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Foreword or Prologue? Ask Anne The Pro Writer

questionsignHi Anne,

What is the difference between ‘Foreword’ and ‘Prologue’?  When do you use them? Please advise



Hi RH,

I almost missed this one because it didn’t have Q&A or Question in the subject line.

Although there are various definitions, it’s probably best to think of a foreword as an introductory piece written by someone other than the author introducing the book. From a marketing point of view, the more famous the writer of the forword the better.

A prologue is usually used in fiction and sets the scene and the atmosphere for the story to come.

Neither is a requirement and both can be a nice touch when used properly.

[askanne] [sig]

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{ 12 comments… add one }
  • AJ

    Hey Anne,
    I’m writing an itty bitty step book, that’s mostly how to improve in sport. I want to tell a story, anecdote about a player to make it a little more personal. It doesn’t fit in the chapter content. I already have an introduction. I first labeled it as an epilogue, but my publisher is giving me a hard time about something else and I’m thinking it would work better in the beginning, what would I label it as?
    Thanks, Amy

    • Since you have a publisher – congratulations – I’d ask them what you should call it. Prologue is stage setting; intro is an overview and foreword is written by someone else, hopefully with name recognition, that tells folks how wonderful the book is – my quick and dirty definitions… very fluid really.

      • jorgekafkazar

        That’s a good answer, Anne. I’m a little unclear whether the asker has appended a made-up story to a non-fiction book, or whether the ‘anecdote’ is true. It it’s the former, generally, that’s a bad idea; fictional material adds no validity at all to expository writing. If, on the other hand, the anecdote really happened, and is generally relevant to the entire book, I’d work it into the introduction. Either way, the publisher* gets the final say.

        Best regards,

        * assuming it’s a genuine publisher, and not something dreadful like Publish America.

        • Jorge, thanks for the distinction about both the story and the kind of publisher.

  • To amplify on what’s been said earlier: Famous people are often asked to provide an introduction, not so often a foreword. The foreword can be used to provide information that the author thinks will help the reader understand the book better: why the book was written, why it’s important, what the historical roots of the work are, and so on. Forewords are rare in fiction, except in anthologies, where the extra information helps to unify the disparate works or at least compare and contrast them.

    One thing I may not have addressed: a prolog (or prologue) should give the reader at least a little clue as to what the book is about. A mysterious, disconnected prologue may drive readers away, unless they can put it in some context.
    jorgekafkazar recently posted..Watcher in the Night decipheredMy Profile

    • You’re much better at sorting these out than I am, Jorge.

  • Hannah

    To add to what jorgekafkazar said, during editing I read part of the beginning of my book to a friend over the phone. I had a prologue, but I found myself skipping it and starting where I had labeled “Chapter 1.” Why? Because that’s not where it needed to start. I asked myself if there was anything wrong with having a prologue. After all, I’d read many books with them. But here, it wasn’t needed (action/crime/suspense) and I had unconsciously began reading where the book actually started.

    I moved the prologue, which introduced another antagonist, to a later chapter and I’m much happier with its placement now. Now the book begins with a quiet lull and at the bottom of the first page, BAM! The conflict occurs. It’s much more effective.

    • Anne

      Interesting, I’m a prologue and foreword reader. But your move sounds like a good one.

  • The foreword is a “before word.” Nobody reads them. I saw a foreword once where the famous writer thereof admitted he didn’t think anyone was reading it. The purpose of the foreword is to get the famous person’s name on the cover: “Foreword by Damson Greengage Satsuma.”

    The prologue (or prolog) is a “before speech.” In fiction, a lot of new writers write three page prologues. These can often be fixed by just putting “Chapter I” at the top. Or by throwing it away. As you say, Anne, the prologue is just supposed to set the scene and the atmosphere–it’s a teaser. If the customer in the bookstore (virtual or hardcopy) doesn’t get sucked in by the prologue, you’ve lost the sale. The tone, voice, point-of-view, and language of the prologue can be completely different from the balance of the book. Anything over a half page is questionable.

    In addition to scene and atmosphere, some prologues introduce an important character and make at least a sketchy attempt to make the reader identify with him/her. And her cat, if you want to pull out all the stops [börf]. Whether I have a prologue or not, my favorite approach is to follow the advice of L. Sprague deCamp: “Shoot the sheriff in the first paragraph.”
    .-= jorgekafkazar´s last blog ..Tenirax, Ch V =-.

  • Cindy

    No, but it’s one of those common mistakes.

  • Cindy

    It’s foreword

    (and thanks for this great site, btw!)

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