Research and the Final Work

I’ve got a name for the prologue. It’s “what the author needs to know that the audience doesn’t.”

One of the fundamental reasons for research is establishing your world. As an author you must know:

  • The look of your world
  • The flora and fauna of your world
  • What the culture of your people is like
  • What they eat
  • What they value
  • How their economy works
  • The politics of your world
  • What their art is like (certainly what their stories are like)
  • What technology they use
  • Why they use that technology
  • What their religion is like
  • What is good to the people of your world, what is bad
  • etc. etc. etc. 

However your audience doesn’t want to be told those things. You might show them some of these things, if they are important to the story the world is happening in. Of course many authors have confused many people on the show/tell issue. Truth is it can be infuriating.

It often comes down to trusting your reader to get where you’re going when you let an action stand in for an explanation. If you, for instance, have a world where it’s very bad to be left handed you could tell: In Righthandistan it was very bad to be left handed

Or you could show.

The angry orphanarium proprietor slapped the spoon from Bob the plucky orphan’s left hand. “What have I told you?”  He asked.

Of course this is a simplification.

Notwithstanding that the trick is to let the world bleed through the cracks of the story, showing the shape of it, not forcing raw data down the throats of your readers. You don’t want your novel to be a CIA factbook entry for Middle Earth.

So what does this have to do with prologues?

Sometimes it might be necessary to jot down some of those telly bits about your world in order to get the ball rolling on a project. Some authors will write whole encyclopedias about their worlds for their own reference but that might be overkill. My preferred method is to throw “Prologue” up at the top of the first page and let it flow.

When I’ve got the telly stuff out of my system and it’s all there in black and white I can get on to writing the actual story. Then the prologue gets cut… and usually the first half of Chapter 1.

But that’s another whole issue.


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