I came across Anne R. Allen’s post concerning things that identify a newbie novelist. I’m here to talk about two of them: cliches and prologues.
Cliches are as much a part of our speech and culture as anything else. You don’t think twice if you hear someone say, ‘What, you think I’m made of money?’ We know and understand what they mean. But never, ever rely on that understanding in writing. Cliches are lazy and a surefire mark of an amateur. We all have written them. Anyone who says otherwise is either lying or isn’t familiar with what a cliche is. I count myself among the latter. When I had someone edit the opening pages for my historical romance, I was honestly surprised that the phrase ‘sinking feeling in his/her stomach/gut’ could be considered cliche. The point I’m trying to make is don’t be ashamed if they sneak into your writing. Just be aware of them and move on.
Another cliche that needs to be discussed is the prologue. As I have read a lot of fantasy over the years, I am familiar with the lure of the prologue. I thought, What a great way to introduce my fantastical world to readers! Also, here’s my world’s rich history and inciting incident all in one package. What could go wrong?
A lot, it turns out.
I loved writing prologues, I won’t lie. It helped familiarize myself with my world and the stakes (if any) that would be touched on in the remainder of the book. But as I matured as a writer and reader, I realized that the prologue is not that great. I’ve since eliminated them from anything not a first draft. On average, prologues tend to serve as a vehicle for info dumps for writers. I’ve sample both traditional and indie titles with prologues and found both wanting. Why tell me about Bill and Sue and their drama-filled story if only to find out the book is about someone else entirely? It’s misleading and a surefire way to kick a reader out.
Dreams are lumped with prologues as far as I’m concerned. Let me give you the best example I have as to why dreams in writing- hell, in anything- are generally a bad idea to convey story.
I loved this movie’s premise. It fascinated me. But when the majority of the film proved to be SPOILER a dream, I was furious. I still can’t talk about this movie without getting upset. My boyfriend defends it on the basis that Nicolas Cage’s character benefited from close proximity to the love interest, so logically the dream sequence made sense. What he doesn’t understand is that during the whole thing, viewers were invested in the race-against-time aspect. To have the entire experience nullified by a dream was a smack in the face. I can only think of one instance where I pulled the ‘and it was all a dream!’ trick: a fanfic based on Disney’s Gargoyles written circa ’94-’96. All evidence has since been destroyed.
Again, there are good examples of prologues, dreams, and cliches in writing. The key here is how they’re presented. But I would rather avoid them altogether. They don’t help your skills stand out. They hinder them.