Increasingly amongst literary types (well, amongst agents and publishers at least) there seems to be a vogue for disliking prologues and epilogues in novels, purely on principle. Apparently they are passe and boring.
I cannot understand why, beyond an essentially lazy argument that they want to ditch prologues in order to get on with the story. Sometimes prologues can be boring, self-indulgent and/or irrelevant, but at other times they can prove intriguing, insightful and essential. The same can be true of epilogues. The question as a writer is, how can you tell the difference?
Of course, if one wants to slavishly adhere to all directives from mainstream publishing types, prologues and epilogues are to be conscientiously avoided, especially for the first time novelist. However, I disregard such blanket prohibitions, as on a few occasions the presence of a prologue or epilogue has, in my view, greatly enhanced my novels – either in anticipation of events to follow, or in providing emotional closure at the aftermath.
My own rule of thumb is if the novel genuinely loses something from the excision of the prologue and/or epilogue, include them. Obviously deciding this can be done by taking into consideration advice from others. Last year for example, I wrote a novel that featured a prologue. It wasn’t strictly necessary for the plot, but it eerily foreshadowed subsequent events, and provided an emotional hook that otherwise would not have been present had the novel begun with chapter 1. Of course, some novelists would simply say to make the prologue chapter 1, but somehow that didn’t feel right to me in this case.
Another example from my own work is the epilogue at the conclusion of my most successful novel Children of the Folded Valley. I defy you to find anyone who thinks the novel would be improved by excluding those last couple of pages. The epilogue is emotionally essential, providing what I hoped to be (and what reviewers tell me is) a powerfully cathartic close. Check out the novel for yourself, if you haven’t already.