Cafe Doom

The Critique Crypt => General writing chat => Topic started by: Woody on June 17, 2009, 01:21:44 PM

Title: Prologues & epilogues
Post by: Woody on June 17, 2009, 01:21:44 PM
Are prologues & epilogues good or bad. If you use a prologue is it a sin not to have an epilogue? I have no idea about this so any pointers would be great.  :scratch:
Title: Re: Prologues & epilogues
Post by: Ed on June 17, 2009, 05:52:50 PM
A prologue simply sets up the reader with an overview that prepares them for what's to come. In a complex novel, perhaps with many characters or a lot of back story that needs including, it's useful. Some people will always argue that you should just get on with the story and not bother with one, but it's down to personal preference at the end of the day, so if you think you need one, by all means do it.

It doesn't mean you have to use an epilogue just because you have a prologue but, again, if you feel you need one, IMO you should go for it. Personally I think they're less often useful compared with the prologue, from the point of view of getting the story told in the best possible, most engaging, way.
Title: Re: Prologues & epilogues
Post by: Pharosian on June 17, 2009, 09:24:11 PM
As Ed says, there are differing opinions, and the utility of a prologue probably depends on the type of book you're writing. But let me give you an argument against using a prologue for a book that deals primarily with one protagonist. In such a book, the prologue will most likely deal with a different character and/or an earlier time. So the argument against the prologue is that you get the reader engaged with the other character, then switch to Chapter 1 and introduce your protagonist and have to start all over again building interest and forming the emotional bond that will carry the reader through the book.

In that switch, you risk losing your reader, especially if the prologue was interesting and you never go back to those characters. John Grisham did that with The Chamber, telling the story of a black man and his family in 1963 or 1964 and some white men who torch their building and kill the black man's daughters in the process. The main story (I think) is about a white guy on death row thirty years later and his son who tries to get him off... ? But I never got much past the opening story. I was engaged with those characters, and unwilling to refocus my attention on the modern guy going to see his dad on death row.

I've heard many people say that they've never read a prologue that provided information they had to understand before starting Chapter 1. I remember another book I finished and THEN discovered there was a prologue. I'd just thumbed over the first few pages at the front of the book that usually have all the copyright and blurbs and so on, and started reading when I got to the page with Chapter 1. When I read the prologue later, I was actually glad I hadn't read it first.

The same argument holds true for not using an epilogue. The ideal is to end your book with the reader feeling a sense of resolution. All the loose ends should be tied up and the main story question should be answered. If you need an epilogue, that probably means you failed to tie up all the loose ends or answer all the questions in the story itself. An exception might be for the kind of story where a diverse group of people have an adventure and then go their separate ways. The epilogue could be used to let the reader know "what ever happened to so-and-so?"

Say your story was about a group of people climbing Mt. Everest who were trapped on the side of the mountain for five days by severe storms, and about all the trials they went through. If the book was mostly about what happened during those five days, and it ended when the rescue helicopters got the last of them down to base camp safely, then maybe an epilogue would be in order along the lines of what you see in the movies and TV: Steve quit his job as an accountant and enrolled in medical school; Monica returned to Everest for another try, this time making it to the summit; Matt and Gloria were married six months later; Kate scattered Ben's ashes along the Rhine...

But if you've written a seven-book series about a boy wizard and all the adventures he has, writing an epilogue at the end of the seventh book is anti-climactic at best. Even if you're the best-selling author of all time, it still doesn't make it right.  ;)
Title: Re: Prologues & epilogues
Post by: elay2433 on June 17, 2009, 11:53:29 PM
Looks like this is all well covered. I wanted to offer an example of an author using a prologue to great effect. This one hooked me good. Just about each chapter that followed did likewise.,M1

I don't recall certainly whether or not there was an epilogue.
Title: Re: Prologues & epilogues
Post by: delboy on June 18, 2009, 02:08:49 AM
I'm more in favour of epi's than pro's. Though I think it's rare that either are needed.

For epi's I agree with Pharosian, it's a nice way to tie up loose ends about a disparate group of characters after the main story has been finished. There have been some great examples of this, but I don't have time to search them out now.

Prologues... in the main... are a massive turn off for me. there was a time when every horror book I picked up seemed to start with a prologue that involved a character getting killed by some weird creature/psychopath/mysterious thing in some strange coastal/rural town. Usually it was a she and usually she was out jogging by a lake or on a beach, and it served to hook the reader that there was something terrible in this location. Now for Jaws, this worked great (although I think it was simply chapter one), but after a while I simply stopped any horror books that started with such a prologue. Get me in to the story, proper, I say. None o fthis messing around with history - a good writer will bring all that in subtly and cleverly throughout the tale.


Title: Re: Prologues & epilogues
Post by: Grillmeat on June 19, 2009, 06:00:26 PM
I am in the camp of epi's rather than pro's. Not really against either one but I find more use for the latter than the former.
An example that comes to mind are the books by David Gemmel. He always had an epilogue that kind of wrapped up what happened to the surviving characters.
I always liked that.
Title: Re: Prologues & epilogues
Post by: Woody on June 19, 2009, 06:53:40 PM
Thanks for everyone's comments. The reason I asked was because of something I wrote - off the cuff, so to speak; that lended itself to an exposition of a being within the story I'm currently working on.

The story doesn't yet need this prologue, but the text happened anyway.

Also, for this piece, I do not know whether it will be required.

I like the idea of using it, especially as it's not within the parameters that commentators have alluded to. It doesn’t fill out any history; it doesn’t fill out any characterization. It is just a piece that details a moment in a life of a character in the story I am writing.

I’ve attached it to this post, so if any readers feel the need to comment please do. All comments are gratefully received.
Title: Re: Prologues & epilogues
Post by: delph_ambi on June 20, 2009, 02:36:59 AM
It's an intriguing passage, but why it needs to be a 'prologue' beats me. As has already been mentioned, many people skip prologues anyway, so why take the risk? Slip this piece in at an appropriate moment, would be my advice. Or if you really, really need it to be at the start, call it chapter one to be certain people will read it. Okay, it's short, but nothing there's nothing wrong with massive variations in chapter length. A short and intriguing opening chapter is far more likely to get readers reading than the same passage described as a 'prologue'.
Title: Re: Prologues & epilogues
Post by: delboy on June 20, 2009, 03:37:37 AM
Re. that passage - yep, intriguing, and a nice scene. And - I'm guessing - is the inciting factor in what comes next. But the story might be stronger if you just dive into what happens next and wait for an appopriate moment to explain why. You get extra bang for your buck that way, too. A nice but of suspense as to what's driving you rmain character.

Title: Re: Prologues & epilogues
Post by: Ed on June 20, 2009, 04:51:40 AM
Yeah, I wouldn't say that was a prologue. It doesn't have enough scope to be one, really. It's more like a short chapter, or a scene you can easily shoehorn in someplace else, perhaps when the first curious happening seems to relate back to this happening.

Purely from a craft point of view, I think the weed causes ambiguity with the MC's perceived loss of time. Smoking a couple of joints will mess with your perception of time, so unless that's what you want, I'd leave it out. It's much more eerie to lose an hour when you're not under the influence of a drug.

Another couple of things - beware of minutia creeping into the narrative. Things such as the MC blinking 'twice' are completely irrelevant to the story and only serve to bulk out your word count without adding anything of benefit. Look at how you can crisp up the language with a bit of careful editing:

He looked at his watch, and then blinked twice trying to focus his eyes. He felt as if he’d just awoken from a coma, not that he’d ever been in a coma before, but his mind felt like it was coming forward,


He felt as if he’d just awoken from a coma - he looked at his watch, tried to focus his eyes. His mind felt like it was coming forward,

That's 29 words. Your original was 42, so we've saved 13 words and I think the resulting text feels sharper for it.

Keep a tight rein on your use of gerunds and present participles. I personally think it's always a bad idea to begin a sentence with one. Talking of sentence beginnings, you've got 13 sentences here, the first starts with a gerund, 4 begin with other words, 2 begin with 'The', but pretty much all of the last 6 begin with 'He', which can get a bit waring if it continues too long, and generally means the writing isn't flowing very well in your mind. Maybe try beginning a few of those sentences with adjectives instead?

Watch out for word repeats: all  easily to hand. All the lights

At the centre of the table were the remains

Again, just personal preference, but I'd prefer to see this in a more descriptive and/or less passive construct.


At the centre of the table lay the remains

The remains of a shattered glass (wine? champagne flute? whisky tumbler?) lay at the centre of the table
Title: .
Post by: Woody on June 21, 2009, 09:58:56 AM