Stuff On Sundays: Of the Before and After

I don’t like prologues as a rule and in the last few weeks, a good proportion of the books I have read have begun with one. Apparently there are good reasons for including a prologue but I am rarely convinced.

One of the main purposes of a prologue seems to be to hook a browser who idly skims the first few pages of a novel with a major event that will pique their interest.  I guess it is a legitimate option, but for me these prologues are too often akin to spoilers, foreshadowing a major event that would have much more impact if I had had the chance to stumble upon it rather than be warned it was coming.

Another justification for a prologue is to introduce back story, only recently have I seen this used effectively (in Malla Nunn’s, Let The Dead Lie) because it says something about character without revealing anything about the story, but mostly I think these type of prologues imparts information that would be better off integrated into the story.

Personally I am always tempted to page straight past them, though I will always skim them at least, but for me it is often too much like turning to the back of the book to read the last few pages before you even start at worst, and irrelevant information at best.

Epilogues are a different story. I love a good epilogue, I appreciate closure, particularly where a happy ever after ending is concerned, (Reader, I married him), or as with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, something positive, that shows that life has moved on since awful events. I don’t need pages of details, just some sort of confirmation that the characters I have come to care for have a future.

I also, in the case of a series, enjoy an epilogue  that hints at possible direction for the next novel, teasing me with the thrill of anticipation. Where the first chapter of the next book is included though I won’t generally read it, for me, that is simply a frustrating experience. (For the same reason I avoid excerpts of  books, unless style is a consideration from a new to me author)

So tell me – Do you like prologues? Epilogues? Or is there another literary device that you love and hate?

 

 

27 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mari - Escape In A Book
    May 06, 2012 @ 08:30:50

    Wonderful post! I don’t really have any strong opinions when it comes to prologues and epilogues, sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t 🙂

    I do however have at least one other literary device that bothers me, I’m not sure what the correct term is but it’s when the author of a series is using retrospective technique to tell the readers what has happened in previous installments. Very few author manages to pull this off in a good way and it just bores me to no end. At least try to be creative so I don’t feel like I’m being underestimated as a reader. So there you have one of my pet peeves.

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    • shelleyrae @ Book'd Out
      May 06, 2012 @ 13:15:54

      Good to know Mari! I agree it’s a device that needs to be handled carefully otherwise it is too much like an information dump

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  2. Sue Gerth
    May 06, 2012 @ 08:50:43

    Love love love an epilogue! Always like to have a bit of closure with the characters.

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  3. VeganYANerds
    May 06, 2012 @ 11:33:36

    Interesting post, Shelleyrae! I haven’t given much thought to prologues but you’re right in that they often spoil the ending but they can also provide some back story which is handy.

    I’m with you on epilogues, it’s nice to get closure, particularly in regards to a story you were invested in.

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  4. Kim
    May 06, 2012 @ 13:25:13

    I’m with you. Hate prologues, love a good epilogue.

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  5. samstillreading
    May 06, 2012 @ 15:17:26

    Neither really bother me that much, but I hate prologues that give away the ending. Don’t think I won’t forget that it was mentioned earlier!
    I really disliked the epilogue of the last Harry Potter book. It seemed very ‘tacked on’. Does it matter who married who?

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    • shelleyrae @ Book'd Out
      May 06, 2012 @ 16:46:30

      Lol Sam I am a sucker for a happy ending so I loved knowing that they all ended up together, and Hogwarts was rebuilt etc etc 🙂

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  6. Tanya Patrice
    May 06, 2012 @ 16:22:00

    I’m definitely a fan of epilogues, but prologues don’t really bother me. But like Mari mentioned – I’m not a huge fan of the retrospective technique or whatever it’s called, to look back on books in the series. It’s the only thing I didn’t like about The Vampire Academy series.

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  7. bernadetteinoz
    May 06, 2012 @ 17:31:28

    I am in agreement with you. Prologues bad. Epilogues good. Almost always 🙂

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  8. Helene Young
    May 06, 2012 @ 18:05:06

    A few years ago I would have said that I don’t like prologues, but I’ve changed my mind somewhat. I think they can be used to great effect to give insights into back story that would otherwise be hard to work through a story without looking awkward. I’ve recently seen flashbacks used to do what a lean clean prologue could have done much more effectively…

    But I’m definitely a sucker for a lovely prologue that wraps it all up for not just the main characters but also for some of the minor ones!

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  9. laurelrainsnow
    May 06, 2012 @ 22:19:59

    I don’t have strong feelings about them, one way or the other. I do enjoy them when they’re used to hint at something coming later, without really giving away too many clues. Does that make sense? lol

    I like epilogues that tie up some loose ends and give closure.

    I’ve used both prologues in epilogues in my own work, but several of my books have neither.

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  10. laurelrainsnow
    May 06, 2012 @ 22:20:39

    I meant to say “prologues and epilogues”….lol

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  11. Lauren
    May 07, 2012 @ 00:29:23

    I know what you mean about prologues giving things away, but I find that I’ve usually forgotten all about the prologue by the time I reach that part of the actual story in context. That being said, I do think it’s a bit of a literary gimmick to start a book with the most exciting / thrilling part of the story, its like cheating! The real trick is to make the ACTUAL beginning of the story enough of a hook on its own.

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    • shelleyrae @ Book'd Out
      May 07, 2012 @ 10:11:49

      “The real trick is to make the ACTUAL beginning of the story enough of a hook on its own” My feelings exactly Lauren!.

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  12. Ashley Prince
    May 07, 2012 @ 00:35:37

    I don’t particularly hate or love prologues. I am one of those people who will read every single page that have words on them when it comes to books. Some prologues are effective and some are annoying. Particularly when the prologue is in 1st person and the rest of the book is in 3rd. Or vice versa. Some of the more effective ones I’ve seen is when it comes to crime thrillers. I have noticed some authors giving the prologue in the killers voice and the rest of the novel in 3rd person, focusing on the detective.

    Epilogues, I love. Like you, I love the closure or when it hits at something interesting in the next book.

    And I so agree with the chapter preview for the next book. It makes me really frustrated to read those so I try hard to pass them over.

    Great topic.

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  13. Pepca
    May 07, 2012 @ 03:15:05

    I don’t mind prologues. I usually read book from the fist to the last page, including sometimes trivial things such as quotes, acknowledgements, sources, etc. I love epilogues, because I need a closure at the end of a book.

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  14. Mari @Bookworm with a View
    May 07, 2012 @ 10:25:07

    I enjoy both if they serve a purpose. Sometimes neither is needed….

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  15. Stephanie @ Read in a Single Sitting
    May 07, 2012 @ 10:42:26

    I’m not a fan of either, although I’d take an epilogue over a prologue any day. A prologue screams poor pacing and set-up to me (“Chapter one is boring, so I’ll just whack an interesting bit up front”); in contrast I often find that epilogues are a too-tidy way of fixing up a poor conclusion. Cynic? Me?

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  16. Wendy
    May 08, 2012 @ 01:00:18

    I cannot stand prologues! They are always wishy washy, vague parts of the story that are always confusing and off-putting. Now that I know writers are determined to use them, I look beyond them to the story, but I really abhor a perplexing prologue!

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  17. Shonda
    May 08, 2012 @ 12:05:06

    I never thought about this before. I don’t mind reading prologues. I do mind when the prologue has nothing to do with story though. I mean, why include it at all? Epilogues are good though. I just want to know that everyone is okay especially if I find myself attached to the characters!

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  18. The Australian Bookshelf
    May 08, 2012 @ 20:54:42

    I have similar thoughts to you on this Shelleyrae. I think sometimes prologues can set the wrong tone for the book, especially if they are written from the villain’s point of view or if they are some historical note that’s added as backstory. It sometimes can affect my mood when i start a book, i’d prefer to delve straight into the story. I love epilogues though!

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  19. the book mystress
    May 09, 2012 @ 22:57:35

    I am not a fan of prologues. i believe if the information from the prologues should be set out in the novel in some way, i think if a author gets the point of the past across with out a prologue they deserve a clap, prologues are lazy for me, as for epilogues dont have an opinion, 🙂

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