Prologues, what are they good for?

In the very first iteration of my story I had about two pages dedicated to giving a brief history on the world. After reading Game of Thrones and fighting through the story to explore the world, I felt that was fun. I enjoyed having to puzzle out the religion all on my own. You saw hints from time to time, but little beyond that. After some time you just knew the religion because of how everyone interacted with it.

I fell in love with this concept. I deleted the beginning narrative. I enriched my hints. I had confused readers. The hints weren’t enough. The people demanded more. I was at a loss as to what I should do. On one hand everyone does that beginning blip on their world, a history lesson putting people to sleep. It gives little voice. The main characters would never suffer such a moment. So what am I, and other fantasy writers, to do?

I’ve read two fascinating ideas. The Foundation Trilogy has little encyclopedia entries at the beginning of chapters to show about the world. Do I want these? Before each chapter do I want a short blip of information which will help give an understanding of the chapter? On the other hand I found it really difficult to wrap my head around what was being said. Perhaps I could make the historical excerpts more comprehendable, or perhaps I’m just slow on the uptake.

My other option is a prologue. Lord of the Rings uses the prologue to talk about Hobbits and some of their culture. Do I want to include some straight out text book information to show the world? Or is this too blatant? Are most people like me and the prologue, introduction, and forward are all skipped? I find it could be useful to let people check back if a curiosity is struck, maybe even leaving references throughout the book going back to certain parts of the prologue. I feel this might be the solution I go with. This way there is a history part of the book which may be skipped if desired.

What have others done in the realm of fantasy? What would people suggest?

6 Comments on “Prologues, what are they good for?

  1. I have seen books where a song or a poem starts each chapter. You could use this tool to explain things.
    I have characters that are ignorant of certain things, and must have it explained to them. Thereby explaining it to the reader

  2. I’m a big fan of the way Foundation series, Dune series, and others did it. Little blurbs at the start of chapters give insight into the world. Historical accounts, poems, quotes, etc… Flavor text, its good stuff.

    • Recently read Foundation and I did like it. I found the way they did it a little confusing, but I could just be a touch slow. I’ll have to revisit Dune. Thanks for the input!

  3. Nowadays agents cringe at prologues. I suggest letting the ideas sit for a bit and just keep moving forward with your story. You don’t need a solution this instant just like you don’t need an info dump right at the beginning. Let the world you’re building unfold at the pace your characters (and readers) discover it. When they crave more, that’s a wonderful thing. Means you’ve got their attention. But do they need more? Well, that’s for you, the writer, to decide.

    Just mull it over. No one but you and your characters can tell you exactly how to write your stories.

    • Thanks for the thoughts. There really isn’t anything left to do with the story. It’s just a waiting game. Need my edits to come in. I’m self publishing, so not all too concerned with editors. Just concerned with if there is enough information. So far the readers are saying no.

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