Expansion Pack: Prologs and Epilogs

Hi, Gang. Craig here again today with another one of my Expansion Packs. I stole the idea from some video games who offer additional levels, or new scenarios for download. In this case, I’m throwing back to my series on Three Act Structure.

Outside those three acts, there are occasionally a couple of other sections. These are the prolog and the epilog. Both are out of fashion these days, but can prove useful.

Bookends

Confession: If the author includes them I always read them. Many admit to skipping them.

The prolog is a section that occurs outside, and previous to, the main story. It is best used to introduce elements that will become important later on. It’s the perfect place to plant information that will pose a question. Let’s keep this a simple food for thought exercise:

• A ritual at a stone temple that becomes an archeological site in the main story. This can introduce a frightening element the main character isn’t aware of. It builds tension. The mummy’s curse, etc.

• When action is going to be slow to arrive in the main story. Think about relocating velociraptors in Jurassic Park prior to meeting the main characters. It ties right into the story, but serves as an appetizer of sorts.

• Something horrible happens to a young character. Later this person becomes the serial killer and his method of operation reflects this horrifying event.

• When you want a dramatic contrast to build interest. The lush green environment from the prolog is a desert wasteland in the main story. You can answer this question somewhere along the way.

The epilog occurs after the main story ends. It should be set in the future after all the dust has settled upon the main action. It’s almost the mirror image of the prolog, it’s in reverse. It answers questions, and can put a different spin on the main narrative. Let’s get to some bullet points for your consideration:

• In a huge conflict, the characters sacrificed everything in a tragic ending. The epilog shows the children of traditional enemies playing together underneath a statue of your main character. It changes the perception of the tragedy.

• Your elderly main character observes the world with a smirk on her face. Only her act of espionage made this world possible, and nobody knows about it.

• Return to something expressed earlier in the tale. One of the characters is living a dream life as the owner of a tiki bar in the tropics after a life of danger and risk. Maybe she’s mailing off a manuscript of a fictional work that reflects the adventures in the story. (Even the title of your book.)

• Maybe your main character found a simpler life. He’s an armed guard for a group of wild rhinos, but still uses the weapons he survived the main conflict with.

• Captain America is an old man, but smiles about the life he lived with Peggy Carter. Not a lot of details, but we understand.

Like I said, both are out of fashion these days and are typically incorporated into the main story. However, the jump in time is great for giving a new perspective to the tale.

I suggest if you use one of these you do so with a purpose. If you can weave the matter into the main story, do so. They are best when short. If they have to be longer, perhaps an additional chapter is better advised. There are times when either a prolog or epilog can work well.

What do you think? Are you absolutely against these inclusions, or do you support them when appropriate. Let me hear from you in the comments.

Since this is my last post of the year, I wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a better New Year.

35 thoughts on “Expansion Pack: Prologs and Epilogs

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  2. Pingback: Expansion Pack: Prologs and Epilogs – ******Out and about with YaYa & Gangstalking ******🎯😎

  3. Fantastic post, Craig. I am late to commenting, but it certainly comes in handy for me at this point. I am seriously considering using an epilogue to close one of the current novels I am working on. I’ve never used either prologue or epilogue. But this story really calls for one–if I hope to present a happy ending. I’ll keep this post handy as that time approaches.

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  4. Another great post, Craig 🙂 Like you, I will always read the prologs and epilogs…even the author’s note. I find they work well with some stories and pull me right if offer something to come or information that the story offers. Good examples where tgey would work.

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  5. I’ve only used a prologue and epilogue in one book – HYPE. The prologue was in the form of a letter to the reader from the character’s POV after the events of the book. My epilogue wrapped up the events after the tragedy to bring closure to the characters. I normally don’t write them, but this book called for it. Like you, I always read them when an author includes them, but I don’t see them very often. Great post, Craig! 🙂

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  6. I used a prologue like Sue’s – a snippet from later in the book where someone’s counting down to something they’re dreading. In my first book I began with a quotation form The Ancient Mariner about Life in Death beating Death in a game for someone’s soul – I wanted to remind people that some circumstances can seem worse than death itself. I don’t know if that formally counts as a prologue! Some of those examples you give are wonderful and would make a great spur for students struggling for a way into writing something.
    Wishing you a happy and productive 2022, Craig.

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  7. Excellent post, Craig. I rarely use epilogs, but on occasion, a prolog makes sense, particularly when there’s a huge time jump. And like you, if there is one, I read it. I assume that the author thought the information was important. 🙂

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  8. Like you, Craig, I never skip an epilogue or prologue. And, I’ve used them occasionally when the story called for it. Honestly, the last chapter of The Wreck of The Lanternfish was much like a prologue to me and I loved it. Thank you for all of your insightful posts throughout the year and I wish you and yours a much calmer and creative 2022!

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  9. I love prologues. I used to read a lot of Martha Grimes’ mysteries, and her prologues always got me hooked on the story in only a few pages. They always showed the ffirst victim get killed, then the opening chapter jumped to Richard Jury, the detective’s life and his getting called in to solve the case. Loved it. I’m a fan of both prologues and epilogues when they’re done well.

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  10. I like both. I’ve never used an epilogue, but my Grafton County Series books all have prologues. I jump cut a scene for my prologue. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, the prologue starts in medias res (in the middle of the action) and then ends on a terrifying note. Chapter One rewinds the story, all the while the reader fears for the protagonist because they know she’ll be in real trouble later. In this case, I’m using the prologue to set up a later scene, like the midpoint or climax, where the scene from the prologue will resume. It’s an effective literary device.

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  11. Pingback: Expansion Pack: Prologs and Epilogs | Legends of Windemere

  12. I definitely will read either if the author includes them. They’re there for a reason, so they’re important to the book.
    I don’t think I’ve used an epilogue but I used prologues in all three of my Point Pleasant novels. I like your description of them as an “appetizer.” In my PP books, all three showed a tragic event that occurred in an earlier time period from when the main story was set. Because they amounted to only a few pages each, I thought having a prologue was better than making them starting chapters.

    Happy New Year, Craig!

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  13. Excellent post, Craig. I used to be anti-prologue until I wanted to fit a horrible incident into my last book. It was such a jarring bit of action it didn’t fit in the regular flow of the story. Also, it was in the past, so working it made it like a flashback which I like even less. So I did a prologue. It worked well since it set up what became a complicated set of events later in the story. I have not used an epilogue yet. I really think prologues have their use, and I always read them. You have outlined the use of both very well.

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  14. Great post, Craig. Sometimes a story needs a prolog, and like you, I always read them. This is especially true for books in a series. As for epilogs, I haven’t come across any recently, unless author messages are considered epilogs. Much to think about, thank you!

    Liked by 4 people

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