the hero's childhood or teenage years that molded him into the gunfighter or drifter he is when I meet him in the story.

Prologues that foreshadow or are the ending of the book as a way to begin the book (hope that made a sort of weird sense) are my favorite. This preference probably stems from the way I read books and watch movies. I read the end of the book or watch the end of the movie BEFORE I decide to read and/or watch. I don't like surprises. I want to know how it all turns out before I start, so I know whether to invest my time or not.

A famous example of prologue and epilogue is found in William Shakespeare's play, Romeo and Juliet.

Two households, both alike in dignity,  In fair Verona, where we lay our scene...
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life...

We know how this ends right up front, but we still go along with the story any to its epilogue finale.

A glooming peace this morning with it brings...
For never was a story with more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

Clive Cussler writes great prologues, sometimes two in one story, and they're stuffed full of historical background necessary to the contemporary plot. A prologue within a prologue. It makes me just a bit giddy when he does that. (example: Cyclops, Sahara)

Michael Crichton wrote great prologues, too. (example: Congo)

The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara, caught my attention in the prologue with the way he introduced the Battle of Gettysburg's commanders and officers, and how he brought the bigger picture of the American Civil War full circle with a brief "and this is what happened to each of them after the war" in the epilogue.

My favorite book, The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley, begins with a prologue and the words, Morgaine speaks... It ends 876 wonderful pages later with an epilogue and a last sentence: Her work was done.

Even western author Louis L'Amour, who disdained the use of prologue and/or epilogue, did squeeze in a form of epilogue in a few of his books. You'll recognize is by the scene break followed by a few paragraphs to tidy-up the story. An example is in Dark Canyon.

If you should come, after the passing of years, across the sagebrush levels where the lupine grows, and if by winding trails you should come to the slopes of aspen and pine, you might draw rein for a while among the columbine and mariposa lilies and listen to the wind. Do not look there, at the foot of the Sweet Alice Hills, for the house of Riley, for it is gone... Rimrock is gone... Gaylord Riley and Marie moved to California when the children were old enough to attend school...

Pretty slick way to sneak in an epilogue if you ask me. *wink*

Randomly, here are other books with notable prologues and epilogues:
  • K-PAX and On a Beam of Light by Gene Brewer
  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  • The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman
  • The Phantom of the Opera by Gason Leroux
  • Lost Horizon by James Hilton
  • Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
  • Dan Brown's Robert Langdon thrillers/mysteries/drama (pick your genre) :-)
  • Several of Don Coldsmith's historical fiction novels (The Spanish Bit Series and related, extended novels)
  • Anne McCaffrey's fantasies
  • J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit is, in a fashion, a novel-length prologue
As for a few movie prologues...
  • The Fellowship of the Ring (J.R.R. Tolkien) opens with a lengthy expository prologue
  • Disney's Beauty and the Beast - we know right away how the beast was cursed
  • Star Wars. In a galaxy far, far away... Those words rolling away on the big screen to give the history... Brilliant
  • Opening minutes of National Treasure when we find out how the "Charlotte" message was handed down through the Gates family
  • James Bond movies
  • Phantom of the Opera
  • Terminator - opening shows Los Angeles in 2029 then the story returns to the present
  • Citizen Kane

So, why are prologue and epilogue on my mind? I'm glad you asked.

I have a completed historical family saga that I am caught in a cycle of edit/rewrite/repeat. However, the one thing that hasn't changed over the years of working on this story is its prologue, which is a flashback to the events at the end of the book, and the epilogue, which is the aftermath of those events. When I publish this book, and even though I know many readers will skip the prologue and epilogue, I'm going to keep them in the story anyway.


Because I love them. I really, really do.

My stories are available on
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Until next time,

Kaye Spencer
Writing through history one romance upon a time

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  1. Finally, someone who reads books like me. I read the first tow pages and then the end. Only way to read a book. *GRIN*

    Kaye, it is rare that I don't read prologues and epilogues for the words were written for a reason and I have to know. So having said that, I'm waiting for the new ones in your stories to come. *Smile* Doris

  2. Doris,

    I totally agree about the prologue and epilogue being written for a reason. I wouldn't care if a prologue was labeled "Pre Chapter 1" or "Chapter .5" or whatever. lol I can choose to read it or not. If it works and adds to the story, then great. If it doesn't, then I can dismiss it and go on to read the book.

    You're so supportive. *hugs* We really don't have a good excuse not to meet in person, since we're about five hours apart. Thinking... *grin*

    1. My summer season ends about mid-Sept. Maybe LaJunta could be a happy meeting ground. Doris

  3. I've only written a couple stories with a prologue/epilogue. I read an article in recent months that discouraged them and stated that readers were put off by prologues. The article further stated it was better to include the information in the body of the story. It further stated it was better to just write Chapter 1 than to write Prologue. Well, I took all this to heart.
    In THE DARK ISLE, I was able to eliminate the prologue altogether in the revision (presently working on it).
    However, in FLY AWAY HEART the prologue was necessary, but after reading that article, I just wrote Chapter one and put a date so that chapter two could bring the timeline up to the present in the story.
    In the end, Kaye, I'm not really certain about the pros and cons of the prologue and epilogue dilemma except to say a writer's gotta write what a writer's gotta write.
    This was a very thought producing article, Kaye.

  4. Sarah,

    I've read those types of articles, too, about the off-puttingness (real word??) of prologues and epilogues for readers. I agree with you that there is controversy on this topic, and probably just as many arguments for as there are against. *shrug*

    So far, I have only the one story that I mentioned in the article that has a prologue and epilogue. As you've done, I've found a way to incorporate all the information within the story or I just put Chapter 1 on it.

    I like your 'a writer's gotta write what a writer's gotta write'.

    Thanks for commenting.

  5. I have written a few prologues. One was to put forth an explanation of the heroine's feelings and motivaions. It was a scene. However, it would not have worked as Chapter i. Thanks for the wonderful post.

    1. You've validated my point. *grin* Sometimes there is information that lends itself best to a prologue. Thank you for commenting.

  6. Sorry I'm late. I love this! And 'Mists of Avalon' is also one of my favorite books. :-)

    1. Late? Bwahaha! I've been away from my computer for days and I'm responding via my KindleFire--a patience-stretching endeavor to say thw least. Lol I read Mists of Avalon every couple of winters.