In an earlier post, Xlibris presents a Guide to the Foreword, Preface, and Introduction, we described the differences between these important areas of your book. Today we’ll linger a little longer at the front of the book before jumping to the back.
What’s the difference between a prologue and an epilogue? And why aren’t they just first and last chapters? And what about the afterword? Is it the same as an epilogue?
Never fear, self-publishing writers, the answers are below. As usual, there are always exceptions, but these descriptions cover the majority of cases. Read on!
The prologue is, in simplest terms, the opening of the story. Remember, the preface and introduction gave the author an opportunity, in her own voice, to discuss her credentials, the background of the book, its central theme, etc. Starting with the prologue though, we’re actually in the story… the ship has left the dock.
So why isn’t it just called “chapter one?” Generally, the answer is that the prologue provides background information that helps put the main story into context. In many cases, it might be well outside the timeline of the central story. They’re common in plays; the “Two Households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona, where we lay our scene…” chorus in Romeo and Juliet is a prologue.
Let’s say you’re writing an adventure novel about a modern-day treasure hunter searching for lost pirate gold. Your prologue might take place in the 1700’s, describing how the pirate ship sank during a storm. In chapter one the story moves to the present day and stays there for the duration.
So if the prologue takes place at the beginning of the story, any guesses on when the epilogue takes place? If you said “at the end,” congrats! But as we asked about the prologue, why isn’t it just considered a chapter of the book (in this case, the last)? Why give it special billing?
As with the prologue, the epilogue takes place within the story; however, it frequently serves to tie up loose ends, to jump a bit ahead in time to tell you how things turned out. You’ve seen this in films, right? When the movie ends with a brief montage of the main characters, and tells about what happened to them? This is the film equivalent of an epilogue. (Interestingly, Wikipedia considers the entire film Godfather III to be an epilogue.)
So what about the afterword? The afterword can be thought of as being in the same family as the preface and introduction. In other words, the author has returned and is speaking again in her own voice. Think of it as her closing statement. If the book has gone through multiple printings, the writer might discuss things that occurred since the initial printing.
So that does it for this time. We’ve learned the difference between a prologue and epilogue, and how an afterword should be used. And although we haven’t exhausted the subject (acknowledgements, conclusions, or postscripts, anyone?), we’ve covered the main sections that you’re likely to encounter in your writing.