Should You Write a Prologue or an Epilogue?


1106 Design

March 05, 2024

The writing community was recently abuzz with debates on whether or not authors should include prologues. Of course, this debate eventually extended to epilogues and even other sections such as introductions and afterwords.

These parts are generally believed to be skipped over by the majority of readers. Because of this, many writers opt not to add them at all, and they suggest other writers follow suit. Since prologues and epilogues receive the most flack, we’ll focus on them.


What Is a Prologue?

A prologue is a section of a book (commonly fiction) that precedes the first chapter. A prologue’s purpose is to inform the reader about important information relating to the story before they dive in. When used correctly, the prologue is an integral part of the book, and its importance will become evident eventually, if not immediately.

How this section is used varies from book to book. The prologue should stand out from the story in some meaningful way. Perhaps it’s written from a different perspective or point in time. That said, prologues are still usually written in the same style, or have the same delivery, as the rest of the book, and are told from the perspective of a character or the narrator.


What Is an Epilogue?

Like prologues, epilogues are written from the perspective of a character/narrator. The information above for prologues basically applies to epilogues, as well, except epilogues appear at the end of a work. Epilogues are more common in fiction, but they may also appear in some nonfiction works, especially works of narrative nonfiction.

Generally, an epilogue shares events that occur after the story ends, or closing thoughts and information that otherwise don’t fit into the final chapters. If the final chapter doesn’t bring closure to a work because certain important closing scenes occur after the story’s scope, an epilogue may be employed.


Do You Need a Prologue or an Epilogue?

It depends on your story and your goals. When writing your book you should always weigh out what scenes/information are needed and which aren’t. If any scene doesn’t add value to the work, you must ask yourself why it’s there and consider removing it.

On the other hand, if certain elements work for your book and add value, there’s a good chance they should be kept even if other members of the writing community think otherwise. Prologues and epilogues can both be useful in the right hands.

For example, prologues can serve as a means of sparking interest before the real action starts, such as through foreshadowing or sharing an integral, exciting event that relates to the plot. Epilogues can provide foreshadowing for the next installment in a series, enticing readers to grab a copy the moment the sequel hits the shelves.

What these elements should not do is provide an excuse for lazy writing. Prologues and epilogues should not be included for info-dumping or to cover up a shoddily-written opening/closing chapter.

Times when a prologue or an epilogue is necessary:

  • When key scenes occur before (prologue) or after (epilogue) the story’s timeframe or outside of the setting.
  • When you can’t naturally weave the information into the story without disrupting the flow. 

A Note on Design . . . 

Including elements such as a prologue, epilogue, preface, or afterword, etc. can increase the page count in a book that otherwise may not meet the minimum page requirements of print-on-demand (POD) printers for your chosen trim size and binding. If your book exceeds the maximum page count of a POD printer (unlikely, but possible), then removing such elements could be a good way to trim the page count and the printing price.

We’re not saying that a prologue or epilogue should be written or removed solely for either of these reasons–quite the contrary. However, these are possible benefits that might enforce your decision, one way or the other, if you start to feel any doubts.


Bottom Line

The point of self-publishing is to have full creative control. In the end, what elements you include and how you write your book are entirely up to you. One important fact to keep in mind is that opinions vary, so it’s impossible to make everyone happy. There’s no way to prevent every reader from skipping over sections of your book. Some readers will appreciate your work, and others won’t. The key is to focus on the readers who do.

If you finish writing your book but you’re still not sure about certain elements, your delivery, or other aspects of your work, you might benefit from reaching out to beta readers and critique partners. If you’d like a more in-depth review of your book through the lens of an industry professional, you should consider hiring a developmental editor. A good editor can read your book and let you know which sections strengthen the work and which should be removed.

At 1106 Design, we offer all levels of editing, from substantive (developmental) editing through proofreading. When you hire us for substantive editing, we’ll consider your manuscript’s intended audience, structure, and flow. We may reword unclear or awkward writing, restructure portions of your manuscript, or make other necessary changes to remove redundancies and improve clarity and logical flow. This service also includes a pass for copyediting.

If you’re ready to take the next steps to make your manuscript the best it can be, feel free to contact us to learn more about how we can help your book shine.

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