WRITING A PREQUEL – SHOULD I OR SHOULDN’T I?

WHY, OH WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT TO WRITE A PREQUEL AND WHY IS HOLLYWOOD NOW LOOKING FOR COMPELLING PREQUELS?

Prequels have been dealt a bad hand. For many writers, they are considered taboo – bad luck, the death of your series; other writers calmly advise avoiding them when possible. So what’s the “plague of the prequel” all about? For one thing, they can be boring filler if we are not careful; who wants to read something that is just background fluff about our characters? Prequels can throw our entire published series off track; if the actions of the characters don’t lead them to the path they are on at the beginning of our already published novel, then the already existing novel won’t make any sense. Prequels can render our already established characters unbelievable. Now that I have completely discouraged the writing of prequels, here’s a good reason to write one: the readers want one; they want to know what happened before our novel took place. Our readers are curious as to WHY our main character behaves the way s/he does; they want to know more about her/him; where s/he came from; who s/he is; what her/his life was like before the book they just read. If our characters are compelling enough and we are very, very careful, we can create a prequel that will knock our readers’ socks off.  So how careful should we be and what should we be so careful of?

USE THE FORCE, BUT DON’T FORCE IT

Since hearing from my readers that they want to know more about my characters lives before my first novel, Webs of Power, I felt compelled to write a prequel; but I was also determined to avoid dumping a boatload of back-story on them. I wanted to know all the pros and cons of writing a prequel so I did a little research online.  I have never read so much about Star Wars in my life! It seems the inconsistencies in the back-story are a huge disappointment to the fans; apparently Star Wars fans are extremely knowledgeable about the characters in the series and the inconsistencies they found in the characters and in the stories of the three prequels are a huge source of distress and complaint. Now granted, I am talking about a movie here, but the issues movie prequels face are closely related to the issues book prequels face:

  1. The sequence of events must logically lead from the prequel to the established story and must be consistent with the already established story
  2. The characters must stay true to who they are to become
  3. The audience already knows where the character is going to end up, so the prequel not only needs to lead to this path, it has to make the journey interesting in itself

I want to address each of these issues separately, so the next several blogs will deal with the issues of writing a prequel as I see them.

 

What do you see as the problem with prequels?

 

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7 responses to “WRITING A PREQUEL – SHOULD I OR SHOULDN’T I?

  1. Like you said, prequels seem problematic to write because you need to accomplish two goals: 1) have a strong story that can stand on its own (beginning, middle, and end), and 2) remain consistent with the story that it comes before.

    It’s surprisingly difficult to weave those two goals together and come out with a fantastic story, let alone a mediocre one. Because of this, I don’t think I’d ever write a prequel.

    If I did write one, though, I would just treat it as a standalone story. It should have its own standalone plotline and any explanations or references to the main story (the one that the prequel comes before) should be treated as Easter eggs.

    Just my 2 cents. 😀

  2. I think a problem with prequels or sequels is that oftentimes they are not necessary at all. Millions of readers or movie fanatics can beg for one, but the choice an artistic creator must make is leaving the spectacle that is your novel or well recieved film up to fate. Like you said, a filler in the space that we could all do without. That is not to say prequels are never a good idea but it has been proven that they are hinderence to a great story.

    For my series, a prequel is not out of the question as it will probably be needed to understand a lot of the backstory that readers will surely want to know about.

  3. I heard a rumor that Lee Child’s new one is going to be a prequel, which I would certainly welcome. I think it depends on if there’s really a story to mine in what comes before, or if it instead signals a drying up of material. Since the first book usually begins when the moment of action, the real story does, the prequel material might not contain the full shape of a story. If it does, or if one can be found, then I say go for it!

  4. I am saving my backstory to work with should my story become a bestseller and I be asked to write the prequel. I also have ideas for a sequel too!

  5. When Bernard Cornwell came to Vancouver in 2004 he remarked that his Sharp’s series was way more successful than he imagined. He had written all the book he had wanted to write about Sharp. He thought he was finished with the series, but readers kept pushing him to write more. Then he began a very complicated way to insert a series within a series to keep the Sharp story going through prequels on the strength of the television series. He, of course, had many problems with not killing characters off at the beginning and had to rework history for events and people to conform to what came later. It was a prodigious amount of detailed writing he never wanted to do again. He faces the same problems with a couple of other series, which became so popular that readers have demanded that he start writing prequels another few series, I among them. I want to see MORE….. in this sense, Cornwell’s prequels are reader-driven.

  6. In general, to be blunt, I think prequels suck. I mean, I can’t think of one I liked, off the top of my head. They always just seem like something that wasn’t intended, a moneymaker, forced and predictable. You’re always thinking, when is the part when he starts doing_____. Or when does she find out when____. But I think there is a way to do it. If it’s from the perspective of a character them might not have had a P.O.V. before and so the drama is ultimately fresh, yet still in the same story, just earlier. So it would have the illusion that before the series, the story was about a different character, which might create purpose and still seem like it was inspired by the story rather then by the author’s longevity.

    Keep in mind, I’m a person who is just usually upset when I see a significant flashback. I always feel cheated with flashbacks. What a horrible tool.

    • U.L. – I understand your reticence toward prequels, but are they really ALL bad? It seems your issue is that you already know where the character is going to end up, so why take the journey; am I correct? I am going to address just that topic in the next blog. I hope you will come back and read it and let me know your thoughts.

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