Thoughts on Prologues and Epilogues

Feb 20, 2018

prologues epilogues

You might be thinking this title is strange. I might be thinking that you are strange. But I would never say so, because I have tact, so let's keep our opinions to ourselves, mmm?

Did you know I wrote a book? If you are my Mom, the answer is, yes, because I made you read it. If you are my aunt, I supposed it depends on whether my Mom told you or not. And if you are the one non-relative who is reading my blog, I'm going to guess that your answer is "I'm sorry, I was looking for the Doilies for Dummies blog?"

My book is unpublished, but it is complete. I am currently working on another book that is driving me slightly insane. (that is several degrees less insane than my children drive me, which is why I like writing so much.?

Wow, I suck at getting to the point. The point is, this completed book of mine contains a prologue.

So, are prologues okay?

Some people say no. They say to only include a prologue if you want to include a block of text that people don't read.

But what kind of a looney is skipping the prologue? I remember distinctly when I figured out I was supposed to read prologues. As a kid I read a book with a prologue and skipped it, thinking it was some kind of opening remarks. And then when I got to the end I read the epilogue. And it referenced stuff that was in the prologue and I was so confused and finally realized that the prologue contained relevant information! I've never skipped a prologue since. And I just have such a hard time believing that people pick up a book they want to read and then just skip the beginning??

Anyhoo.  It is a thing. Some people say to never include them.

I was at Life, the Universe, and Everything Symposium this weekend. (I'm not going to explain it. Click here if you want to know more.) And I went to a panel about Prologues and Epilogues. On the panel were Brandon Sanderson, Todd McCaffrey (Anne McCaffrey's son), Lisa Mangum, Myke Cole and Jason King.

They all agreed that prologues can be dangerous. Mostly because some people don't read them. But even so Brandon Sanderson always uses them. He pointed out that one of the main purposed for them is to set the stage for the story. Instead of beginning Star Wars with Luke walking around with Uncle Owen trying to buy droids, it starts with a battle taking place in space. That battle sets the tone for the story, and lets you know that this isn't only a story about a whiney teenager walking around in the dessert.

This is exactly what my prologue does, minus the spaceships. But Brandon Sanderson said it is so often used in this way, it is almost a cliche at this point.

So I asked a question. "If your story needs the prologue to properly set the tone, how do you do it without falling into the cliche?"

What I didn't anticipate was that by asking the question, the panelists would respond directly to me. Talking to ME, Looking ME in the eye. I had to try very hard to pretend like I was perfectly comfortable with that, and that my eyes weren't starting to itch like crazy for no reason at all, and like I didn't suddenly really needed to go to the bathroom. Cuz, yeah. I was having a conversation with Editors and Best Selling Authors all of the sudden.

The basic response to my question was, "You can get away with it if you do it well."

That was actually kind of the theme of the entire conference. YOU CAN DO ANYTHING YOU WANT IN YOUR WRITING IF YOU DO IT WELL.

Admittedly, it isn't the most helpful advice. Cuz how do you know if you are doing ANYTHING well? I don't. But I'm leaving the prologue in my story anyway.  Just FYI.

I do know that I haven't ended this well, but I'm ending it nonetheless.