In a post last week, AuthorHouse described the differences between a foreword, preface, and introduction. 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 the 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.
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 what about the epilogue? What isn’t it just the final chapter of the book? Why does it receive 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.
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 in her own voice again. 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.
That’s all 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.