Should You Use a Soft Opening?

Soft openings can be unnecessary, and the difference between a prologue, preface, introduction, and foreword is often confusing.

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From time to time, soft openings are en vogue. Writing a before-the-book section can help transition readers from the mundane of reality into the pages, but they are not always needed and often their purposes are confused. To clarify, there are generally four types of openings.


A prologue is a short section before the first chapter used to introduce the setting, world, or characters. It is generally used for exposition or explanation, as opposed to telling the story. Alternatively, it can be used to show a short scene that sets up the tale but is out of place with the main narrative. As such, the prologue is an aside; it is a soft opening to your narrative that can be skipped or ignored by the reader.


A preface is an explanation of why the author wrote the book. It is more often used in non-fiction, and gives the writer an opportunity to explain their own background and interest in the topic. It is not for summarising the subject-matter of the overall piece, but rather to quantify the author’s authority on the subject.


An introduction is, simply put, a way into the topic of the book, and again generally appears in non-fiction. It is subject-specific and is used to introduce the reader to the topic that the book will be covering. Unlike a preface, it is not for discussing why the book has been written, nor is it for opening the subject up, as one does at the beginning of a piece. It is a lead-in to that subject only, and can be somewhat superfluous.


A foreword (often spelled incorrectly) is always written by someone other than the author. It is usually someone with gravitas or reputation within the book’s field—a well-established writer or specialist—and is an opportunity for them to praise the overall piece, the author, the subject, or all three, and is ultimately a marketing resource used by the publisher to lend more weight to the book.


Those planning on or deliberating writing a before-the-book section should really consider if it is necessary. Does it serve a purpose, or is it just there for the sake of it? The main issue with soft openings is they are all-but-redundant; they can be ignored (either intentionally or accidentally) by readers without consequence. If something is that unessential, why should it be included?

Often it depends on the preference of the writer. For some, the idea of gently welcoming the reader into their work is attractive. When done right, soft openings can enhance a book. Other authors prefer to thrust their audience in media res and a gentle dip in the shallows is considerably less enticing than dropping them from a great height into the deep. Neither is right or wrong; it is a matter of style.

More important than stylistic choice is the question of requirement. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. That is the real decision.

Originally from Thanet, J A DuMairier enjoys writing and long walks in the country.

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