Tip #80: The beginning or the end? (prologues and epilogues)

Today’s tip is about prologues and epilogues. Many authors abuse these writing tools by including either too much or too little information in these areas, which could have been included somewhere else throughout the book.

First let me define each term:

Prologue: a portion of writing that comes before the main story. A preface to the actual piece of literary work.

Epilogue: a portion of writing that comes after the main story. It serves as a comment or a conclusion to the actual piece of literary work.

Not all stories need these elements and some stories should not have them. 


Here are some reasons TO include a prologue:

  1. When it tells something that happened before the main story began.
  2. If it tells something that would not work well in the first chapter or anywhere else in the story. 
  3. To give a little bit of backstory on a main character (or characters).
  4. To tell something from a certain character’s POV that would not fit anywhere else in the story.
  5. To fill in a gap of the story that cannot be easily filled in anywhere else in the story.

The same type of rules apply to the epilogue. 


Here are a few examples of times when an epilogue would work:

  1. When it explains something that happens after the story came to an end. 
  2. When the content of the epilogue could not be worked into the story anywhere else.
  3. When it offers a prelude into a subsequent book in a series.
  4. To tie up loose ends – especially in a final book within a series.
  5. To bring readers closure or comfort if a traumatic event has just occurred at the end of the story. 



Before you insert that prologue or epilogue, ask yourself these questions:

*Can this be told any other way in any other part of the story?

*Does this move my story forward or explain something necessary?

*Do I have a good hook in my prologue to keep readers turning pages to make it to the meat of the story?

*Am I inserting a prologue just to “hook” readers?

*Does this work in my genre? – I wouldn’t expect to see a prologue in non-fiction books very often. 


I included a prologue but no epilogue in “When Darkness Breaks.” In my second book, “Unsevered,” I included an epilogue but no prologue. 

Feel free to check them out and see if I did it right. (smile)
Click on an image learn more!

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Unsevered - Traci Sanders


How do you all feel about prologues and epilogues? Do they intrigue you or annoy you? Feel free to comment below!

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  • Stephen Geez

    We published the Lady Trilogy by Mark Allen North, in which the second book has a prologue recapping major events in the first book, and the third does the same from the first two. This works somewhat effectively for those who are starting with book 2 or 3, but what works best about it is as a reminder of what previously happened in case a long gap falls between readings. So, I guess, that’s my suggested addition to your list of prologue rationales, Traci: as a reminder of what happened earlier in a series.

    Thanks for good thinking, Ms. Sanders. I heartily agree people should read your novels for good examples!

  • Traci Sanders

    Thank you, Stephen. I’m happy you approve of my incorporation of these elements in my books (smile). I truly feel that prologues and epilogues have their places and can make compelling additions to the right books.

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