An Old-Fashioned Opinion: Prologues, Epilogues, & Epigraphs

Let’s talk about some of my favorite things, but like my aversion to simple and repetitive dialogue tags, my opinion seems to be in the minority. Perhaps I am a little old fashion, but there isn’t anything wrong with that. I believe in holding doors open for a lady, paying for that first date, and being courteous and respectful to your elders. Chivalry is not dead. So when it comes to prologues, epilogues, and epigraphs, I lean towards their usage.

Don’t get me wrong, some prologues are terrible, but not all. Most start very cliched: someone is dreaming, someone dies at the end, it’s about some distant past event. These things do happen, and more often than not, people skip over them. My philosophy is: a prologue should be like a resume, no longer than two pages, because people will skip it. That’s it. It’s super simple. You can say, “Why make one at all?” Well, you can capture the reader at that moment. I like to do something called: in medias res, start in the middle. That, in a nutshell, is my prologue. My prologue works as showing you a brief glimpse into the story. For my stories, I don’t have a “main” character, but I have “leads.” I have many who take up the mantle of the story. One of my leads doesn’t enter the story for a while, and the prologue is her introduction. Moreover, the setting in the prologue is the most important setting throughout the entire series, for within that setting, you unlock many answers.

So, do I skip prologues when I read? You bet. If it’s longer than five, I’ll skip it. I am also one of those people who doesn’t like to skip to the end, but for a prologue, I will. If someone dies at the end, or they wake up, or you realize it’s a memory, I jump to chapter one. Not all prologues are bad, but not all are good either. It’s a personal preference. If someone told me to get rid of it, the only thing I would do is label it chapter one, because it is that important. I do not waste time when writing. If it’s garbage, I will cut it out.

Epilogues are the second topic. I love epilogues. As for me, it comes after the story. When the tale closes, the main parts are covered, but you may not give the full resolution. This is where epilogues come it. Think of it this way, in some regards, epilogues are those credit scenes at the end of a movie. You know what I’m talking about. Almost everyone loves them despite sitting through fifteen minutes of white text on a black screen. Hopefully, the music is good and composed by Hans Zimmer. For me, epilogues are a slight tease at what will come, or it gives a fuller resolution to the story. In many ways, the conclusion arrives in the last chapter, answering all those major questions, or leaving it wide open for the sequel. The epilogue, while has no significant impact on the story you just read, has an enormous impact on the story to come. Again, it’s anticipatory.

Epigraphs. I know some of you are probably wondering, “What in the ancient Roman gods is an epigraph?” It is a short saying, inscription, or quotation that represents a theme. I love this because not every theme is something simple. For the Spider-man movies, you have something that has become cliched by now: ‘with great power comes great responsibility.’ And that theme is simplistic in design. Take another superhero movie like the Dark Knight. You could say that the motif of ‘some men just wanna watch the world burn,’ could be the epigraph, but I would argue that Harvey Dent’s passage would be the epigraph. “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” That simple sentence actually conveys a profound thought.

Epigraphs are a way for you to express the theme of your novel in the context of how you mean it. Books can have a single theme or multiple themes within it. Also, some themes are open to interpretation to the reader. You may not have intended it as an author, but it might be there. In one of my stories, a theme is: “The things we aspire to be are the things that cause us to fail.” It’s more complicated than ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’ or ‘love conquers all.’ While my theme within the book might be ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely,’ my epigraph remains the premise or original idea. Lastly, the epigraph reveals the depth of thought that transcends the novel. Can you imagine if the epigraph for the next book you read was a famous JFK quote? “Ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.”

Again, these are just some of my views. What do you think? Do you hate epigraphs, epilogues, and prologues? How do you determine what you skip over? Are you a cloistered old-fashioned reader or do you just want chapter one and only to the last chapter? If you’re a speed reader, you might skip. For those that aren’t, like me, I like to enjoy the whole book. Leave a comment.

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