Foreword: what it is, characteristics, meaning, types, structure and how to write a foreword


What is the subgenre prologue?  

It is one of the didactic subgenres of literature, currently considered one of the most important parts of a book. It is a short text that provides an introduction to a work of greater content, so that it serves as a section of justification of the work to guide the reader in its journey by highlighting its qualities and faculties.

It is a previous text that allows the author, who can be the author of the whole book or an outsider to the work, to express his own experience and encourage the reader to enter into the work presented.

Meaning of the subgenre prologue

The term prologue comes from the Greek prologos, from pro which indicates -before-and lógos, which refers to speech or discourse. Thus, the prologue refers to a short text that serves as an introduction to a larger story or content, which is why it is usually placed at the beginning of a book. This type of text can be written either by the author of the whole work or by another person.

Definition of the subgenre prologue

We can define the prologue as a type of text that is placed prior to a major work on which it seeks to highlight its faculties in order to encourage the reader to approach the work. In this sense, the prologue should be written once the work has been completed.

Definition of the subgenre prologue

Characteristics of the subgenre prologue

Topic: something that should be made clear is that the content of the prologue is less literary than in the case of the introduction of the work. The content of the prologue focuses on a series of indications to the reader of the work, encouraging him/her to read and highlighting his/her faculties. In other words, the subject and content is oriented to offer a better approach to the complete text, which is the reason why this type of text is included in the works.

Length: the content of the foreword is concise and must be clear to the reader, so it can be very brief, only a couple of pages long. However, this may vary according to the information and argument to be developed.

Location: it is always located in the initial part of the book, especially in the first pages before the development of the content of the book as such. In some cases it is usually after the table of contents.

Author: as mentioned above, the foreword can be written either by the person who writes the rest of the content or by a separate person. This is determined by the following; if the author has won a Nobel Prize, the foreword will be written by another recognized writer or a third party who presents it, otherwise, it is the writer himself who writes his own foreword.

In many cases, the choice of the author of the foreword, if it is the case, is left to the publishing house that is going to carry out the procedure of the work or it depends on the author himself.

Composition: another fundamental aspect of the prologue is related to the moment in which it is written, since, even when it is presented in the initial stage of the book, the prologue is written when the whole work is finished. In this way, a more efficient synchronization of what will be said with what may be contained in the work is guaranteed. In fact, there can be more than one prologue, this happens in cases where the book has been republished several times.

Variety of uses: although it does not move away from its main intention, the prologue can take several forms depending on the needs of the author or the publisher, for example, to explain something that has not taken place within the story, to induce the reader to approach the work, even to lead him/her in the right way, to place the reader in the context of the work, among other elements that appear as an added value.

Elements or resources: the prologue handles a series of resources that are part of its development and that allow it to guarantee a more efficient consolidation of the information it plans to highlight, therefore it can include textual quotes from the work, personal appreciations with ideas and thoughts of its own, chronologies about the author or references from third parties such as comments from critics, authors and other experts in the same discipline or art.

Structure of the subgenre prologue

Since the prologue is not a fictional text, it must follow a logical line, since it is a concise text that must go to the point of its objective, even when it explains extensively some of the book’s faculties, the content or the author, etc.

Thus, the structure of the prologue is determined by the points it is highlighting, so that it can start with the author, talk about the work and then make the indications that are considered relevant. Even in the final part, some authors add thanks to people and entities that have participated in the process of the book and collaborated in its development.

Parts of the subgenre prologue

According to the above, the structure of the prologue will be made up of the following parts:

Beginning of the subgenre prologue

In this part, the prologue begins with the exposition of the information to open the way to the reading of the book’s content, so, if it is the author of the whole work, it can begin by explaining how the idea of the book arose, the motives and other stimuli that were determinant for the development of the work and that led him to consolidate it.

In the case of an outsider, in this first part you can begin by explaining the relationship you have with the author, in case there is some kind of personal experience, as well as the way in which you come into contact with the book and in this way explain in an encouraging way its content.

Body of the subgenre prologue

After the previous introduction, now the author of the prologue focuses on the development of the text in which he proceeds to explain the arguments of the book, as well as the assessment of it. Thus, in this part, the reader may already have a series of elements that motivate him/her to read the work, since the author presents this information to awaken his/her interest.

Some authors usually leave textual quotations from the work that relate their assessment to the content of the book.

Conclusion of the subgenre prologue

In the final part, the author closes the arguments developed in the previous section, establishing a series of final ideas as a conclusion that invite the reader to read the work and reach the end of its content.

Types of the prologue subgenre

According to the type of text to be placed after the prologue, the characteristics of the prologue and its particular intention depend on it, so we can identify the following modalities:

Prologue for essay

As its name indicates, these are short texts that precede an essay document. In this case, the prologue highlights and explains not only the work itself, but also the author, highlighting his prestige and work. In the case of the essay, the prologue increases the credibility of what is going to be exposed in the text, which is why it becomes an important tool when it comes to publicizing a text like this.

Prologue for narration

In this case, the prologue is written for a narrative type of work in which you can explore many more dimensions of writing. Although the intention is clear at a general level, regardless of its modalities, in this case the prologue focuses on the content of the work, the interpretation, the mysteries, secrets and, in general, everything that the reader may discover when he/she comes into contact with the work.

It is important to emphasize that, following the line of narration, the prologue also appears as a space of salvation in which it is possible to explain some element or resolve some aspect of the story that was not possible to develop during the plot, but it does not touch the totality of the story itself.

Theatrical prologue

Also known as loa, it refers to a short introduction that can represent a basic idea of the play and that is capable of generating expectation in the audience in relation to the main play that will be developed later.

Philosophical prologue

For this type of text, the author of the prologue deviates to a certain extent from the story or central theme of the work in order to construct new metaphors and generate, at the same time, new philosophical thoughts that stimulate the reader’s interest. Through this type of prologue, the author can express concrete thoughts and ideas.

Musical prologue

For this type of art there is also a type of prologue in which a small musical work is presented prior to a great concert, which, as in the theatrical prologue or loa, generates expectation for the audience. In this case, it can be presented by one or several people.

There is also another series of prologues outside the literary world as such, such as the analytical prologue that presents specialized information on a certain aspect, and the personal prologue, which links intimate aspects. It is important to bear in mind that the prologue can be developed in multiple forms, as it will depend on the particular intentions of the author and his or her context.

How to write a prologue

How to write a prologue?

Now that we know everything that a prologue should include, let’s see step by step how we can start writing one, being alien to the content of the work, that is, different from the author of the book:

Read the complete work

The most important requirement is that the work must be read in its entirety before starting to write the prologue, since the author of the prologue needs to have a direct approach and experience with the work he/she is about to present. Remember that reading implies an understanding and interpretation of the work that, as far as possible, should have its own relationships and annotations, so we recommend keeping a record of notes or a form in which you highlight basic aspects that may be of interest to the reader.

Initiate research 

The research you start should not only delve into the work itself, but also into the author, so it is advisable to gather information about his or her life. You can consult biographies of the author, relevant facts that determined his path in the field and others that have led the author to write the work you are facing.

You can also consult references, comments and thoughts of the author about the written work, such as the context of development. All this information will allow you to complement arguments and present reliable and truthful information.

State the main ideas 

Once you have all this information, it is time to highlight what is most relevant, what should not be left out. Instead of saying everything, the author of the prologue, through an interpretation, presents an incomplete picture of the work that wants to catch the reader’s attention, so not everything can be said.

Make a selection of the information you have to highlight what you consider to be of most interest to the reader.

Start writing 

You have gathered all the necessary information, you have the sources, you have read the work in its entirety and you have the necessary data to start writing about the work, it is time to start writing. Many authors start the prologue from an experience, which has undoubtedly been one of the best tools to touch the author’s interest.

During the writing of the prologue, be sure to keep the language appropriate, easy for the reader to understand and with coherent links that instead of losing the reader, will guide him or her to the great work.

Example of the subgenre prologue

The following is an excerpt from the prologue written by Julio Cortázar to Edgar Allan Poe in his book: “Cuentos completos”:

“Perhaps this very hell helped him to rise once more, the last time. Sickened by rumors, slander, the society of the literati and their petty quarrels, he locked himself in the cottage with Mrs. Clemm and fought with the remnants of his energy to get ahead, to edit, at last, his never-forgotten magazine and to resume creative work. From January to June 1849 he seemed to crouch, to wait. But there is a poem, “To Annie,” in which Poe describes himself dead, happily and forlornly dead, finally and definitely dead. He was too lucid to deceive himself about the truth, and when he went to New York he indulged in laudanum with desperate avidity (…)”