Prologues and Epilogues. Love them? Hate them? Disregard them?
I happen to love a book or a movie with a prologue and an epilogue (or foreword and afterword in some books). For me, it's like getting mini-stories within the larger story. Prologues are my favorite of the two because they set me up right at the get-go with background information that I don't have to wait for as the story unfolds. However, I love epilogues because they wrap-up the story in a nice tidy package with information about what happened later. I like that. I really, really do. Yes, even the lengthy beginning to The Scarlet Letter.
For instance, in romances, particularly historical romances, I love to read what happened to the heroine that brought her to the doorstep of Chapter One. In westerns, I love prologues that give me the backstory for the terrible angst in the hero's childhood or teenage years that molded him into the
black-hearted, conscienceless gunfighter out for revenge. In mysteries, I want all the gory details of the crime that occurred before the hero/heroine show up to unravel the story clues. In historical romances or historical fiction, I enjoy reading the historical context before the story begins. In science fiction and fantasy, I love immersing myself in the detailed explanation of the the world the author built. The bigger the world, the better. For me, in world-building, size does matter.
Most of the time, I prefer prologues to only flashbacks or having the characters share memories and conversations about what happened (but I like them, too.) Prologues are also a venue for providing foreshadowing in the ensuing story, and that really captures my attention and interest. I'm
especially fond of the kind of prologue that is actually the ending of the book and, as the reader, I not only know this, but now I can sit back and enjoy the ride through the story because I know how it ends. This preference comes from the way I read books and watch movies. I read the end of the book or watch the end of the movie BEFORE I read/watch the beginning. I don't like surprises. I want to know how it all turns out before I start. Generally speaking, if the ending doesn't capture my interest, I'm not interested in reading how the characters got there.
Another reason I love prologues is from reading Shakespeare. He wrote many prologues, but perhaps the one that is very familiar is from Romeo and Juliet, Act 1, Prologue: Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona, where we lay our scene... A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life...
Even though we know that it doesn't all end well, we're hooked anyway.
As for epilogues, once I become attached to the characters in a book, I hate leaving them, and epilogues give me a little more of them to hang on to, a little more time with them. About 10 eyars aso when I first read the Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara and, after spending the three days of the Battle of Gettysburg with many key officers in the Union and Confederate armies, I needed needed to know right then what happened to Lee, Chamberlain, Longstreet, Stewart, Pickett, Scott, and Buford later in their lives (which prompted me to engage in serious research later). Shaara not only gave me a satisfying afterword, he drew me into the story with an interesting foreword.
Clive Cussler has great prologues, sometimes two in one story. A prologue within a prologue. It just makes me tingle all over with giddyness when he does that. Michael Crichton wrote great prologues, too.
My favorite book, The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley, begins with a prologue and the words, Morgaine speaks... It ends 876 wonderful pages later with an epilogue and a last sentence: Her work was done. Both the prologue and epilogue were perfect for the story.
And I saved the best for last. The ultimate movie prologue...Star Wars. In a galaxy far, far away... Those words rolling away on the big screen, bringing me into another time and place before the story even took off was...well...brilliant.
One of my "works-in-progress", an epic historical romance, has a prologue and an epilogue, with the prologue being a flashback of the ending. Even though I've read that readers tend to skip prologues and epilogues, I'm going to keep them in my story anyway. Why? Because I love them. I really, really do.
Until next month,
Fall in love...faster, harder, deeper with Kaye Spencer romances