A prequel is a story that takes place before the events of an original narrative. Traditionally, they are more rare than sequels, but with franchises and cinematic universes dominating media, there has been an abundance of them.
Many of them are successful, but some of them can be problematic. So, what are the key things to keep in mind when writing a prequel?
1. Retaining Existing Characters and Worlds
When it comes to film and TV, many storytellers are hesitant to use the term “prequel.” This is because it can be difficult to justify making such a movie. It is also often seen as a way to make money, rather than a storytelling technique. However, if you’re able to tell a good prequel, it can be an invaluable tool for expanding your world and developing your characters.
When writing a prequel, there are a few key things to keep in mind. First, it’s important to retain existing characters and worlds that have already been established in the original narrative.
For example, if the main character of the original novel has a great backstory and many fans want to see more of them, it might be worth writing a prequel about their origins. This can help bring new audiences to your work and also give you a chance to show how much the original characters have grown since their initial appearance.
In some cases, it’s even possible to take a character that has been out of the spotlight and give them more screen time than in the original. For instance, if you’re writing a Harry Potter prequel, you might want to focus on Dumbledore’s famous duel against the dark wizard Grindelwald.
Another way to retain existing characters is by ensuring that you have an engaging plot. If the prequel doesn’t have enough action to carry it, it could become a bore for your audience. This is especially true if the prequel focuses on events that have already been established in the first film.
It’s also important to ensure that the prequel has a meaningful ending that doesn’t deviate from what happened in the original story. A lot of prequels can have a very confusing and rushed ending, which can feel like a cheat to the fanbase.
If you’re unsure how to write your prequel, it might be a good idea to read some existing works to get an idea of what works and doesn’t work. This can help you decide if you’re ready to try something different.
2. Expanding World-Building
A prequel story is an excellent way to expand on world-building. It allows authors to explore the history of a world or to create new institutions and governments. These can be drawn from the real world, or from an existing fantasy or science fiction universe.
Creating a fascinating world is one of the most important aspects of any work. It can make your story a more immersive experience and help you build characters that have depth and meaning beyond their simple narrative devices or plot points.
Many fantasy and science fiction series feature elaborate worlds. For example, Harry Potter’s wizarding world is full of magic, but it also has an intricate history and a complex political structure. Likewise, the world of Dune is a sprawling feudal society, while the Magisterium in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series is an elaborate religious body.
But the worlds we see in movies and books aren’t always as fully realized as we might hope. That’s why a lot of fans of science fiction and fantasy are turning to prequels as a way to explore the past, expanding the worlds they love in new and exciting ways.
The Star Wars prequels, for example, have expanded the universe of the original trilogy to a level of complexity and depth that even the most exhaustive fantasy novels can’t match. They’ve inspired a robust fan culture, including graphic novels, fan movies, and original art.
If you’re planning on writing a prequel, it’s vital to study the original material as thoroughly as possible. It’s also important to consider what needs to be changed and why. This is especially true if the prequel will be a direct extension of the existing stories, such as a Star Wars movie or Harry Potter novelization.
Another key to success is making sure that your prequel does not undermine the underlying themes and assumptions of the original works. This is especially the case if your prequel is set in an already established timeline, such as the Battle of Hoth in The Force Awakens.
A good prequel should tie into a point or event that is already well-known, such as the first time Dumbledore and Grindelwald met in the original Harry Potter movies. It’s important to do this because it shows that you respect the source material and that you understand its strengths and weaknesses.
3. Developing Character Origins
Prequels can be a great way to develop character origins. This can help readers better understand the motivations behind a character or event, which can lead to more powerful stories.
In fact, many films and television shows use flashbacks to tell the origin story of their characters, so a prequel can be a great way to introduce that backstory in an interesting manner. For example, Bucky Barnes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe(MCU) has had a very interesting history, which is often explained through his flashbacks throughout his narratives.
While a prequel can be a great opportunity to explore a character’s past, it is important to be careful not to overdo it. Too much backstory can be distracting and muddle the storytelling.
The best prequels are those that tie into the existing media and truly feel like they exist within the same world and timeline as the original work. This makes them easier for both new and veteran fans to enjoy.
For instance, Star Wars: The Clone Wars and the Expanded Universe books Shatterpoint and Republic Commando both told strong stories that were able to take the franchise into different directions. These prequels acted as a bridge between the original trilogy and the expanded universe, providing the audience with an engaging and compelling storyline that surpassed its source material.
A prequel can also be used to resolve unanswered questions about a character or setting. This can be done in a variety of ways, including explaining how characters were formed or by going into the background of an important element of the setting.
Another common type of prequel is one that focuses on a character’s early life, allowing them to learn the skills or experiences that make them the protagonist of a story. This can be an effective way to establish a character’s character development and make the protagonist feel more mature.
Creating a prequel that is not only creative but also adds to the overall story can be a great way to make your work stand out from the competition. However, too many prequels are just there to milk a universe dry and serve as filler for a series. This can lead to a lack of imagination in the writing and may even damage the original media itself.
4. Doing Something Different
A prequel is a film, series, book, or TV show that takes place before the original work. It usually deals with the backstory of a character from the first work, but it can also be a standalone story.
When you’re writing a prequel, there are several things you need to keep in mind. These tips will help you tell a compelling story that doesn’t feel like it’s trying to take over the original.
1. Fit into Existing Material: A prequel must fit seamlessly into the existing storyline, so you’ll want to study it as much as possible before you start writing. This will give you a better idea of where to make changes, and what can be removed for good reasons.
2. Resolve Unanswered Questions: If you haven’t covered something important in your previous work, a prequel can be a great way to fill in the gaps. For example, Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” built out the universe of Alien by telling the origin story of the creature that first appeared in 1979.
3. Develop a New Character Origin: If you haven’t covered a character in your original work, a prequel can be incredibly effective at bringing them to life and establishing their place in the overall narrative. This can be especially helpful in fanfiction, where fans may want to know more about their favorite characters’ origins.
4. Do Something Different: One of the best ways to do something different is to go out of your way to surprise audiences. It can be as simple as changing the storyline, or as complex as casting parts of a previous work in a whole new light.
Getting creative can be a great way to add tension to your prequel. For instance, the first Harry Potter prequel – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – features a huge, titanic duel between Dumbledore and Grindelwald that’s a central part of the series.
However, this is a tricky move to pull off successfully. The challenge is to have the tension come from a new set of circumstances, without the audience knowing that this is a prequel at all. It’s a hard balance, but you can do it if you put in the work.