1. PeterC
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    PeterC Active Member

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    Prologue to explain a few things?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by PeterC, Jul 16, 2011.

    I'm not sure if this is the right forum for this. If not, I apologize for the noise!

    I'm working on a science fiction story. It takes place entirely on an alien world and is told entirely through the eyes of the aliens who live there, a people I'm calling the dunari. There are some important human characters in the story also, but nothing is told from their point of view.

    The world is tidally locked to its sun. One side always faces the sun and the other side is always in darkness. As a result the dunari do not have a word for "day" in the sense of a time interval. Their time system is based on their year and is very different than ours.

    The dunari use their time system quite naturally, of course, and since the story is told from their point of view I'm finding it hard to fold in an explanation of how it works. I can make do with context in some cases, but I'm having trouble making that work in a natural way.

    My wife suggested that I include a prologue that just outright explains to the reader the dunari time system along with perhaps a few other things. That seems like a cop-out but I thought of a way it might work. I could present the prologue as "notes from the translator" as if the story was originally written in Argenian (one of the dunari languages) and translated to English by some unspecified third party.

    Does that approach seem workable or does it sound horribly hackish? Is there another way I might tackle this problem?
     
  2. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Maybe in an appendix?

    I don't know. I dislike prologues. I'll put a book back on the store shelf, sometimes, if it has one. Or else I'll skip it. I just want to get to the story, and I think you can work that info into the story smoothly enough. But that's just me. And in this case, where there is supposed to be a translator or storyteller giving info to the reader, I'd probably be more open to it. Kind of reminds me of what Steven Brust did with his Draegaran books (starting with the Phoenix Guards), where the story is supposed to be told by a somewhat opinionated historian named Paarfi.
     
  3. PeterC
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    PeterC Active Member

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    In my case, though, I haven't been intending to involve any sort of external storyteller. I'm afraid introducing one just for this purpose would end up sounding forced. I have an idea for an epilogue that I think would round out the story nicely. If I introduce an external storyteller entity in the prologue it seems like I'd have to use the same entity in the epilogue as well and that doesn't work for me. I guess I could change what I want to do with the epilogue. Maybe I just need to work a little harder at finding ways to smoothly introduce the facts I need into the normal narration.
     
  4. JPGriffin
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    JPGriffin Senior Member

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    To me, I see prologues as more of a hook than a tool to explain a world's physics. That's why you'll mostly see the main conflict in the intro. If you need to explain something, then I'd suggest try doing so in a separate author's note, so that the reader can see, "This isn't part of the plotline." This may cause a few pages to be skipped, but if you live by the code of the people you're writing as, then it'll be understood by the reader.

    And trust me, I'm in the same boat with this sort of thing. Introducing a solitary world without humans is hard enough, but to describe it as another race being dominant? :eek: Pure torture.
     
  5. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    I second this opinion. I mean, it's a science fiction novel. You can always feel free to throw that sort of thing in. That said, you can always have footnotes if you feel comfortable using them.
    "Maybe toblagdialyjs^1," said the alien.

    ^1 toblagialyjs is similar to the concept of "tomorrow", but is closer in definition to "later", since the Blag species has no individual idea of a "day".

    Did you really just... just... *Faints* I think I've just fallen in lust with you. I dream about people who write things like that, without humans and without external storytellers.

    The first paragraph is yes.
    The second paragraph is so totally typical of the human condition. It's almost singularity-esque. We can't imagine intelligence greater than our own. We can't imagine anything else being more dominant than ourselves.
     
  6. Word Dancer
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    Word Dancer Member

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    If you think it's necessary to have a prologue try putting a hint of what will happen in the story in the first paragraph, if not the first sentence.
     
  7. Protar
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    Protar Active Member

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    Try and slip it in naturally in to the dialogue. Readers won't want an infodump. A good example is the seasons in A song of ice and fire that can last for years. It's weaved into the story very naturally. Obviously this probably will be more complicated than that. If an infodump is absolutely required use an appendix. Prologues are generally for setting up the story via events that don't directly lead on to the main narrative. It's appendixes where you can go into technical details.
     
  8. superman
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    superman Member

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    hmm, what about if you get one of the characters to explain it, something like

    " after a long chat with the humans i discovered the differences we shared, such as the human concept of 'day' which we do not follow"

    Or " our ancestors once studied the humans and wrote of our differences, small things from the lack of our word for what they called 'day' all the way up to the big things such as ...."

    i say let the narrator do all the work.
     
  9. PenandPencil
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    PenandPencil Member

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    I read somewhere that Prologues aren't so popular with certain publishers ... or something. I read that they think it's an easy and cheap way of getting everything settled before the true plot commences. I, personally, don't see exactly anything wrong with it, but it does seem that the writer wants to shove all the details in your face first, and then head into the main plot. I mean, it'd be much *nicer* and smooth if you let the details come through the novel as it progresses.

    But as Superman says above, dialogue could sort it all out ;)
     
  10. PeterC
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    PeterC Active Member

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    Sorry about bumping a two week old thread, but I wanted to thank everyone who replied to my question. Your comments are very helpful.

    I did write a prologue just to see how it felt. It ended up being very short; there was less information I needed to cover than I thought. I think I'll be able to work that information into the storyline and delete the prologue before I'm done. I hope to do that. I agree it would be cleaner.

    Once the humans arrive it's quite easy to explain the necessary information. Such explanations come up naturally in the dunari/human dialog. Right now the humans don't show up until chapter 4 so I have three chapters where I'll have to live with partial explanations, which could work, or else strategically fold in the necessary information.

    Anyway, thanks again for all the comments.
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Explanatory prologue = Infodump = History Lecture = Snorefest.

    Write story, not backstory. Leave the readers a bit puzzled - make them work to understand everything, and they'll feel smarter and happier.
     
  12. beard
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    beard New Member

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    If you can reasonably assume that they have a knowledge of other planets it should be easy to explain the situation. Other planets within their galaxy can rotate on an axis (like ours does) and theirs doesn't. Possibly take a bit of time to explain the advantages they see in a non-rotational orbit (such as rapid growth of food products).

    Hope that helps.
     
  13. PeterC
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    PeterC Active Member

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    The race narrating my story does not have advanced technology and, in fact, their astronomy is particularly primitive since their society exists in perpetual daylight. My main problem is related to units of measure. If a character says something like "I'll have those results ready in 30 arnets" the reader is left wondering just how long that is.

    My strategy has been, and this seems to be working, to describe the quantity in some other way. For example

    "I'll have those results by the time your train reaches Varnok."

    Even better is to use both methods so the reader can build an understanding of their system of units.

    "I'll have those results in 30 arnets."

    "Good, give me a call when I get to Varnok. I want to hear them as soon as possible."

    The reader doesn't know how long an arnet is exactly, but that's okay. The reader can still get a general idea.
     
  14. NikkiNoodle
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    NikkiNoodle Active Member

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    I say do it. Leave the question hanging for a little while and give slow hints. It will give the reader another reason to keep turning pages, that way they're halfway into the book when they fully understand and by then (hopefully) you've got them.
     

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