August 23, 2013

Why all the hating on prologues?

I rarely ever go off on rants about things, well, not online anyway. That’s what my wonderful mom is around for. ;) But this has been bugging me for a while, and this blog post by Wayne Thomas Batson reminded me that I wanted to write my own post on all the dos and don’ts and overall criticism in writing.

First, I need to address the title of this post. It is the main reason I wanted to write this in the first place as it was really bugging me last week. I don’t understand. Why do people hate prologues? Okay, I totally understand if it reads like a history book, tedious, boring, no action, info dump. I get that. Even I skim those. But what about prologues with action? Prologues that read just like the rest of the book? I have been shocked by the number of people who say they always skip the prologue. In fact, it sort of frightens me. Why? Well, I use prologues. I like good prologues. Resistance, the first book of Ilyon Chronicles, starts with a prologue. A long one, actually, which I know is another supposed no-no. This prologue happens to be what is probably my favorite chapter of the entire series. It puts you into the action right off and introduces the main characters. The information you gain from it is vital. Anyone who skips it will come to these characters later and will have no idea where they come from or why they are what they are. That seriously bothers me. I suppose I could have tried to scatter the information in throughout the story, but wouldn’t that be “telling”? Isn’t better to see it play out firsthand so you really get what drives these characters? Especially in a highly emotional book like Resistance. I want my readers to feel what the characters feel by having experienced the events that shaped them. The crazy thing is, if you took these hated prologues and titled them Chapter One, no one would even think about it. I could do that, but wouldn’t that be odd since it takes place three years before the rest of the story? You have to have some distinction between something that happened in the past and the rest of the story. In this way, I believe prologues are very useful, providing they are done well. I don’t know where all the hating on prologues came from. Maybe there are an over abundance of bad prologues, but if that’s the case, it’s highly frustrating that it has colored the overall outlook on prologues. I’m not going to stop using them if they are needed like in Resistance. I guess if someone gets confused later on in the story because they skipped it, I don’t feel it’s any mistake on my part, but on the rather unwarranted critical view of prologues.

That brings me to my second subject. Dream sequences. Almost everywhere I’ve read not to have dreams in your books. Why not? I have a WIP that begins with a dream of the protagonist’s childhood. It’s a memory more than a dream and gives the reader insight into his character, sort of a like a prologue. It sets up who and why he is who he is. In instances like this, dreams can be very useful. They can also do a lot of foreshadowing and set a particular mood. In Resistance, my main guy, Jace, suffers from nightmares. I have at least one scene where I actually write out the dream. This gives you insight into the turmoil inside him, revealing his deepest doubts and fears. Later on in the series, his dreams also foreshadow something to come. Somewhere I read that dreams shouldn’t be written because it can never be done realistically. Maybe, but this is fiction. Fiction doesn’t have to be perfectly realistic 100% of the time. I’ve never read a dream sequence and thought, “This is unrealistic. My dreams aren’t like this.” How can you say what other people's dreams are like anyway? I can’t come up with any good reason dreams should be forbidden in fiction. Some may be badly written, but that pertains to everything in writing fiction. As with prologues, I say if you can do it well, then do it.

What this all comes down to is, we have a lot of rules and a lot of people trying to enforce those rules. Of course, certain rules are important. If you don’t follow grammatical rules, then you’re in trouble. Rules like that are good. But I think many “rules” are more opinions. Writing is art, is it not? Artists each have their individual ways of creating their art. If you try to force them to work under a very specific and daunting set of rules, of course it’s going to kill creativity and make them question everything they do. One thing I’m noticing is that the majority of those who are so determined to enforce rules are writers. We writers have very specific ideas about how things should be done, but I think we forget everyone is an individual with their own styles. Not everyone will write the same way, or at least they shouldn’t. People are supposed to be unique and we’re all at different stages of our writing journey. The thing is, I don’t think many readers are nearly as conscientious or caring about the rules as writers are. People read to enjoy a good story, not pick apart how it’s told. I’ve always said, as a reader, I’ll forgive a whole slew of broken rules if I love the characters and the story. And I’m very thankful for my own readers who have done this with my books. I’m currently in the middle of reading through Makilien, and after being away from it for a couple years, I’m a little shocked. I keep thinking, “Wow, I published it like this?” Every book I write gets better, as it should be. My point is, it may not be the best written story out there, but I’ve received nothing but excellent reviews and kind words about it. People enjoy the story and the characters, so despite any flaws, I feel I’ve done my job as a writer. Someone could sit and point out the flaws and “broken rules” all day long, but what really matters is what the readers think. I think we all need to lighten up a bit and have fun. We’re human. Every book out there will have something that someone else thinks is done wrong. Let’s all just do our best to learn our craft and provide well-written fiction that may have some flaws, but tells a good story. Especially us Christian writers. God gave us this gift as a way to share Him with the world. There’s no sense in getting so bogged down by the “rules” that we either get overly critical of others or afraid to share our own work because of how it will be received.


Morgan Elizabeth Huneke said...

I agree. I actually like prologues when they are done well. I hate boring beginnings, but it doesn't matter to me if they are entitled "Prologue" or "Chapter One." As for dream sequences, if they are relevant to the story I'm fine with them. I don't understand the point of the dreams the hobbits had at Tom Bombadil's, but I like how The Door Within opens with Aidan's dream about Paragor.

Ysa Rivas said...

I read the prologues all the time!! That, for me, is part of reading the book. I don't skip too many... unless, as you mentioned, they are totally dry.. then I do skip.

And Makilien is amazing! If the books are getting better, awesome! I still like Makilien. :o ) They rank on my favorites list.

Faith Blum said...

In the first book in my upcoming series, I use a dream sequence. In the second book, I have a prologue that is vital to the understanding of the rest of the book.

I don't understand why someone would not read a prologue for a fiction book.

Molly Evangeline said...

Glad I'm not the only one with these thoughts. :)

Jack said...

My problem with prologues is it is rare to find a good one. A lot I've read do read like history books. But I am all for well done ones. I even find they help with the story, I don't feel like I'm thrown in the middle of everything without knowing anything. I even use them myself to add a little background history without making it actual history which will bog down the middle of the book.

Jack said...

Thank you SO much for your thoughts on websites! Right now the more options I have the better as I am very lost.

I do have a weebly account, but I wasn't fond on their limit of designs, though I noticed your websites have unique designs. How did you manage to make your own design on their website? Is your Jaye L. Knight a weebly site?

Molly Evangeline said...

Yes, all my websites including my Jaye L. Knight one, are Weebly sites. I know just enough basic HTML to tweaking things like the background of the main body, font changes, colors, etc., to make it more unique. My Ilyon Chronicles site ( is the exact same design as my Jaye L. Knight one, just with different colors. Also, if I don't like the available fonts, I make my own text headers as images. That helps give it a unique look. You're right, they don't have quite as many designs as I would like, but they do add some every once in a while, and I've been really happy with the newest ones. If you ever want to play around with a template, I would be happy to help. I'm pretty sure you can add other editors by email.