Prologue or Not–Part 2

Dream (noun): a succession of images, thoughts, or emotions passing through the mind during sleep.

Dreams are tricky to incorporate into novels. When well-written and placed in the body of the story, dreams can add a beneficial layer to the storytelling. They can be a vital part of the plot or show a character’s inner worries for example. But a dream included in the prologue more often turns the reader off as opposed to drawing her into the story.

The first pages of a novel–whether prologue or chapter 1–create a contract with the reader. They establish the point of view, the main character, the stakes the protagonist faces.

This poses a problem for the writer and reader alike when the prologue consists of a dream. The dream-world will be portrayed as the world in which all of the action takes place, and the reader will be torn out of the story when they turn the page to find out that is actually not the case. The reader feels lied to in those pages and may put the book down. That’s the last thing a writer wants.

Another reason authors write the prologue as a dream is because dreams play a major role in the plot, and they believe the dream will hook the reader. However, the dream throws the reader directly into the action without establishing the main character’s everyday world. The reader has no idea who this person is or why she should be rooting for him. She fails to become engaged in the story. This also gives rise to the possibility of the reader putting the book down.

If dreams are vital to your story, think seriously about waiting until at least the end of chapter 1 or even the beginning of chapter 2. You will then have time to get your reader familiar with the protagonist and to convince her to root for him. That way the dream will be less of out of place. The reader will be much more willing to go along with that suspension of disbelief.

Dreams can be extremely powerful tools in a writer’s toolbox when it comes to setting tone, weaving plots, and giving insight into a character. But they are best used outside of prologues.

How do you feel about the use of dreams in prologues? Have you seen an instance where it worked?

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