I recently had a feedback coffee date with a couple of beta readers for my Untitled Steampunk novel. For the most part, there were no great concerns and only a few small points that needed addressed. One of which was how appropriate the use of Rapture in conversation is in a novel taking place in 1878. I’m sticking to my guns on this one not because I’m certain it’s the best use of the phrase, but because the Rapture has become culturally relevant even to young adult readers and I think it will have much more impact than the lead characters joking about transcendence.
At any rate, the other big idea I walked away with was the possibility of incorporating a prologue. See, the main story line includes massive golems crafted of technology and alchemy and put to work at the Orthodox Temples. While golems only appear a couple times in the story, they are a major driving factor behind the actions the main characters take. What my beta readers brought up was how little information about these golems is actually shared with the reader. It hadn’t even occurred to me that there might be more interest in a golem backstory.
Certainly I could sprinkle bits and pieces of golem history throughout the novel without interrupting the flow, but could a prologue better serve to provide this information and completely avoid any risk of reading as last minute thoughts poked into the story line? So I walked away from our meeting with the idea that yes, indeed, a prologue will best serve me. However, being who I am, I decided to do a little Googling to see how prologues are generally received.
From Foremost Press, I found this:
“A prologue is used mainly for two reasons.
1. To outline the backstory quickly and economically, saving the author from having to resort to flashbacks or ruses such as conversations or memories to explain the background to the reader. This is commonly done in science fiction and fantasy to show why a certain quest is being undertaken or what will happen in the future. The prologue is a better option than a first chapter bogged down in detail.
2. To hook the reader and provide the story question right up front, giving them a reason to keep turning the pages to find out the answer. Quite often the prologue relates to a scene near the end of the story, and the story itself then shows what has led up to this moment. When is this justified? Perhaps when you want to introduce your characters in a more leisurely fashion, and your reader’s experience with ‘meeting’ them will be enhanced by some sort of foreshadowing of what is to come.”
And from Writing-World.com, this:
“Any workplace has a list of dos and don’ts; the prologue is no exception. Here are some:
-The prologue should always be an integral part of the novel, written in the same spirit and style. Otherwise it’s a personal preface rather than an opening chapter.
-The prologue should read like a short story in every aspect, except for its ending. Rather than resolving all conflict, the end should leave the reader intrigued. Any conflict created in the prologue, however, must be resolved somewhere along the plot.
-The prologue should start with a strong and intriguing hook as if it were the only beginning of the novel. This does not exempt Chapter One from beginning with an equally strong and intriguing hook.
-The prologue must stand out from the body of the novel in at least one fashion: the time of the events (which should be stated both in the prologue and in the first chapter), the POV character, and so on. The reader should feel a distinct switch in his mind when he begins reading Chapter One. And just as important, he should never experience the same switch again within the novel. For example, if the difference between the prologue and Chapter One is an interval of five years, you may not fast-forward time again within the novel.”
Beyond that, there were blogs like this one from Pens and Swords that really makes a person second guess any inclusion of a prologue:
“Another pitfall that writers fall into is turning the prologue into a dumping ground for backstory on the world. I did this myself with Maiden and the origin of Saestra Karanok. Instead of weaving the depth and richness of the world into the story, the writer crams it all into the beginning and promptly forgets it. Prologues set an expectation for the reader that the information revealed will have significant relevance later on in the story. Fail to do this and you let the reader down.”
So more than anything, I am now convinced that I’m going to have to pay extra attention to creating this prologue so that it isn’t just a dumping place for information I didn’t have the foresight to include the first time around. Sometimes I wonder if my compulsive need to Google isn’t as self-destructive as other people’s need to WebMD every occasional symptom and consequently blow seasonal allergies into a migrating calcified fetus.