Plot, Pacing, and Structure
Origin Story: Where to Include It?
The story I'm currently working on (and probably will be working on for a good few years in the future) has an origin story that I, as the author, think is necessary to include somewhere in the overall book. The problem is...well, I'm not quite sure where. Currently, I want it to be a prologue, as it will explain the foundational dynamics of my world, but everything else will be revealed as time goes on. How to better explain this...? Well, the origin story explains how the world came to be, and why the humans in my book view their predicament either as a curse or a blessing. It explains why the earlier population wasn't in this situation, and why the later ones were, after a significant historical event happens. The origin story also explains how the main evil force is born, what drives them, and likewise, what causes one of the protagonists to do what they do, and disguise themselves as somebody else.
But in my first chapter, where the main plot begins, a character gives a brief summary of what I wrote in the origin story to the second protagonist, the main character my audience will be following throughout the rest of the story. The origin story is reduced to an info dump, which I personally don't like, as stories with way too long info dumps have repelled me or have lessened my interest in continuing onto another chapter, in fear that I will perhaps see more irritating blocks of text. But that has just been my experience, and sometimes info dumps are necessary to fully understand elements of a story without being lost for a good portion of it.
I just don't want to exclude my origin story all together, as I did work hard on it, and it helped me visualize the route I want to take the rest of the story. That's why I want to include it as a prologue so the audience will have an idea of where this story might go, but then they will also know the identity of the first protagonist in disguise who will be apparent in the remainder of the plot. I'm not sure if that will subtract from the interest value or if it will not harm it at all. The story will be divided into two parts, at least that's the vision I have for it. With that being said, I figured that two effective places where I could put the origin story was either in the beginning, which would set the stage and prevent the audience from being confounded, or after the first half, which would explain certain elements of what has already happened, and foreshadow the second half. The first protagonist will reveal their true identity regardless, as they are gambling on the hope that everything will work out in their favor.
And that is my dilemma. I am writing everything on a word document. Currently, my origin story is 32 pages long, and my first chapter is 29 pages long. Oh! And my story is of the fantasy genre, but not based on the traditional medieval times world structure. It is perhaps a combination of science fantasy (as both sci-fi and fantasy will be apparent to varying degrees) mixed with adventure and elements you'd find in a superhero story. (I hope that bit of information is helpful.) I know that a prologue is a "make it or break it" type of thing, so I wasn't sure what to do with it, since it is significant to my story, and explains two major characters and their objectives in full, as the rest of the story will focus on the development of my other characters. I would be very grateful and appreciative if I was assisted with this trifling matter.
I think that concludes everything I wanted to say.
--edited by VA Diaz on 7/10/2013, 5:53 AM--
• The story I'm currently working on (and
probably will be working on for a good few years in the future) has an origin
story that I, as the author, think is necessary to include somewhere in the
Don’t. That’s history and as such it informs but doesn’t entertain. Readers are
with you for entertainment and emotional matters. You need to know the backstory, yes, but the
reader doesn’t give a damn, because history is immutable and with no
uncertainty the reader doesn’t become involved, and so won’t want to read it.
They’re seeking what’s happening, not what once happened.
Every time you stop talking about what’s happening, the story momentum
evaporates and we’re faced with a boring talking head. But worse than that, the
“voice” of that talking head can’t be heard, so there’s no life, no emotion, no
tricks to make the delivery interesting. There are no gestures, expressions, or
body language, either. Just an invisible voice droning on about things the
protagonist isn’t thinking about while we wonder if there’s going to be a test.
And please, don’t make the mistake of presenting it as a prologue. That’s
opening the story and then taking the reader back before the story began, which
makes no sense. Remember, the reader opens to page one with only mild
curiosity. They hope to have you turn that fading curiosity to interest,
quickly, because there are other books all around, shouting, “Read me, I’m
better.” If, instead of story, you, in effect, say, “Okay class, turn to page
213 in your history book and read to page 219.” that is the kiss of death so far as an acquiring editor is
Here’s the thing. If that backstory you want to include is all that compelling, why not start there? Write a novel about it. Now you have a series. But here’s the
problem with that: that story will also come with, “what has gone before.” Does
that mean it needs a prologue? See the problem? You need to start the story
just before everything goes to hell and the reader is running downhill too fast
to stop, too interested to give a damn what happened before the story began.
Now, that being said, if what happened has direct influence on a character’s
thoughts and actions in a scene in progress, that part of the past which matters
to the protagonist right then is
something to mention, as the protagonist views it. If you want the reader to
know that backstory to add color, give the protagonist of any given scene reason to use a
bit of that information, as enrichment, not an intrusion that slows the
--edited by Jay Greenstein on 7/16/2013, 9:29 PM--
I am doing something similar, maybe this will help you? My story takes place thousands of years after a particular event. The event matters to the story, and is very important - but isn't *the* story - it is a good story though (or I think so). So what I decided to do is start with a prequel to the book, before I start the book. This rich history is very important for me to make sure I have everything right before I start the actual book. Now this isn't a prequel I intend to publish - while it is a story, it's more historical in nature, and is just for me to reference. As I write I realize think of small things that I wouldn't have thought of had I not began writing this first - and these small events may play bigger roles later on. Butterfly effect and all.
I feel that this will add more life to the actual story when I write it. This will help me with worldbuilding too, as I can say oh there was a statue here in the prequel, so adventurers might come across this crumbled statue now in the story. It will help me fill in little bits of history in a hopefully interesting and non info-dumping way.
My opinion is, if the reader needs to know something, why not tell them? Info dumps are annoying and disrupt the flow of the story, especially in the first chapter, but I see nothing wrong with utilizing a prologue to set up the story or implementing some backstory in a chapter that takes place after a tense scene, because readers need breathers sometimes. However, 32 pages is way to long.
Carol Benedict offers some great advice on how to use a prologue.
Nathan Bradsford has an interesting take on this too.
May, I agree, that is a great idea.
Just read this amazing article on prologues! Wanted to share. Highly, highly recommend taking the time to read it. There is some great advice here to consider when constructing a prologue.
@Toni--thanks for this awesome article--I just tweeted it out from the @BookCountry twitter. I love it!!!
@Ian--WONDERFUL idea. Yes, yes, yes! Love.