Some writers will present details, after details, after details. And usually via one character. Sometimes it works; most times it doesn’t. Why? Readers get lost. And bored. Eyes acquire a when-do-we-arrive glaze—like someone who’s been drifting in an oarless canoe on a vast sea with un-viewable shorelines.
Yes, please, provide background, particularly if past events impact the present or it’s crucial we’re aware of certain pre-existing facts. Look at it this way. You’re sitting in a café or at work, and a colleague recounts his/her weekend or report-analyzing discoveries. Do you truly want to hear every detail—what transpired in exhaustive succession, minute by minute? If you do, kudos; that’s awesome. Most of us, however, don’t have the time or fascination (attention) factor. We want the nitty-gritty, the significant points.
One way to give readers that nitty-gritty: show, don’t tell. Offer more action and less dialogue (“text-book narration”). If there’s a lot of detailed (important) history to impart, consider a prologue. This introduction sets us up for what’s to occur; it gives insight into why a plot twist might have occurred or why it happens when it does. It supplies that little extra information that progresses the storyline and/or pivotal scenes.
A quick example. Earth has been overtake by aliens and all humans are now slaves. Jenkins, a slave overseer, decides to tell a young slave, new to the enclave, how the current state of the world came to exist. He tells and he tells, and he tells. For five pages … with lengthy paragraphs of dialogue (interspersed with “I said” or “I explained how”). It might prove more interesting if a prologue does the detailing—of the tense action, bitter battle, and triumphant leaders. Feel free to do it in five (even ten) pages. Open the prologue with a simple heading, such as “Five-hundred years previous”.
Check out prologues to get a feel for them. Try writing them from different perspectives. You may even find the exercise fun, but if nothing else, you’ll learn what works (and what doesn’t).
Consider your book a map with a legend, which is the prologue. Like a descriptive table, it provides context … it’s the key that makes that road [through the plot] easier to navigate.