0

I would feel like an introduction would be the first impressions and knowledge someone has of a book, along with the cover, just like a good movie. However, you can just skip a book intro. I've heard that a good number of people and some publishers don't or won't even read the introduction.

I often get a point in writing where I feel like the beginning or the end will be the hardest things, because there's no perfect way to do it without doing the same exact "info dump" that some writers make the mistake of doing.

But does it really matter or is it just going to be skipped?

7
  • 1
    What do you mean by introduction? Are you referring to the first few pages of the book? An introduction to the book from the author? – Craig Sefton Sep 16 '15 at 9:23
  • @Tayrma_T Are you talking about the blurb or prologue? – Alexandro Chen Sep 16 '15 at 13:17
  • @CraigSefton I am referring to the introduction, usually the first few pages if not several from the author, yes. Basically the part in some books that either have a footnote about the author's life or provide some glimpse of the plot before the first words come into play I guess. – Tayrma_T Sep 16 '15 at 23:47
  • 1
    You still need to refine your terminology, I think. A "footnote" has to be a note TO something, so maybe you mean the author bio? But that's hardly an introduction to the book... Maybe you mean a prologue, which is usually a chunk of story that happens at some point significantly removed from the rest of the story? But if you mean the actual introduction, like the first few pages of the story itself - I don't think many people, and certainly not any publishers, skip that part. So your question is still pretty confusing... – Kate S. Sep 17 '15 at 0:16
  • @KateS. Apologies, I think you are possibly right about me using the wrong terminology for the comments and question. I meant more of the prologue, yes. Some authors, depending on the book, tend to use the word "Prologue" or "Introduction" interchangeably. I wouldn't imagine someone would skip the first few pages of the actual story. But generally, some books have the prologue labelled as "introduction" and have an external chunk of the plot given to help clarify things that will appear in the actual plot later on. I worried some would skip that, when it may be important to my story's clarity. – Tayrma_T Sep 17 '15 at 0:26
1

In general, I would try to avoid prologues or introductions. As was pointed out very nicely by user15261, the reader's interest in the information you give him has not been stirred yet. For another discussion of prologues, see this post about the length of a prologue.

Personal theory: Concerning "information dumps", my personal experience is that the story gets so much more interesting when you do not introduce your set-up from the point of view of an external observer. Take, for example, a fantasy set-up. Obviously, the reader does not know the rules of the world he's being thrown into. Is that a flaw that needs to be remedied? Or can it create suspense? Personally, I like to be treated like a normal citizen of the world I am supposed to experience. Ask yourself: If you read a story about the US, would you like to know how a car works? Probably not. In that sense, I am more than happy to accept some axxioms of the set-up without questioning them to much. Additionally, doing a bit of detective's work can be fun for the reader, because it asks him to comit himself to the story. If the world is well developped and internally consistent, I think it is legit to give the reader the most crucial clues and leave the rest of the figuring-out to him. That way, he can decide himself how much he wants to know about the world and how much time he invests into thinking about it.

Examples: Two neat ways which I enjoyed a lot in this sense can be found in the works of Jonathan Stroud (for example the Lockwood & Co series or the Bartimaeus trilogy) and Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Bartimaeus and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell use footnotes to explain their world on the go. The footnotes are usually irrelevant to the story itself, but they flesh out the worlds of the stories and are fun to read. Bartimaeus simply comments on everything and anything that stirs his attention or (more commonly) annoys him, while Clarke provides her readers with fairytales and other elements of the mythology of her world. Nobody forces you, the reader, to read these footnotes. However, if you are interested in the background of the story, the information is there. In Lockwood & Co, on the other hand, a glossary at the end of the book provides you with the information that is taken for granted by the characters of the story but might puzzle the reader. The glossary headline sits in the table of contents of the book, so you definitely note it when you first open the book. It is then, again, your decision whether you read it or jump straight into the story.

In both cases, however, the story itself is independent from this optional information. (In the case of Lockwood & Co, I was actually a bit annoyed by how often the narrator of the story repeated information that is self-evident for herself. Why talk about it then?) If you opt to provide your reader with supplementary material, make sure the story works, even if the reader choses not to read the extra information.

Implementation: Lastly, my personal opinion on the first few scenes of a novel is that they are absolutely crucial. Whether you chose the "slow" or the "fast" beginning user15261 talked about is your decision, but in any case these scenes should set the mood for the story and give the reader some questions that keep him reading. I enjoy the personal approach, that is, when a character stays true to himself and tells you about the things that are one his mind. (My feeling is that this is independent of the type of narrator you choose.) Do not make him say things that are self-evident for him. If you need to provide information: Make it part of the story. Send your character off to school. Introduce a visiting character that doesn't know the rules. (But don't do this too bluntly.) Introduce an event that actually shakes the rules of your world. You're the storyteller. After all, this is what you do all the time: You have a piece of information in mind that you want to convey and craft it into a story. Why not doing the same for the information about your set-up?


A footnote on Introductions: Being a scientist, the word "introduction" has a very well-defined meaning for me. In storytelling, it corresponds to Act I of the Three-Act Structure in the framework of the Hero's Journey. The introduction is not an undirected "info dump", on the contrary: It provides you with the information that you need to understand both the question at the heart of the scientific publication and the significance of the results. It "sets the stage" for the scientific work that is being presented and puts into perspective every single finding. The same is true for a work of fiction. Act I, here, defines what your story will be about and how the reader judges everything that happens in. Take home message: Take good care of your introduction. It's nothing that you would want to mess up.

1

It's important to hook the reader as quickly as possible, so the start is important but a formal introduction may be detrimental in that regard. Personally I don't read them unless I am particularly interested in the author or the book.

It's common for movies these days to drop the audience directly into the action for the first ten minutes and I see books going in the same way. It doesn't have to be the actual plot, but some scene-setting or backstory which isn't info-dumped but actually told as a compelling story in its own right.

1
  • I think you are absolutely right about that, thank you for sharing your insight about how movies and books tend to go along the same lines of just tossing the reader or viewer in the plot. But, an introduction done well can entice the reader a lot as you mentioned, I might need to keep that in mind. – Tayrma_T Sep 16 '15 at 23:50
1

Introductions are extremely important and "Info Dumps" as you put it are some of the worst things in writing. They can be alright if the situation calls for or allows it, but you should try to avoid starting a work off with a giant one, if any. I have a friend who started a story with a two-page italicized introduction of every single character and their relationships with one another. It's important to avoid things like this because the readers haven't read the story yet. They have no reason to care about all this information they're getting. A personal stylistic choice I make to rid myself of this is that each of my stories start off with something dramatic. However, not all genres call for big dramatic setups, especially at the very beginning.

My advice on getting rid of (or slimming down) info dumps is to start it off either really slow, or really fast. Fast would be to launch the story straight into some action or a dramatic scene like a fight or something like that. A slower story calls for an intro like a usual day, for example. The key is to not start it off with things like "My name is Jane and I am 14 and today is a school day. I don't like school." Not only is this horrible writing, it also throws information at the reader before the reader has any desire to know it. Slower starts are hard for different reasons than fast ones, but just focus on only painting the amount of the picture that you need, rather than showing it all at once. This not only avoids information dumps, but also helps keep the reader interested by always having new content up your sleeve. For both the fast and slow methods, only tell the readers what they need to know for now. In example, a person wakes up, pulls on a coat, and leaves an envelope on the desk before heading out for the day. What's in the envelope? Where is the person going? Paint in the details as they happen.

As a side note, it's also useful (especially in a first person story) to paint in the details after something happens, because it makes the reader as confused and desperate to know what just happened as the character. Do avoid doing this too much, though, as after a while it can start to draw from your story rather than add to it.

1
  • 1
    Although @mwo is completely right, I appreciated that you wrote in depth about your thoughts of the right way for introductions. Info dumps are cringeworthy as some people say. At least my intro isn't in italics. Drama, as you mentioned, is also a good way to entice the reader. I really enjoy your description of painting the image, that's a very signifigant thing I need to follow, and to have moderation between enticing and making the reader curious of the plot. Thanks again, I think I'm better informed of writing opening scenes. – Tayrma_T Sep 16 '15 at 23:58
1

The answer is, it depends.

You say that "some books have the prologue labelled as "introduction" and have an external chunk of the plot given to help clarify things that will appear in the actual plot later on", and you also note that you are referring to "the part in some books that either have a footnote about the author's life or provide some glimpse of the plot before the first words come into play". These are very different purposes.

If the prologue is about the author's life, then generally it risks being skipped; it likely has no bearing on the actual story at all, and I didn't buy the book to read about some brief blurb about the author. For a manuscript being submitted to a publisher, unless they've asked for it, I wouldn't bother. I tend to view such prologues as more of a marketing piece than anything, or something that appears in later additions after the book is so wildly successful that people are interested in the author. Worry about the book, not the prologue!

If, however, the prologue is to act as some sort of explanatory piece to make something clearer about the book itself (I'm thinking of fantasy or science fiction here, where some strange concepts need to be clarified first in order for the reader to fully understand the story), then yes, some authors do use this technique (not that often from what I can recall), and the purpose of the prologue here is entirely different. This has less chance of being skipped, but the obvious question arises as to why the novel itself doesn't make these things clear during reading (and if you find yourself doing an info dump, then look at reworking the story so the info dump is unneeded).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.