Preamble to the Prologue

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. WPProlGISGeography