Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Prologues, Epilogues and Interim Chapters Oh, My!

When I started writing my ms a few years ago I didn't have a prologue. Life was good. Then, I became worried thinking I should put one in because the book I was reading at the time, told me I should. So, I wrote what I thought was a prologue, didn't like it and a few months later chucked it. And then I thought, what about a preface or epilogue? Could I, should I put one in? And then I came across something called interim chapters and was at a total loss. Figuring I needed to get a few things straight, I did some digging and this is what I came up with.


In short, a prologue is the introductory segment to your work in progress. The key here is that it's part of the story and can be useful for recounting backstory, usually something that occured earlier in time. The prologue in Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, for instance, describes the last moments of Jacques Saunière's life (roughly three pages long in the French version).

But a prologue can also be used much like a teaser. It's especially useful if the beginning of your novel is slow to build up. A dramatic or suspenseful prologue can hook your reader right away and keep them willing to read on through a slow beginning. In Amy Plum's book Die For Me, the prologue is less than two paragraphs long and ends with the following: "Jeanne had said that meeting me had transformed Vincent. I have given him "new life." But was he expecting me to save is soul?

You can also have prologues that seem to have little to do with your story, but in fact, foretells a mood or gives your reader clues as to what they may expect in the book. In Paulo Coelho's, The Alchemist, the prologue retells a version of the legend of Narcissus, a man so in love with his own image that he spent most of his time staring at his reflection in the lake until the day he fell in and drowned. In this particular version, we find out it is the lake who misses Narcissus the most because it can no longer see its beauty in the reflection of Narcissus's eyes. And for some reason, it is this version of the legend that the alchemist prefers the most. The idea that vanity can become a selfless act and be used for good gives readers a taste for what is to come in the book. Humm, food for thought...

Now keep in mind, you may be able to convey information in your prologue through flashbacks. This is what I ended up doing with my ms, but it's up to you to decide what works best for your wip.


The preface on the other hand, is written in the author's voice as if he or she is talking directly to the reader. Commonly found in non-fiction books, it's a place where the author can discuss how the book was first conceived, or maybe this is a new edition and the author wishes to highlight certain events that have happened since the first edition. In the book, The Elements of Editing A Modern Guide for Editors and Journalists by Arthur Plotnik, the preface is a three page account of why and how the book came about, but also the importance of well-rounded editors, and properly trained journalism school graduates.

And just as a side note, a foreword is an introduction written by a different person which precedes the preface.


This one is easy. The epilogue is similar to the prologue, except it explains what happens to the characters after the story ends. What's cool here though is you can also use this as an opportunity to switch POV. One of the most famous epilogues is Shakespeare's, A Midsummer Night's Dream that is delivered directly to the audience:

"If we shadows have offended, 
    Think but this, and all is mended, 
    That you have but slumber'd here 
    While these visions did appear. 
    And this weak and idle theme, 
    No more yielding but a dream, 
    Gentles, do not reprehend: 
    if you pardon, we will mend: 
    And, as I am an honest Puck, 
    If we have unearned luck 
    Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue, 
    We will make amends ere long; 
    Else the Puck a liar call; 
    So, good night unto you all. 
    Give me your hands, if we be friends, 
    And Robin shall restore amends." (V, i. 440-455)

Interim Chapters

To be honest, I didn't even know what this was until I started reading about them. Interim chapters can be used when you have a lot of story to tell and need to share information with the reader that none of your POV characters know. Some writers have used interims to insert newspaper articles, diary entries, letters, FBI reports, photographs, phone conversations, etc. This information may not be closely connected to the main story but may still be useful in conveying important information. A word of caution, interim chapters have a tendency to break up the flow of your story which can be jarring to the reader. The key is to keep interim chapters short and make sure your story warrants this fragmentation.

(Source: Kress, Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint. 2005)

 So what about you guys? Have you incorporated any of these in your wips? Did you find it easy or difficult to write? Have any good/bad examples you've come across in other books?


  1. Oh dear and there I was thinking all that was needed was a beginning, a middle and an end. I knew what the words 'prologue, preface, epilogue and interim' mean but not the reasons why they are used in books. Very interesting, thank you Elise.

  2. Great breakdown. I'd never heard of interim chapters before though now that you describe it I know I've seen some.

  3. I love the way you introduced the topic, showing your dilemma in choosing the design of an ms.

    I have heard of these but was not sure how to use them. You give good summaries here on their use. Interim chapters are new to me and they sound exciting as well. Thanks for this. Cheers

  4. Thanks for the info. I've never used a prologue or epilogue. But have seen them in many novels.

  5. stuff i've not used... but well said, elise

    interims seem the same as 'inserts' in screenplays, i do use those

  6. Sally: You're welcome, I learned a few things too. (:

    S.P.Bowers: I'd never heard the term interim chapters either but like you, I've seen them in a few books.

    Clay: Hi there, glad you liked the post. Hope it was helpful. (:

    Richard: Thanks for stopping by. With the exception of a prologue, I've never used any of these either.

    laughingwolf: I can't begin to imagine the amount of work that goes into screenplays. And I like the term 'inserts' sounds less pretentious.

  7. Maybe it's just me, but in general, I don't care for prologues. For me, they seem to fall into one of two categories:

    1. Some stuff that just as easily could had been called "Chapter 1," but labeling it a "prologue" makes it seem more literary and important.

    2. Some exciting stuff that tries to suck you in -- the teaser, as you said. Too often, however, it just sends the message that, "hey, the first part of my book is filled with boring backstory, so I've got to give you a morsel of something interesting now and then hope you can make it through eight chapters of dry info-dumps and dull world-building before the REAL story starts in chapter nine."

    I just think it's better to make the story interesting and compelling right from the get-go, and back-fill in needed information in snippets as needed along the way, and I'm comfortable just starting at the beginning with chapter one.

    But that's just my two cents. I do like the idea of a preface if needed -- it's a direct conversation between the writer and the reader outside of the story. And an epilogue can occasionally work, but just because there's a jump in time, there's often no real reason not to label it as simply the last chapter. It frequently feels forced as an 'epilogue', kind of like the 'encore' of a band at the end of a concert, when EVERYONE in the whole auditorium knew they were going to come back out anyway.

  8. Thanks for explaining about interim chapters - certainly, I've read books with them but didn't know there was a label for what they were. Very educational post, Elise!

    Lots of peeps in publishing have been talking smack about prologues of late, but whatevs - I think, if you as the author believe/feel it's right for your MS, then do whatcha gotta do and the devil take the naysayers! (But then again, I'm reckless like that.) :-D

    ALSO - You've Been Tagged by Some Dark Romantic! Click on the link to learn more! :-)

  9. Chris: Thanks for stopping by, your two cents is always worth it. Ultimately, if your story is good from page one, no need mucking things up. Totally agree. But I do like the idea of a "teaser" of sorts. I'd say if it works for movies, why not for a book? (:

    Mina: Yeah, once in a while I go crazy and get a little edumakshonal. (;

    I agree with you about the prologues. If it strengthens your ms go for it. And thanks for tagging me! Awesome! :)

  10. I had no idea what an interim chapter was until I found one in a book I've been reading. Now that explains a lot of what's going on lol. There is so much to the craft of writing.

    1. "There is so much to the craft of writing." Indeed, and I'm barely scratching the surface.

  11. My first WIP has a prologue. And rightly so. My hero has slowed aging. His inciting event occurred nearly a century before the book starts. Chapter 1 contains the heroine's inciting event, and the story runs consecutive, 'present' time from there. (Did I explain that right?)

    1. I got, stuff happened 100 years before Chapter 1?

      But seriously, the premise sounds very intriguing. And from the sound of it, yes a prologue would be important.

  12. Thanks for sharing all of this Elise, very interesting? It is also hard to decide whether to forgo all the above and not include them at all! Writing is hard work....

    1. I sure do agree with you! Writing is very hard work.

  13. Turns out I've used interim chapters, just didn't know that's what they were called.


    1. I've never used them, but I have come across books that have. Didn't know there was a fancy term for it either. (:


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