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Prologues and Epilogues: Yes or no?

by Carol Burnside

It seems most readers and writers are divided on whether prologues and epilogues are necessary or not. I hadn’t given them much thought until I became an author.

Apparently, I don’t like to end books and let go of my characters, because I have a tendency to add epilogues. Anyone who follows this blog knows I’ve been working on the third book of my Sweetwater Springs series. In A Small Town Princess, I’ve begun with a prologue because I believe readers of the series need to know the secrets of J.T.’s marriage back then in order for them to root for him to find lasting happiness now.

I actually wrote the bones of this prologue back in 2004, with intentions of it being a regular in the first version of A Suitable Wife, but it just didn’t feel right and didn’t fit with the character’s conflicts. So, I cut it and left it languishing on my hard drive with no thoughts of a series.

CarolBurnside_HisSmallTownPrincess_500When the series idea took hold, I remembered the scene and knew it was meant for J.T.’s story. That scene, with some refining, became the prologue for His Small Town Princess and takes place approximately eighteen months before the beginning of the book.

Just before this, J.T. receives a call that his wife has been injured and is being taken to hospital via ambulance. And for clarification–for those who aren’t familiar with roadway systems in the southern U.S.–J.T. is traveling along an access road, a two-lane road that runs parallel to the freeway/autobahn type thoroughfare, because the freeway has been closed to traffic.

Here’s the first glimpse (not yet edited) of a horrific day in J.T.’s life:

She was unconscious at the scene.

Sara couldn’t be badly hurt. She just couldn’t be. Nothing could happen to her because they still needed time to work things out, time to forgive, time to reconnect with feelings that had once been so easy.  Now that they knew she wasn’t pregnant with another man’s baby, they needed to concentrate on rebuilding their marriage.

He leaned forward, straining through wipers and a steady drizzle on his windshield to see what the flickering red and blue lights surrounded. The creeping traffic added to his frustration, bringing an irrational fury.

He was ready to explode when the rain slacked to a mist as if someone flipped a switch, creating better visibility. His first glimpse of the carnage slammed him back against his seat.

My God, how could anyone have survived?

His chin trembled. His stomach churned. Despair washed over him in waves at the mess of twisted metal, broken glass, and gaping holes where once there were doors and headlights and windshields. Some vehicles wrapped eerily around others in a macabre embrace. Still others were unrecognizable for make and model. Law enforcement personnel moved like ants among the wreckage in bright slickers adorned with reflective strips. Some wore hats covered with shower cap-like coverings.

Faint shouts brought more personnel running with stretchers and backboards. Accident victims sat on the side of the road, shell-shocked and soaked. Some were lying down, blood trickling onto the pavement. Still others wandered, dazed, or sobbed as the EMTs worked frantically over their loved ones.

The scene resembled war zones he’d seen on television.

As traffic crawled forward, he rolled down the window, searching for Sara’s SUV. His gaze darted between the vehicle in front of him and the horrific scene. Maybe she saw the wreck in time and pulled to the side. Maybe. She couldn’t have been in the worst of this. His mind refused to accept it.

She was the mother of his children, his first love. Maybe things weren’t ideal between them right now, but he couldn’t envision his family without her.

There! If it hadn’t been for one intact taillight and license plate, he would have missed it altogether. Decimated beyond belief, Sara’s SUV looked like twisted scrap metal in a junkyard.

J.T. stopped his truck and stared.

Her vehicle sat sideways on the highway, the passenger side hugging the back of a flatbed truck. It looked as if she might’ve gone into a skid and gotten slammed from both sides, though the oncoming vehicle had been moved. A good portion of the driver’s side and the roof above was missing, cut away. My God. They’d had to use a Jaws of Life tool to get her out.

A dark stain marred the pale gray driver’s seat, now exposed to the elements. Hanging half-in, half-out of the floor in front of the back seat was Ryan’s bedraggled Elmo.

She had to survive. For their sons.

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Okay, time to weigh in. What’s your preference. Prologues or epilogues, neither or both? Neutral or opinionated, leave it in the comments.

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Marilyn Baron - April 29, 2014 - 12:23 am

I don’t care what they say, I like prologues and epilogues and have used them both. I love the look of the new series. It’s consistent and beautiful. I think you have a winner. And I love the excerpt (Prologue).

[…] today about prologues and epilogues, pro or con. As a bonus, I’m sharing a tension filled excerpt from my new WIP, His Small Town Princess. Please click on the word “excerpt” here, pop […]

Carol Burnside - April 29, 2014 - 1:53 am

I enjoy reading both as well, Marilyn. Guess that’s why I use them. lol Thanks for your thoughts!

Pam Asberry - April 29, 2014 - 8:24 am

I think it depends. If they’re well done, they’re great. And yours are definitely well done! Go, Carol!

Connie Gillam - April 29, 2014 - 8:53 am

I like them both.
I’ve never used a prologue, but I’ve used epilogues. I want my readers to see these characters in the future with their happy ever after.

Maxine Davis - April 29, 2014 - 8:56 am

Carol, I like prologues and epilogues. Yours is an example of a good one. I’ve enjoyed the series so far. I look forward to the third.

Carol Burnside - April 29, 2014 - 1:20 pm

Hey, thanks, Pam!

Carol Burnside - April 29, 2014 - 1:21 pm

Me too, Connie. I also love writing series because I can show the couple in future books and the reader gets another glimpse of their HEA in progress.

Carol Burnside - April 29, 2014 - 1:21 pm

Thank you, Maxine!I’m looking forward to your reading your books too.

Piper - April 29, 2014 - 4:12 pm

I love epilogues. I love that quick update about the couple I’ve just cared cared about and watched fall in love. I want to be reassured that they are doing fine a little further down the road. I would tend to think epilogues are more important for inspys, since the characters tend to fall in love a tad faster.

Prologues? I’ll read them, but write them? Writing one beginning is hard enough, let alone two! Sounds like torture to me, but yours is good enough to be engaged with!

Sandy Elzie - April 29, 2014 - 5:38 pm

Hi Carol,
Great prologue….I’m ready to read more. Prologue and epilogues? I don’t mind them when I read and I use them when I write if something needs to be understood to set up my story (as you mentioned) and, like you, I hate to leave the readers without allowing them to “see” the wedding or the birth of the first child, or whatever, so epilogues are great for this.

Carol Burnside - April 29, 2014 - 8:24 pm

Thank you, Piper! LOL on the two beginnings conundrum. I never thought of it that way.

Carol Burnside - April 29, 2014 - 8:24 pm

I agree, Sandy. Thanks!

Walt Mussell - April 29, 2014 - 9:28 pm

I come out in favor of both prologues and epilogues, though I know I’m in the minority on that. However, despite the feelings against using prologues in particular, my first Japan novel started doing better in contests once I added a prologue.

Carol Burnside - April 29, 2014 - 9:53 pm

That’s interesting about the contests, Walt. Obviously, the prologue added something which increased reader enjoyment or engagement.

Debbie Kaufman - April 30, 2014 - 9:22 am

I like a prologue in some cases, but it seems that some authors (usually less experienced) use them when they should have woven in the back story. When that is the case, the prologue usually stands out in a negative way. However, I’ve seen some very well-written prologues that add to the story. Epilogues? I write them sometimes and they are great for giving us that little glimpse into the future of the story’s happily-ever-after. Epilogues seem to be handled better by most authors and I haven’t seen many of those done poorly.

Susan Carlisle - April 30, 2014 - 10:18 am

I’m not a big prologue person but I don’t mine an epilogues as long as they tie up the story.
I love your book covers.

Carol Burnside - May 1, 2014 - 12:56 am

I get what you’re saying, Debbie. I’m not advocating that we need either one or the other, but I do think some books need them. Done competently, of course.

Carol Burnside - May 1, 2014 - 1:00 am

Susan, I’d have to say I’m more a fan of epilogues for the same reason.

Juli D. Revezzo - May 1, 2014 - 3:34 pm

I like them so I never even thought about it until I saw publishers griping (and I can’t remember one reader I’ve run into gripe about about this). But to me, I don’t look at them any differently than I would any other chapter heading. It doesn’t matter to me if the heading says Prologue or Epilogue or Chapter One and Chapter 200, if it’s relevant to the story, the chapter’s purpose is served. :)

Carol Burnside - May 1, 2014 - 3:57 pm

Nicely said, Juli!

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