What’s the difference between forewords, prefaces, prologues, and introductions? We explain what they are, when to use them, and tips for writing them. We also include examples of each.
Books don’t always begin with Chapter One.
Story structure is important, but there’s a lot to be said before the book begins.
There are many books that contain a foreword, preface, prologue, or introduction before the first chapter. These introduce the writer, the characters, the topic, or the book itself.
Can you tell the difference between a prologue, an introduction, or the rest of them?
Some of these are written by the author, while others need external input. Some are meant to be used for fiction, and others are non-fiction specific.
Let Writers Write take care of the confusion, and show you the ropes.
Forewords, Prefaces, Prologues, & Introductions – What’s The Difference?
Here’s what you should know about the foreword, preface, prologue, and introduction.
What Is It?
A foreword appears at the start of a book to introduce readers to the topic, overall subject, or author.
Usually, a foreword is not written by the author.
Forewords are written by experts on the topic or subject. They can also be written by friends, acquaintances, or colleagues of the author (but only when it’s relevant to the text at hand).
Why Use It?
A foreword fits best for non-fiction books, although there is fiction out there using it.
Let’s say that I wrote a book on The Rabbit Lover’s Diet as a five-year rabbit owner. The foreword would best be written by an expert: let’s say Dr Rabbit Lover, who has been working with rabbits for his entire career.
Forewords are a great way to introduce your readers to the topic (or your writing) in a way that’s written by someone else. It’s a good way to add some authority or background from another source.
- Saturday Kitchen Suppers, With A Foreword By Tom Kerridge
- Philip A. Fisher Collected Works, With A Foreword By Ken Fisher
- Find The Right Writer: Seek out a writer that’s relevant to the subject of the book, one that is an authority on the topic, or one that will be relevant to readers. The wrong choice can make a foreword seem out of place.
- Ask Ahead: Ask the person you’ve selected to write a foreword early. As soon as you have finished the second draft. If they say no, do you have anyone else in mind?
- Provide A Copy: Foreword writers should know the book well. Where possible, provide them with a copy ahead of time.
What Is It?
A preface appears at the start of a book, and introduces the author.
While it mentions the subject, the main focus of a preface is the writer of the book.
Prefaces are written by the main author of the text. When another writer authors a preface, it’s closer to an introduction.
Why Use It?
A preface is a good way to let readers know who you are as a writer.
Use the preface to focus on relevant things you have written before, or the specific journey which brought you to writing this book.
The questions to answer when writing a preface is: who is writing this book and why?
- Leading Change, With a New Preface by the Author, By John P. Kotter
- Conscious Capitalism, With a New Preface by the Authors, By John Mackey & Rajendra Sisodia
- Introduce, Don’t Flatter: An introduction says who you are. It doesn’t tell the reader who you wanted to be instead. Never use an introduction for flattering yourself. It makes the rest of the book seem vain.
- Be Relevant: If I were writing a book on parrot health, would the reader care that I know how to cook lasagne? No: always stay relevant in your introduction.
- Don’t Go Off-Topic: More than relevance, it’s easy to go far (very far) off-topic. Don’t include a whole file cabinet of information that readers don’t need to know in order to make this book make sense.
What Is It?
A prologue is used to start off works of fiction.
Prologues act as introductions that tell readers more about the setting, scene, characters, or overall topic.
They start the story, but at a different point in time than the first chapter would. It’s often where a writer introduces backstory for their characters.
Why Use It?
A prologue is used when background explanation (or a brief introduction) for the characters or story is necessary.
Chapter One starts the story, but a prologue is there to tell readers why they should care. Who are these people and why are we reading about them?
A prologue can help the book’s writer to explain it.
- David Copperfield’s Library: With Prologue by Sir Owen Seaman, By John Brett Langstaff
- Poems: A Unique Collection, With The Prologue By Ruben Dario, by Edgar Allan Poe
- Answer “Who?” And “Why?”: “Why are these characters in this setting for this book?” That’s what a prologue has to answer, and that’s what a writer should focus on. No more, and no less.
- Choose The Right Time: Always think about the timeline for your prologue. It makes zero sense to drop your characters at a random place-and-time if the scenes won’t explain who they are (or why they’re there) by the first chapter.
- Introduce, Or Change It: Introduce characters during a prologue. Don’t reveal plot. If a prologue scene doesn’t feel right, change it until something else works better.
What Is It?
An introduction starts the book off by introducing the text or topic.
While a preface tells readers more about who wrote the book they’re holding, an introduction focuses on the book’s topic. Introductions can be more formal or structured.
An introduction is usually written by the author, but there are exceptions to the rule.
Why Use It?
An introduction is focused on the subject of the book, more than the author.
What’s the book about, and what can readers expect from the different chapters that are about to follow?
Use the introduction to let readers know. Unpack the subject of the book as a whole, and then break down the sections of the book (although this is not always necessary).
- The For Dummies Series
- Stephen King by Harold Bloom
- Unpack The Topic: Use an introduction to tell people more about the topic as a whole (for example, parrot health).
- Introduce Your Book: The second step is using an introduction to tell people more about the topic of your book (for example, Parrot Health & Your Children).
- Don’t Go Overboard: An introduction introduce, not overwhelms. A great one draws the reader in, but a bad one terrifies them of the topic before they’ve started reading.
The Last Word
I hope this has helped you understand the difference between forewords, prefaces, prologues, and introductions.
If you want to improve your writing, buy The Complete Grammar Workbook.
By Alex J. Coyne. Alex is a writer, proofreader, and regular card player. His features about cards, bridge, and card playing have appeared in Great Bridge Links, Gifts for Card Players, Bridge Canada Magazine, and Caribbean Compass. Get in touch at alexcoyneofficial.com.
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