As a writer, I’ve encountered a lot of advice–some invaluable, others not so much. Some, while potentially beneficial in moderation, can severely limit creativity and storytelling when taken to extremes. In this post, I’ll delve into three bad bits of writing advice that I’ve encountered recently and give explain why authors shouldn’t take them seriously.

What follows are three particularly egregious examples of bad writing advice, and why they’re so bad.


Do Not Use Prologues

One of the most contentious pieces of advice I’ve come across is the staunch opposition to including prologues in novels. Critics often argue that prologues can deter readers, suggesting that they serve as unnecessary preambles rather than engaging hooks. Evidently, some readers even skip them!

This perspective overlooks the unique role that prologues can play in setting the stage for a story. A good prologue can serve multiple purposes. It can provide essential backstory or context that enriches the reader’s understanding of the ensuing narrative. For instance, a prologue might introduce a historical event, a myth, or a legend that lays the groundwork for the story. Alternatively, it might offer a glimpse into a pivotal moment from a perspective not featured in the rest of the novel, adding layers of depth and intrigue to the narrative tapestry.

Prologues can help to create suspense or foreshadowing key themes and events. For example, in my novel, Bodacious Creed and the San Francisco Syndicate, the discovery of a body buried at an abandoned farm south of San Francisco hints at crimes yet undiscovered. By offering a glimpse of what’s to come, an author can pique readers’ curiosity and draw them into the story with a sense of anticipation. Ensure that the prologue is directly relevant to the story and crafted in a way that complements the narrative rather than detracting from it.

Also, recognize that prologues are distinct from chapters. They are not simply “Chapter One” by another name. By design, prologues stand apart from the main narrative, offering unique insights or setting the stage in a way that chapters, which propel the story forward, cannot. Dismissing prologues outright can rob a story of a powerful tool for engagement and depth.


Write Only When You Have Something to Say

“Write only when you have something to say.” On the surface, this advice seems sensible, encouraging writers to speak with purpose and clarity. However, it harbors an insidious implication: that one should wait for inspiration or a fully formed idea before putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). This waiting game can be the death knell for creativity.

Writing is as much about discovery as it is about expression. It’s a process through which ideas are explored, refined, and brought to life. By writing regularly, even without a goal in mind, writers can unearth thoughts and narratives that were previously obscured in the recesses of their minds. This exploratory process can lead to unexpected insights, interesting stories, and a richer, more nuanced understanding of the themes at hand.

The discipline of writing regularly hones one’s craft. It ensures that when inspiration does strike, the writer is better equipped to capture and express it effectively. Waiting for a fully formed idea before writing is akin to a musician waiting to be proficient before practicing–it’s counterproductive and inhibits growth.


Only Conclude a Chapter at the End of a Scene

Another piece of advice that I’ve found baffling is the notion that chapters must not end in the middle of a scene. This rigid guideline ignores the myriad narrative techniques at a writer’s disposal and the dynamism they can bring to a story.

Ending a chapter mid-scene can be a powerful tool for maintaining momentum and reader engagement. It can create suspense and encourage readers to turn the page to find out what happens next. This technique, often referred to as a cliffhanger, can be especially effective in genres that thrive on tension and suspense, such as thrillers and mysteries.

This approach can offer a more immersive reading experience, mirroring the unpredictability and fluidity of real-life events. Life doesn’t adhere to neat, chapter-like segments; it’s full of interruptions and unexpected turns. Reflecting this in writing can add a layer of realism and relatability to the narrative.

While writing advice can be invaluable, it’s essential to approach it with a critical mind and consider how it applies to your voice and storytelling style. Writing should be a playground for creativity, exploration, and expression. By questioning conventional wisdom and embracing a more nuanced approach, whatever writing advice you encounter, you can unlock additional dimensions of storytelling and connect with readers in profound and unexpected ways.


P.S. I have a Patreon now where I’m sharing four stories every month! For your $5/month subscription, you’ll get to read these exciting tales that take place in the steampunk weird western world of my Bodacious Creed novels. Since I started it last month, four tales are already there for your enjoyment!

Check it out here:

Jonathan Fesmire | Crafting Bodacious Stories | Patreon

“Writing is an act of discovering what you think and what you believe.” ~ Dan Pink