Prologue, epilogue offer info, action to boost tale

Sometimes a novel begs for a different opening than what appears in Chapter 1, though the story really begins with those opening first lines. Or the novel might need a different closing despite the story’s central problem has been resolved. In such scenarios, you may want to consider adding a prologue (in the case of the former) or an epilogue (in the case of the latter) to your book.

Traditionally a prologue establishes the story’s setting and provides a number of background details that will help the reader better understand what’s happening in Chapter 1. Often this is a big info dump, such as the description of the desert world Arrakis and the interstellar political situation in the science fiction novel “Dune.” Other times, it’s a brief story that occurred years or months before the main story. Such a story provides an incident that will later help explain how the characters motivations came to be.

This is not to say a prologue can’t be set after the novel’s main action, however; in such cases, the novel then is about how the main characters got to the events that occurred in the prologue. That means the prologue should be fairly spectacular and interesting to the reader or it’ll fail.

Another option is to use the prologue to position the reader’s attitude toward the story; for example, “The Princess Bride” opens with a grandfather reading a bedtime story to his grandson with the read story being the main storyline; we then know through this opening that the story is mainly a humorous fairy tale. In that instance, though, the prologue is less a prologue than simply the frame story.

An epilogue is more like an afterword. Sometimes it serves the purpose of bringing closure to the story by telling what is happening weeks or months later, and more properly is the story’s denouement. Other times, it sets up the characters for the author’s sequel by placing them in a situation (It may even be a scene or chapter from that next book.).