Hi Indies! I’ve been thinking about prologues a lot lately. Mainly because most of my original works have them and when I get the rights back from my publisher, I plan to polish them up and have them re-edited. But, it seems that more and more readers are expressing their dislike for prologues these days. It makes me wonder if I should cut them out of my revised books, or just leave them as is.
Looking back on when I was gobbling books up by the dozen as a teenager, it seems that ALL books had some kind of Prologue, Preface or Introduction and usually an Epilogue to boot. When I first started writing, I used them all of the time because I thought they were standard and therefore, made my manuscripts look more legit. But, are they really necessary for your book? What exactly is their purpose?
I had to do a bit of research, because I wasn’t too sure on the differences between some of these extra areas of a book, or why they’re used. Here’s a short breakdown of what I learned:
FORWARD: In my experience, I’ve only ever seen a Forward used when the book has been re-edited or translated by someone other than the author. Maybe it’s an adaption of The Master and Margarita, something that wasn’t originally written in English – or it’s just an extremely popular classic novel that’s been re-published a hundred million times. Either way, a Forward is never written by the author of the book. It is always written by someone else, usually with some kind of ‘authority’ on the subject or other credentials.
Your book doesn’t have to be re-edited or translated to have a Forward, though. You can have a Forward written for your book by another author as a marketing tool. The Forward sells YOU as an author to readers. The writer of the Forward will highlight what they liked most about your writing style, vocabulary, etc. It’s not about the book or the book’s content as much as it is about you as an author, and what the Forward’s writer thinks the readers will enjoy most about your awesome skills.
PREFACE: I’ve noticed that most authors use a “Dear Reader” rather than labeling it a Preface, but essentially, they’re the same thing. Like the Forward is designed to “sell” the author, the Preface can be used by the author to “sell” the story. It’s when they talk to readers about where the idea for their story came from, and how it evolved along the way. It can cover the writing process or character development, as well. For example: I recall reading a Preface by one of my favorite authors where she explained how she’d scrapped hundreds of pages of her original idea, because her MC had better ideas and wanted to do it his way, LOL – this kind of insight in a Preface can be endearing to your readers and have them already feeling some kind of connection to your main character.
As a marketing tool, a Preface can be just as big of a selling point as the “Blurb” or “Book Description.” You can use it to speak directly to your readers and boast about how much you think they’ll love your book, while leaving baited hooks that will further pique their interest in the story.
INTRODUCTION: The perfect example of an Introduction that comes immediately to my mind is actually from a movie, rather than a book and that was the opening scene of Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone where Hagrid first delivers the newly orphaned, infant Harry to the Dursley’s doorstep. This one short scene covered the entire foundation for the story to come, and gave just enough of the backstory that viewers knew exactly what kind of journey they were about to embark on with Harry.
The use of an Introduction seems to be more frequent and popular in Fantasy genres because they usually take place inside of a fictional world with elements unfamiliar to readers. By Introducing the story to your readers, you’re not only preparing them for what comes next, you’re also attempting to further pique their interest – so, once again, it can be a great marketing tool.
PROLOGUE: I think we’re all pretty familiar with and understand the purpose of a Prologue, I just didn’t want to leave it out. Typically, a Prologue is used to provide information to the readers about characters, a referenced event, or anything else that isn’t fully explained in the main story, itself, but you feel is vital for them to know to understand the plot completely. For example: In one of Nora Roberts’s series, she uses a Prologue in each book to show what happened to the ancestors of the main characters. Not only did this provide her the opportunity to share vital information with the readers, but it further invoked the ‘mystery’ of the whole, deepening her readers’ investment and interest in how the present-day plot would play out.
Most of the Prologues I’ve ever used was to flesh out a past event that will either come into play later on in the main story, or will explain one or more of the characters’ reasoning/personality/connections,etc. Prologues are good to use when the information you want to provide isn’t enough to flesh out a whole scene in the main story, or like the example above, doesn’t involve your main characters’, themselves, and may even take place long before their time. Prologues can help keep those bad “info-dumps” from showing up in your main story, as well.
EPILOGUE: Generally, an Epilogue is used to give readers a glimpse at your Main Characters at a future point. It can be an immediate future or years later. This can be for multiple reasons, either to tie up any loose ends, or to “introduce” some of the things that will be happening in the next book, if it’s a trilogy/series. While a lot of Epilogues seem to be geared toward satisfying the readers’ curiosity about what happens to the MC’s after the end of the book, sometimes it can be from a whole new character’s POV that is somehow connected to the story or Main Characters.
For example: I used an Epilogue at the end of Hearthstone Alpha to explain something that would happen in the next book, Little Queen. There were two purposes for this. One: it allowed me to give my readers pertinent information without the use of a dialogue info-dump later on in Little Queen – and two: it tied up a loose end from Hearthstone Alpha about a ‘missing’ sub-character. Since the Epilogue is written from that missing sub-character’s POV, it satisfies the readers’ curiosity about whatever came of him.
One thing that almost all of these extra areas have in common, is that they’re usually shorter than the length of one of your book’s chapters. Although, I have seen some pretty lengthy Forwards and Introductions before.
So, Indies, what’s your opinion on using these extra areas in novels? Do you think it’s solely dependent on the genre, or do you prefer your books without them? I’m mostly ambivalent, but in all honesty, those ‘extras’ can feel like treasured bonuses when they’re in a book I absolutely love and enjoy reading.
I do feel genre has a lot to do with whether or not an author uses a Preface, Introduction, or Forward, where Prologues and Epilogues tend to be more flexible. In today’s market, though, and especially for the Romance genres, I think readers appreciate when they’re used more sparingly. So, if there’s a way to work the same information into the main story, that might be the better way to go.
❤ Happy Tuesday! (Hey, at least it’s not Monday anymore) 😀