Writing Advice – Prequel or not to Prequel?

I’ve seen a lot of writing advice post on the subject on Prequels, and as a general rule they have one of two opinions: Have a prequel or don’t have a Prequel. Well I’m here to toss my own opinion into the ring: Do whatever suits your story! As I know from experience, the advice “Do whatever you want,” or “Do whatever you think is best,” is rarely of help, so let me explain myself.

The job of a prequel is to give your readership insight into the (Tragic) Backstory of your main and or supporting characters. (If you don’t know what a Prequel is – it is defined by the oxford dictionary as “A story or film containing events which precede those of an existing work.”) The reader should be able to go from your first book, to your prequel and go “ooohhh this makes sense. I now understand better why…” However, if you don’t have a rich enough back story, both you and the reader will get bored, and it takes waaaay too long to write a book (no matter how well thought out it is) to waste time on a whole book you don’t need. So here is what I suggest for determining if you need a prequel.

Can you put your backstory into a flashback?  You may opt for simply including a flashback into your first book because your characters’ backstory is important but it isn’t interesting/relevant/long enough to constitute a whole book. If at all possible, keep your flashbacks to a minimum. Your story is about the now of the story, and it might get a little confusing if the reader keeps being pulled back and forth from past to present (unless of course, that’s how your book is structured).  Backstory can also be brought up using dialogue: “When I was only 8 years old, they came and took my family away.” (etc. etc.)  Or within the characters thought process; this is very similar to a flashback – it takes away from the now, so this method of backstory-telling should also be used with caution. An example of this would be: “Anne laid on her bed and found herself thinking about herself – how she used to be…”  In sum: If your flashbacks take over the story, write a prequel – if they fit snugly into your  story-line, flashback in moderation.

Does your backstory add to your character development?   One of the reasons you should write a backstory is because it ‘fills out’ the character you choose to focus on. For example, my main character (Mahonie) in the first book is a very broken person, and is desperate to keep those she loves safe. She would do anything to keep them safe, and by virtue of this drive, she constantly hurls herself in harms way. What isn’t (and can’t be) fully shown in this book is why she is so scared to lose her loved ones. My prequel is solely on Mahonie, her backstory, and gives a lot of context for the other books (a point I will be making later on in this post). It explains that all her life, Mahonie has lost everyone she holds dear, to the point where she blames herself for their misfortune. Her backstory is far too big and far too complicated to only give snippets of in the first book, and it lends itself to readers understanding Mahonie more as a person. If your prequel is based around a character from your earlier book(s), it should provide a solid base with which the ‘modern’ version of your character is founded on.

Does your backstory have its own plot-line?  As well as your Prequel providing support for your other books and their characters, it needs to have a life of its own. There needs to be a plot-line. An up and down. A struggle met with adversity – maybe a couple battles won not too easily. The story can’t be all bad – struggles that failed and had neither merit nor hope – and it can’t be all good, i.e., “We won! That was easy…” A prequel is a bit more a juggling act than your other books. You have to not only think about the usual things (character development, plot, timeline, setting, etc.) but how it fits in with what has already been established in your first book. (Personalities of characters based on their childhood, setting in the ‘future’ of the prequel, etc.). Even if the character(s) you focus on are doomed to villainy or tragic deaths that change the course of history forever, there needs to be a struggle in getting there. There needs to be hope that maaaybe, somehow they live, they change their path, they start afresh. The character’s future is already determined, but the character doesn’t know that. They will still fight for what they want, even if all seems (and is) lost.

Does your backstory give context?    The other type of Prequel (as demonstrated by the Star Wars saga) is still the past but with characters already dead (or simply not included in the story-line) by the time the first book comes into the timeline. This story-line is predicated on the Big Event that has a huge impact on your other books. (For example: The war that went on so long, everyone forgot why they were fighting anymore, the first alien encounter that started it “all,” the nuclear explosion that started the apocalypse early – you get the point.) This type of prequel is also very tricky because you have a whole new set of characters, and almost a whole new story you have to think about while – again – thinking about how these characters’ actions set the stage for the other book(s). The goal of this prequel is to be as interesting as the ‘main’ plot-line, while still providing the clarity that’s not completely obvious in the later portion of the timeline.

Does your backstory give backstory for supporting characters?  Now, this one is by no means a necessary aspect of a prequel, but it’s still something to keep in mind. If your characters are childhood friends, colleagues, fellow test-subjects, etc. then you might have the perfect opportunity to give more detail on your side-characters. Supporting characters are just as important as the main ones, so if there are opportunities to establish sub-characters as individuals in charge of their own personal story, take them!


And that long-winded post is my thoughts on *dramatic music* To Prequel or not to Prequel. I hope that it was helpful in some way and that all your book-writing endeavors turn out splendidly! If you have questions, comments, concerns you’d like to share, please feel free to comment below~  Also, you are more than welcome to share your own book-writing experiences –  I’d love to hear from you!

Until next time! <3


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