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This blog has moved to my official website. Please follow it there!
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?
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:
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?
Commitment unlocks the doors of imagination, allows vision, and gives us the “right stuff” to turn our dreams into reality.” ~ James Womack
Are you committed to your writing? I saw a post recently that asked what the difference was between a writer and someone who writes. It got me thinking about my commitment to my craft and how things may have been different for me if I had not had the ability to commit to my writing. Not everyone has the luxury of retirement and grown children, but making time to write is the only way to actually become a writer. It may not get us published, but nobody said that writing was the end of the story, either. The point is, if we want to be writers, then we must write; sitting at home thinking about writing, driving the kids to school thinking about writing; wishing we were home writing instead of sweating at our child’s soccer game – none of that will make us writers. The only way to be a writer – is to write.
Carving out time for writing is one of the most difficult parts of being a writer. If we wait for the muse to visit us, it becomes even harder to find time to write. That brings up another point: “finding time”; if we have to find it, we never will. We need to make the time to write. I’ve blogged about this before; it’s not something that can be put off for when we find the time. We have to be committed to it and schedule it like any other appointment we have. Do we find time to go to the doctor? Yes, we do. Do we find time to go to the dentist? Yes. Our writing time needs to be placed in a position of extreme importance and there are so many of us who don’t place it there. Life gets in the way – it does; but if we are committed to our writing, once life calms down, we go back to it.
There are so many of us out there who dream of writing; who want it so badly it’s all they think about. There’s the problem right there. We dream, we think, we contemplate…we should be writing. Writers write – there’s no two ways about it. If we are dreaming…we are dreamers. If we are writing…we are writers. It’s really that simple. Take this quote from Mario Andretti:
We can WANT to write, but unless we are determined to write, committed to writing, we will not find the success we are reaching for. I had a conversation with a friend the other day about an article on a group of Harvard students who wrote down their long term goals and reread them every day vs. a group of Harvard students who just thought of their goals, but didn’t record them or revisit them. Amazingly, a vast majority of the students who reread their goal list reached their goals, while the majority of the students who didn’t revisit their list daily, were still wandering around wondering what to do with their lives. Interesting, isn’t it? Just rereading what they wanted helped them commit to the path they needed to follow in order to pursue their dreams. They were committed to their dreams; they followed the path towards their goals and they committed to that path. What does that say about commitment? If we commit to our writing, to being writers, will that make the goal more attainable? Well, I can say that if we don’t commit to it, we will most likely be wandering around years from now saying: what if? What if I had taken the time to follow my dream? Yes, life does get in the way sometimes; it can’t be helped. But a life without reaching for our dreams is not much of a life at all – it’s an existence. Why just exist when we can reach for the stars?
How do you commit to your writing?
I love book fairs. I attend them not just as an author, but as a reader as well. There is nothing like getting to walk around a bookstore and meet the authors who write the books we love. They have their tables set up with their books and other give-aways on it; they talk to their fans, old and new. There are talks from several different authors in several different genres. What’s not to love? Walk in, meet the authors, hear some interesting stories, buy a book or two and go home; simple as can be, right? Well, for the fans, yes.
There is a lot that goes into setting up an event like this. My friend and assistant Kathy Porter is the co-chair of the Author Fair I am attending next weekend. Through her, my eyes have been opened to the tremendous amount of work that goes into putting on an event such as this. I thought it was time to give Kathy and others who do this work their due and to let them know how much we appreciate them.
The event is being organized through the Greater Los Angeles Writers Society (GLAWS) and is being hosted by Barnes and Noble on July 23rd and 24th. Before anything else could be done to start planning, the first thing Kathy had to do was find a venue. She contacted Barnes and Noble; for this event she spoke with the Barnes and Noble in Marina Pacifica in Long Beach, California. She chose this venue because of the location and the openness of the meeting area which will allow enough room for all the fans we are hoping will join us. Once Barnes and Noble agreed to host the event, GLAWS put out a call for authors.
There are certain qualifications for author participation in this event, and Kathy had the tough job of having to gently explain to several talented authors that they were not able to be featured. In order to qualify for this event an author had to have books available through Baker &Taylor and also through Ingram, the books needed to be returnable and they needed to have enough books in the system to order (usually about 20 books). Out of the 41 authors who wished to participate, only 20 met the qualifications set by the store.
Kathy had to attend meetings with the bookstore to work out how many authors the store could support per day, the event room scheduling and seating as well as the food and drink to be available. There were a lot of details to attend to such as where chairs should be placed, where microphones needed to be placed and which food and drinks would be free and which would be sold. The author schedule consisted of making sure each author was allotted 5-7 minutes in the event room to speak on his or her subject or to read an excerpt from his or her book(s). Along with that there was also the issue of author table placement in the store; each author’s table being placed according to genre and as close to the area in the store where his or her genre is housed as possible.
Once the authors had been chosen and informed of their ability to participate, Kathy set out to help them learn how to set up their tables and sell their books; she also had to set expectations for mode of dress, manning the tables, what to bring and how to engage readers in conversation. She held a class for the authors to help get everyone comfortable with what was expected of them and how to best represent themselves and their work to their readers. She also needed to collect from each author their ISBN, title(s) of their work, their names or pen names, a biography, a head shot and a book description – all of which was used in the flyer she made to promote the event and the websites that are promoting the event. To see the websites click here: Greater Los Angeles Writers Society Author Fair and Barnes and Noble Event – GLAWS Author Fair.
Planning an event such as this is no small task and I just want to take this opportunity to thank Kathy, Gillian, others who plan events such as this. You should know how much the authors appreciate you and the opportunity you are giving us to meet and greet our fans and cultivate new fans and friends. It takes months of hard work to pull off an event like this. Thank you for giving us your time and your skills.
Many of you may have noticed requests for reviewers for my upcoming novel, Webs of Fate. The response has been phenomenal. My thanks go out to all of you who have joined our team. We now have reviewers across the US and Canada, even some out of the country who are reviewing the PDF file. They include Gibraltar, England, Australia, and Paris. The Advanced Readers Copies have been shipped to the reviewers that have already come aboard, and now I wait to see how this novel will be received.
Patience may be a virtue, but is often nerve wracking. While I am not pacing a worn paths in the carpet or experiencing sleepless nights, like most of us I have a certain degree of insecurity. The fact that Webs of Power and Twisted Webs have been winners of the Indie National Excellence Awards and finalists in the USA National Best Books and Twisted Webs was recently named winner of the 2011 International Book Award for fiction and literature was thrilling, but it has raised the bar since I strive to make each novel better than the one before. The big question is have I met that goal?
I have yet to meet an author, even a famous one, who did not admit to occasional bouts of insecurity. It is human nature to be concerned with how others view us, and let’s face it; our work is a part of us. It is our heart, our soul, our very being which we pour out onto paper and then parade out for others to assess. As authors it is our job to drop the filters and write from the heart; to give our readers a glimpse into the inner workings of our minds and imaginations. Few other jobs have this requirement. And yet as authors, we ask for reviews, knowing we must reach our intended reader. For non-fiction the contentmust fill the needs of the intended readers. In the case of novels, the key element is story. Have we reached our readers? Have we touched their hearts? Have we kept them turning the pages? And most of all have we provided entertainment?
No matter how good we think our work may be, it can always be better. There is a small, lingering doubt that maybe; just maybe it is not good enough. When Webs of Power won its first award, I was pleasantly surprised–most award winning books I have found to be somewhat dark–mine are not.. When I put Twisted Webs out for reviews, I worried that it wouldn’t live up to Webs of Power. Now it’s time to see if my reviewers feel that Webs of Fate lives up to standard set by the previous novels in the series. It is now in the hands of the reviewers, and I hope that it fares well. In the meantime, I will continue work on Unpredictable Webs and continue to take my daily walk on the beach and enjoy the company of my wonderful husband, Jack. Yet in the back of my mind, Webs of Fate and its fate will be ever-present.
How do you deal with the waiting game while waiting for feedback on your work?