Epilogues & Prologues: What Purpose do They Serve?

| Posted in Novels, Writing.

an open bookDo you still feel like there is something missing from your book? Maybe adding an epilogue or prologue could do the trick. Writers (and readers) have conflicting views about the necessity of having prologues and epilogues. Some writers feel that both are unnecessary, while others feel like one or the other is good to have, but not both.

The decision on whether the prologue or epilogue should be present depends on the writer, and sometimes the editor. A prologue is found in the beginning of the book, and it sets the tone for the story. Prologues often give details and some information about the setting and maybe the background of characters. They are useful in that they get the reader interested in the story, especially if it takes some time to get to the exciting bits. It lets the reader know that good things are still to come. In some stories, though, prologues are unnecessary and serve the same function as the first chapter. In such cases it is best to just remove it.

Epilogues, on the other hand, are found at the back of the book. The epilogue brings everything together. It ties up any loose ends and allows the author to reveal the fates of the characters beyond the story. Epilogues can be useful in adding the bits that could not be included in the story. They can be told in the first or third person and can sometimes leave readers feeling more satisfied as they know exactly what happens in the end. They are much more effective in a series of books, when an author wants to hint to certain behaviours or feelings of certain characters in upcoming books. Epilogues may sometimes ruin the sense of ending though. Some readers do not like to be spoon fed the end. They like to imagine for themselves how the characters progress.

How to write an effective prologue:

  • Try to keep it as interesting and short as possible. Readers will get bored if it is too long.
  • Keep it relevant to the story and try to use the same tone as used in the story.
  • Be creative with it. Play around with the style, format, tone and language.

How to write an effective epilogue:

  • Decide which characters you want to focus on.
  • Keep the theme related to the plot.
  • Do not introduce new characters (unless it’s a new born baby).

One thing you do not want to do is add extra information to a story that is already complete. Check your story first to see if adding the prologue or epilogue will be beneficial in any way. If it will just be unnecessary extra text that will be floating around, then don’t add it. At the end of the day you cannot please everyone. You are the writer and you know how you want to tell your story. If, after careful consideration, you want to add both prologue and epilogue, or you just want to add one then go ahead.


Written by Zimasa Mpemnyama

Image credit: Simon Cocks, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr


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