Monday, February 22, 2010

The Hedge Maze of Writing Rules

Lately I've often heard agents and even authors expounding on the evils of prologues. Anne R. Allen wrote a great post recently that compiled quotes from several literary agents regarding the absolute evil of prologues.

There are so many trends that become Rules in publishing. Once you start reading all the industry blogs you can easily get caught up in it all, like getting lost in a hedge maze. You start to believe those hedges are walls made of green marble. But guess what? They're just brambles and they can be cut down. They're just another trend.

What got me thinking about this was a writer friend I've made here in Vermont. She's totally unaware of the industry. She simply loves books and is trying to write one. Every time we get together to write, I have to bite my tongue from telling her not to do something. Because of course her book has a prologue. And it's part of a series. And I have to keep myself from telling her that prologues are a bad idea, and that you'd better not mention in your query that your book is the start of a series. Because that is BAD.

Unless the agent loves your book and wants to sell more, in which case having more books planned is GOOD.

See? It all sense at all. Just another overgrown hedge in the maze.

As a reader, I have always loved prologues and so has my husband. He told me that George R. R. Martin's prologue to A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE is his favorite chapter in the entire series.

And personally I always loved the prologues to David Eddings BELGARIAD series. Each one was written as a historic document from a particular country and was essentially my introduction to historiography. It was a wonderful way to introduce the culture of a place without heavy handed info dropping. It enhanced the world. Plus, it was FUN TO READ.

And you know, that's sort of the point.

Sure some writers might use a prologue to avoid doing the hard work. They want to get straight to the action or they have a cool idea for a scene that doesn't fit anywhere else and they just have to include it when they shouldn't. There are times when a prologue is annoying (you like a character, only to realize that she died a century ago, for example). But that's true of anything if done poorly or when the story didn't call for it.

I'm tired of all these Writing Rules. They will become a self fulfilling prophecy because writers will stop writing them. And then my wonderfully ignorant writing friend will submit her book with it's brilliant and necessary prologue, and suddenly prologues will be THE ONLY WAY to start any story of merit.

So writers: Don't delete your prologue just because it's out of style. Don't add a steampunk vampire to your story because that's in style.

Just write. Write well. Write with passion and pain and blood and sweat and all those gritty, wonderful things. Stay true to the story you're uncovering. That's all you can do.


  1. I agree completely. There are too many agents and other industry people offering contradictory advice (like the 'mention you have more books in a series planned/never mention your book is first in a series' issue), and the one piece that does seem to hold true is that writers shouldn't write to trend. If you want to write a steampunk vampire, do it, but don't feel like you have to.

  2. This is a good reminder. All "rules" should be broken when it makes sense.

    I did really enjoy the article, though. It inspired me to pull together my own list of writing "lessons learned", which was fun too!

    Kelly at

  3. Thanks for the comments, ladies! I'm glad this post gave you something to think about : )