(Or My Opinion on Prequels).
Firstly, hello to all our new Fellow Adventurers! To those not in the know, I do not have followers. I have people along for the ride, and sometimes what I say entertains or strikes a chord with them. At other times, they roll their eyes and demand I retire to the Chaises-Longues, where I do my thinking and can do no harm.
Anyhow, to the topic at hand.
Prequels are very funny things. Some people loathe them because they don’t really want to know what came before, or (if you’re like me) they will hit you with the old adage “I Know How It Ends.”
It seems like Origin Stories are fertile ground, but there’s so many of them nowadays, especially courtesy of Regurgitated Hollywood Formula, that you can’t move for tripping over a coming-of-age story, or the 47th time we saw Bruce Wayne get his parents murdered.
At some point in a series, an Author will want to try a Prequel. There is no reason not to do this, but care must be exercised. One of the most well-known examples of a Prequel resides within the Star Wars Episodes I – III. Now, I’m not going to get into the nuts and bolts of it, as I am a casual Star Wars fellow at best (even if I did have a few toys as a youngling), but the approach here was correct IMHO.
If you’re Prequelising, (yes, that’s an Arronism, it means Prequel Realising…) you need to add time and space. An even better Prequel setup in the Star Wars Universe was the Knights of The Old Republic, which moved the action/setting 1,000 years into the past. This was a long game, with events playing out millennia later from the seeds sown at the time.
Excellent. This allows the writers to do whatever the hell they want – invent new characters, (and kill them) without affecting the overarching setup and payoff. You have to do this, because if you don’t: I Know How It Ends.
The consequence of that is your readers don’t care about your characters, they know your Protagonist is going to live. You can hurt the Protag all you want, put them through the abysmal hell of anything you can conceive and your reader just goes: “They’ll live.”
Lets get into something a little less well known to extract what I would call the most egregious example of Prequelising done wrong: Warhammer 40,000 The Horus Heresy.
Basically everything is set in the 41st/42nd Millennium, and the Heresy is set 10,000 years before, in the 31st Millennium when everything all goes pear-shaped. (Don’t worry, I’ve given up hope of writing for Black Library, but if you ever do get a book with them, you’re an instant New York Times Bestseller, because about 3 million people all buy your book instantly, and generally will pre-order it too).
It’s not that the books are badly written, there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem is that the people in M.31 are still around in M.41. The setting has tied the hands of the author. It was never really meant to be explored and was intended to be backstory to give a flavour of how things got so bad.
Now the authors are in painted into a corner – and unfortunately that then leads to incredible leaps of nonsensical logic masquerading as “theme”, that if you were an emerging writer, you would NEVER get past an Editor. (Hey, Black Library Authors – if by some miracle you’re reading this, I am held to those standards, so I’m holding you to them as well).
Unfortunately that’s just the way they have to do it. (I’m still not forgiving a certain author for having a pressurised/habitable environment on the exterior of a starship, which because it’s so large, somehow creates a gravity well and retains expelled gases, which is then hand-waved by fans saying the shields hold the atmosphere in. If one of my Editors saw me write that, they’d have a God-damned aneurysm).
In short then, how to Prequel?
IMHO, this all comes down to a question of scope. Look at how far your series spans, look at the lynchpins of your stories, your plots and antagonists, see how they nail your books to the wall, because whilst a couple of hand-waves here or there may be forgiven, it is so much better to realise what masts you’ve nailed your colours to and build on that.
If you’re writing a Prequel – leave yourself room to tell a different story that marries with what comes next – it’s just a chapter of a bigger book after all. Distance adds charm, and space.
It changes “I Know How It Ends” to:
“I Know What Comes Next.”
Anyway, that’s my ramble for today. Do you think I have a point? or am I just pontificating from my Chaises-Longues? Let me know below, and as always:
Have a Great Day Adventurers! 🙂