The Prologue and the Epilogue

Really? A book named epilogue? I’m guessing that it’s the second book in the series, and the first book’s named prologue. The third book was probably never made, owing to the fact that there wasn’t a good name. If they made a movie adaptation, it would probably be called After-Credits Cutscene and would be about one and a half minutes long.

Okay, I’m sure that you’ve had just about enough of my pretty bad humor. Still, if you’re looking for my professional opinion about the topic (Why are you laughing? That wasn’t one of my jokes!), you’ve come to the right place. I’m a big fan of both prologues and epilogues myself. (But the spell-checker on Google Docs wants me to spell it “epilog”…VIVA LE REVELUTION)

A quick note distinguishing the two: the prologue comes before the story, and the epilogue comes after it. I’m sure many of you know this, but I’m just saying it for those who don’t. A story can have both without violating any law. Sometimes an introduction is placed in lieu of a prologue (the difference being that the introduction usually doesn’t tell a story, whereas the prologue does), and sometimes the epilogue goes by a different name (i.e., Coda, postscript, etc.), but an epilogue by any other name would end just as well. (that is, if you write it right)

Here is a good rule for ease of use when it comes to writing prologues and epilogues: never, ever let them sag. They must be dramatic, always introducing cliffhangers. The prologue acts as a hook that draws the reader in, and the epilogue has to have the same effect as an after-credits cutscene: egging the reader on to the next movie. (or, in this case, book)

Don’t let either the prologue or the epilogue be driven by forces that have little effect on the story: tell us the daring backstory of the hero, the troubled origins of this or that important character. Cause the reader to refer back to the prologue, making important connections and “oh, so it’s like that” statements. This is tougher with the epilogue, as you must do it in reverse (use the epilogue to tie up loose ends, I mean).

The epilogue and the prologue are opposites, after all: they serve opposite purposes, but they act like bookends: similarly, yet much differently. With the prologue, you want to introduce a lot of loose ends (or one big one) that will eventually be resolved as the story goes on. An irrelevant prologue is worse than an absent one. Make the prologue matter by initiating the conflict. If you’re writing a WWII novel, make the prologue about Hitler’s invasion of Poland and their surrender.

With the actual end of the story, you want to resolve the main conflict and leave a few ends to tie off for the epilogue. However, the epilogue serves on very unique purpose: the special preservation of one particular thread that will lead into the next story: something that doesn’t mar the victory any but plants the ominous seeds of a future conflict.

If the epilogue doesn’t have that and it doesn’t tie off smaller threads, it’s going to be like the irrelevant prologue: useless and better off left undisturbed. Prologues and epilogues are juicy bits of storytelling. Fun to write, short, and sweet. Make use of them and don’t let them be useless.

I guess a good rule of thumb here is to always do something worthwhile with your prologues and epilogues. Don’t let them be irrelevant or saggy. Make them worth your time. Introduce some quality material that you will (invariably) work with later.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Until then, writers!


Published by Van Ghalta

A cold, dark, mysterious character who purposefully wrote a story so that he could fit into it...A story where he himself WRITES stories, practices martial arts, blogs, plays airsoft, collects MTG trading cards, plays outdated video games, and writes weird, third-person bios for himself...

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