Friday, December 16, 2016

Prologue and Epilogue: To Use Them or Not?

Our Round Robin topic this month is on the use (or not) of a prologue and epilogue in a novel.

pro·logue ˈprōˌlôɡ/
1.     a separate introductory section of a literary or musical work.
"this idea is outlined in the prologue"
o   an event or action that leads to another event or situation.
"civil unrest in a few isolated villages became the prologue to widespread rebellion"

Authors have often been told that agents and editors do not like prologues, nor do readers bother to read them. If that is the case, why do some authors (holding my hand up here) use them?

At best they can depict an important clue to an inciting incident, character or plot, at worst they become the dreaded ‘info dump’. They should be shorter rather than longer. A Regency romance by a New York Times best-selling author that I read recently had a prologue that ran over several pages. By the time I reached Chapter 1, I felt cheated of my reading time because by then I was well into a story that seemed to be starting all over again. The epilogue in the same book, on the other hand, was barely three pages long.

When I wrote His Dark Enchantress, I chose to use a prologue to show the incident that made my heroine want to remain something of a recluse. In the epilogue, that incident is resolved. In both instances, there is a marked time-frame of three years between the incident and the start of Chapter 1 and several months between the end of the last chapter and the epilogue.

I had considered working the information into my text with flashbacks, but there’s another issue. Flashbacks, if not introduced with some circumspection, can be clumsy and obtrusive and slow the pace of a book. If I were writing that book today, I might choose to exclude the prologue and epilogue entirely and find another way to introduce that same information, probably through dialogue.

When I wrote that prologue I wanted my character’s strength and loyalty to be immediately evident, so that the reader would understand her actions as they got into the story. In that book I used the epilogue to not only give closure to the story, but to also set up for a sequel. I think that using a prologue and epilogue is really determined by the story.

As an instance, I have read several thrillers where the prologue inevitably shows some past murder which is then solved in the body of the book. These types of books need not necessarily have an epilogue. There is no rule that I can discover that says if you have a prologue you have to have an epilogue. In the romance genre, many books will have both. In a romance, an epilogue is often a handy vehicle to get a pregnancy out of the way without suffering the heroine’s pangs of morning sickness, stomach cramps and food cravings.

1.     a section or speech at the end of a book or play that serves as a comment on or a conclusion to what has happened.
"the book is summarized in the epilogue"
So there you have it! Now visit these authors for their take on the subject.