I know for a lot of people in the writer and reader community there is a strong hatred for prologues and epilogues, such to the point that there are those who will skip them entirely. For myself I am not quite that far into the camp of refusing to read the words written by an author. I personally have respect for the author to read all the words of story that they have written in the given book. It is meant to be part of the story and it is meant to be read.
While I am strongly of the opinion that you read all the words, I have concluded that Epilogues are atrocious and something I am growing to despise. Prologues how ever I am very okay with and do not have a hatred for them like I do epilogues.
Prologues when done right are like a larger form of the teasing blurb on the back of the book. It gives you a glimpse of the future events of the story to make the slightly more ‘boring’ start less boring because you know that isn’t the whole story more is coming. While I am not overly fond of the books an example of such a prologue is Twilight. At the start of the book there is a prologue that mentions how death was not something the character expected. I don’t remember exact details but it gave a taste that something bigger was going to happen before we dig into the story of Bella moving to Forks Washington. I admit the prologue is what drew me into the book before they became a craze and before I realized the quality of the writing found with in the book.
If a Prologue doesn’t give you a glimpse into future events they many times can give you knowledge of events that your hero is not privy too events else where that tell you things are coming for your ignorant character. It gives you that moment when looking at the every day life of the main character of ‘you poor fool, everything is about to change for you’. I like these moments. A good example of this is Mister Monday the first book in the Keys to the Kingdom series by Garth Nix. The prologue starts in the magical world where a motion of events take place that leave you wondering before you start the story with the hero Arthur who is just trying to survive a day of school not knowing anything about the world of magic. The prologue wets your appetite, or at least usually does. There are times where it is pointless but even then I am not bothered by them.
Epilogues however…. that is a whole other ball of wax. I am not saying all epilogues are bad but a lot of them are terrible. I really truly hate them. I can think of three distinct examples where at best it was bad and pointless to completely and utterly ruining the end of a story. The first example I present to you is the Epilogue found in Armada the second book by Ernest Cline. The story was to me mediocre at best but the epilogue was a massive rush to the end to summarize several things, and set up for a possible squeal but poorly so. It was a rush of scenes and events that would have been better fleshed out and played into the prose or left off entirely. However the epilogue did not ruin the story.
The next two epilogues should be more familiar with people as the first one I present is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I know for some massive fans they loved knowing about the next generation and I know I’ve had my fun writing that next generation in the past but still it was weak and in my opinion it detracted from the chief story. I know there are a lot of people that would have preferred it not be there and I feel it weakened the story told across all seven books. Again not terrible but it does contribute to the whole epilogues not being great motif.
The last epilogue I present is the worst of them all and quite frankly ruined the story and negated a brilliant ending. What book it that? That is none other than Mocking Jay by Susan Collins. The end of Mocking Jay was beautiful and so fulfilling.
So after, when he whispers, “You love me. Real or not real?”
I tell him “Real”
That is a powerful ending to me so complete and fulfilling, unfortunately you turn the page and there is epilogue where we see Katniss still haunted by her past and how she is getting ready to face it again so to speak by recounting it to her questioning children. It doesn’t have power doesn’t speak, they are just words on a page. In a lot of ways this epilogue more than any other was just vanity writing. It wasn’t a matter of words written for the story and the reader but written for the author, and that bugs me.
I know as writers we write for ourselves, but as we write for ourselves we also write some for an audience and while you the writer have ideas beyond the main story sometimes the end of your book is not the place to put them. I hope that if I ever write an epilogue my test readers and editors will tell me right off if I am writing for my vanity or detracting from the story.
Of course with my examples and rants I am not ready to say all Epilogues are bad but I not able to think of a good one. Does someone know of a good one to share? Do you disagree with my assessment? Are you willing to consider prologues or epilogues in your own writing? I have yet to write one but I won’t rule them out.