I recently did an author talk and during the course of discussing the concept of an emotionally satisfying ending being a key ingredient of a romance novel, one of the audience said. “I have read GATHER THE BONES and I loved it, but of course they could never have a life together… he is too damaged.”
That comment set me back on my heels because if that was what she thought, then I have failed in my task as a writer of romance. I had hoped (intended?) that readers would see GATHER THE BONES as a redemptive story where the damage the hero suffers through World War One is healed. Without a spoiler, I won’t reveal here how I ended the story except to say in it’s original draft the story had an epilogue with the hero and heroine away from the terrible events of the book, in their new life in Australia. My original editor and I discussed the need for this epilogue and, given the book also has a prologue, decided that the ending provided the hope of a life together.
"In a Galaxy far, far away..." So begins the most famous Prologue in cinematic history.
It was Jenny Crusie, a writer for whom I have the utmost admiration, who stood up at a Romance Writers of Australia Conference and told us in no uncertain terms that a writer should NEVER use prologues and epilogue. They are a sign of weak writing and show disdain for the reader.
I have published six full length novels and I am ashamed to admit that two of them have prologues (BY THE SWORD and GATHERTHE BONES) and, in my opinion, both prologues provide absolutely vital pieces of information regarding the motivation of the characters that I feel the reader needs to know before they move to the events of the book. Could the books stand without them? I’m not sufficiently far removed from the story to comment!
The current work in progress also has a prologue - for the same reason. This is the third book in a series and I feel, for the readers sake, it needs an explanation of the intervening years between Book 2 and this book. I guess at the end of the day it is up to the reader. Like all things… some readers love them, others hate them. Whether the Prologue stays in the final version is yet to be seen...
I also think in the vast majority of cases the prologues I have read are unnecessary and are just used as a vehicle to provide back story. If that is the case then that is the wrong use of a prologue and it is, as JC, would say “lazy writing”. I particularly hate prologues that end with something like “And little was she to know…” or “and then the countess died, the child grew up and etc etc…”.
Epilogues - these can very often feel tacked on to the story. In romance stories do we need to see the wedding or the hero and heroine surrounded by their brood of children. I have one book with an Epilogue - Secrets in Time. Would Gather the Bones be improved with the addition of the unpublished epilogue?
I think for writers considering the use of prologues or epilogues, the question you need to ask yourself is: “What does this add to the story that cannot be exposed in some other form during the story?” (Which probably leads to another discussion on Flashbacks…). If the answer is “very little” then ditch the prologue and start the story where it is meant to start. Ditto for epilogues - unless the epilogue is going to add something significant to the story and is not just an indulgence on the part of a writer who can’t let go of the characters, then it should be enough to leave the readers with the promise of the Happy Ever After.
As to the unpublished epilogue to GATHER THE BONES... subscribe to my newsletter and on the issue of my next newsletter you can have exclusive access to read it... and maybe comment as to whether the published version should or should not have included it!
In the meantime GATHER THE BONES (prologue and all) is on sale of just .99c until 20 October.