I received many comments on the last post regarding prequels and back-story. Many authors express the belief that prequels tend to be an author’s saved up back-story. If that is the case, it is unlikely that a compelling prequel will follow. There is a quite a bit to consider as we discuss prequels.
THE BACK-STORY ON BACK-STORY
As the authors, we know what happened before our published work; where our characters came from, what makes them do the things they do, why this one is afraid of the dark or that one has an aversion to apples…we created these personality quirks and the reasons behind them. A prequel does not have to be the “why” of the already published work. Honestly, just because one reader wants to know why John Doe flinches every time the doorbell rings, does not meant that EVERY reader wants to know the story behind that quirk. We need to ask ourselves, is our story idea compelling enough to interest a reader in spending his or her hard earned cash on a book? A prequel should be a standalone story that just happens to be inhabited by one or two (or maybe all) of the characters from our current novel. It’s not there to explain the entire back story; it can, however, support character traits or give deeper insight into certain characters. So what’s all the fuss about prequels?
THE PROBLEM OF THE CART COMING BEFORE THE HORSE
Problem number one, as I see it, is the story map. We have a perfectly good published novel with a sequence of events that is set in stone. Now, here we are later, writing a novel that leads up to that sequence of events – we have to make sure we don’t contradict ourselves or send our characters so way off the beaten path that it’s just not a plausible story to bring them back. The sequence of events in the prequel must logically lead up to the sequence of events in the published work, even if the prequel takes place many years earlier when the main character is just a child (or in the case of Star Wars, before the main characters are born). For example, if in the already published story, our main character mentions that she lost her parents in a fire when she was 20, we can’t possibly have her ask her mother for advice in a prequel that takes place when she is 25. The story map must be consistent and lead the main characters to the path of the already published novel, or at least to a path that the readers can believe will put them upon the path they will travel in the published novel.
CHECK YOUR FACTS MA’AM
Facts must be checked and double checked; even the most seemingly innocuous comment made by a minor character in the first book must coordinate with the storyline in the prequel. If there is an inconsistency in even the minutest detail, we can be sure that a reader will notice it and it will become a thorn in that reader’s side. Every character counts; we need to make sure a minor character doesn’t push a main character off track. If the story line of the prequel is gleaned from an event the main character mentions in the published work, we need to make sure that any character mentioned in the existing work now exists in the prequel. For example, if our MC mentioned in passing that she had a college roommate named Donna at the time her parents perished in that fire and our story takes place during that time frame, we need to make sure Donna exists. No Donna – no continuity. Worse yet, we need to make sure we don’t call the MC’s roommate Rachel. Check the facts, check the facts, check the facts! Did I mention we need to check the facts?
DON’T TOUCH THAT ROCK!
As authors we must make sure that nothing in our prequel negates the novels that are already published—character traits and motivation must be consistent. However, in my opinion, in order to be a successful prequel, the story should be about our characters at an earlier time– a separate stand alone story that will captivate readers not just a pre-shadow of our other novels. When we are writing a prequel, we need to travel back and forth between the published work and the work in progress; making sure that the events occurring in the prequel do not deter the events of the already published work. Some may liken this to time travel stories where the characters are warned to not alter anything in the past because one little stone out of place can set a chain of events that changes the already established present and future. There is a lot of backtracking and double checking to be done when attempting a prequel; the webs must be woven carefully and delicately in order to create a consistent and believable storyline.
What other issues stand out when you think about prequels?