Prologue and Preface and Intro––Oh My!

These are some scary words, at least for me, because for as long as I’ve been working on my book I’ve wrestled with what to call the section I’ve put at the front of my book, the bit that begins in medias res of an event that happens later in the book.


The story opens toward the end of my journey and involves a motorcycle crash, a scene I’ve specifically chosen because it sets up the main themes of the story: danger, India, a woman alone on a motorcycle. I feel (and hope) it works as a means of creating tension and intrigue to hook the reader, and that it does so honestly since the story unfolds along these themes. My problem, however, is what do I call this section: prologue, preface, what? 

Cheryl Strayed opens her book Wild: Lost and Found on the Pacific Crest Trail with a scene in which she loses her boot over the edge of a mountain. The book then flashes back in chapter one to how she came to be on the trail, eventually catching up to the boot-losing scene. In the table of contents, this opening is listed as a “prologue”. But is that correct?

I’ve read many definitions of a “prologue”; here are two. See what you think:

“A prologue is introductory material set apart in time, space, or viewpoint (or all three) from the main story and creates intrigue for upcoming events. To qualify as a prologue, the information or events must exist outside the framework of the main story.” –– Jessica Page Morrell’s Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us

However, Pat McNees draws his understanding of a prologue from The Chicago Manual of Style and says:

“A prologue starts the action and is PART of the action, though it could take place in the middle of the action — it often focuses on a pivotal moment.”

To me, these two seem out of step with each other, but the second syncs up with what Strayed did in Wild. I would, however, still like to know if this is the correct terminology.

The function and operation of the preface, introduction, and foreward I understand better.

Preface: is penned by the author and explains why and how the book came to be written.

Introduction: is written by the author to explain the contents of the book.

Foreward: is written by someone other than the author, such as an expert in the field being covered in the book, to add credibility to the work. It is part of the book’s marketing package. (By the way, the word “foreward” is one of the most misspelled words in English.)

I confess, I’m still unsure if I’ve labeled my opening correctly. Can you help me? How do you define “prologue”? 


2 thoughts on “Prologue and Preface and Intro––Oh My!

  • at 6:00 PMApr

    Found this very interesting. Must confess: I skip them very often whether fiction or non fiction. I find I don’t need or want the info until later if at all. If a story is confusing without it, ill go back and read it right away Usually its not necessary. I might read it at the end if I’m sad the book is over. Then I’m scrounging for more insight wherever I can find it. Looking forward to the book!!! Keep up the good stuff Connie and congrats on the new job.. Love Lisa b

    • C. L. Stambush
      at 6:00 PMApr

      Thank you Lisa. For a long time I skipped over prologues, intros, and prefaces for the same reasons as you. I wanted to get to the story. I now like some prologues as long as they are part of the story and “jump start” it. Like you, however, I find many drag and delay what I hope will be a great journey read. Thanks for commenting. Can’t tell you how much I look forward to this sort of interaction. Love, cls


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