Expansion Pack: Prequels

Hi Gang, Craig once more to wrap up this weird series about cautionary tales for writers. You can check out the two previous posts at these links:


One Upmanship

This one is about something that’s all the rage right now; prequels. You have a cool story, and one of the supporting characters could have been your main character if you weren’t into it eight chapters already. Wouldn’t that character’s story be fun to write? Seems like everyone is doing it today.

I’ve struggled with all the things these posts relate to. I wrote a fun stand-alone, and my author friends begged me to make it into a series. What the hell am I going to do for an encore? (Wrote it anyway. Polishes nails.) I’ve struggled to live within the parameters I established multiple volumes into my ongoing series. (That one is a series on purpose.)

Then it occurred to me, one of the characters from my trilogy has a great origin story. It’s a fantasy, and I already have a great world established, let’s go for it.

Now we’re starting to stitch the posts together. Canon means she has to survive, otherwise she can’t appear in the trilogy I already published. I have to live within my fences. She can and must evolve, but can’t go beyond what we’ve seen in the trilogy. Fans will automatically know this, so I’ve lost some of the tension I have with other stories. As a stand alone tale, new readers can still have this concern, so bonus there.

My problems were minor compared to some things I see going on in the Star Wars universe. The most recent tale there is called Obi-Wan Kenobi. It’s a prequel to the very first theatrical release, A New Hope.

It’s a story about Obi-Wan trying to rescue a pre-teen Princess Leah from the clutches of Darth Vader and his minions. Can you see the prequel problem-clouds forming?

Vader, Kenobi, and Leah all have to survive according to canon from the first film. There’s zero risk they’ll be killed, and the tension automatically deflates. We know before the first credits roll that Kenobi is going to succeed. What’s left to tell?

Honestly, they did a pretty good job with it and I enjoyed it. It’s Star Wars. Let’s just offer some possible changes to see if we could ramp up the tension.

What if we kicked Leah to the curb in favor of another Force Sensitive child? I would use a girl, since Anakin was a boy. We’ve never seen this kid before, maybe the survival won’t be guaranteed. Gives you a chance to haunt Kenobi with his Anakin failure, because this kid could become a Jedi or a Sith. Only this time, the Sith aren’t a distant long shot, Kenobi has personal experience with them.

Kenobi and Vader can still wail the tar out of each other, and we expect this. But nothing is guaranteed. Sure, they’ll both survive, but what role will the kid play? Will the kid survive? Will she help Vader? Those become possibilities now.

Vader can’t extract some revenge and lop off one of Kenobi’s limbs, or he would have had a prosthetic as an old man.

We can’t have Leah using the Force, or she would have in the films. We can’t have Vader figure out that she’s his daughter, because that was a big reveal in the films. He can’t learn it for the sake of this show, then somehow forget it for twenty years to learn it again.

In a prequel there is absolutely zero fear these things could happen. Consider whether you need to include other established characters in your prequel. In my personal case, I did not.

Think about the canon you’ve already delivered and how you’re going to work within those parameters, even though they were created in a different volume. Consider one upmanship during your climactic event. Maybe you want the prequel to be more exciting than the main event, but it shouldn’t be so cataclysmic the main series gets spoiled.

I hope this mini-series helps some of you out. Drop me a line and let me know what you thought.

63 thoughts on “Expansion Pack: Prequels

  1. I think you should write that Star Wars prequel.
    I had enough trouble with my series when the character from the future in the first book turned up in his own time in book 6. What didn’t he know, what did he know that would have forced his attitudes in the first book? What could the character who knew this future person six years ago say to him, or not? If you’re confused, just go with the flow and know that after another year of writing I’d sorted it out. And never, ever, put a person from the future in your first book… not if you’re going to meet him again later, at any rate.
    Mind you, the future guy had his own prequel in book four.
    Are you confused now?
    Must read the next in your series 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great examples Craig. I’ve noticed quite a few prequels released this past year by trad authors and wondered why after a few years write a prequel. But after reading a few from my favs, I’m hooked on prequels, lol. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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  4. Very interesting insight on prequels, Craig. I’ve never considered the ramifications and lost tension when dealing with a known storyline. Very cool post! Now, after I write the Jazz Baby sequel, I’ll get started on the prequel!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve never written a prequel before, but it would be fun to give it a try.
    I gave the Obi-Wan series a try, but one episode was enough for me. Maybe I just wasn’t into it, or maybe it was because I knew what came later.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. HI Craig, this is good food for thought and now I know I will never write a prequel. I wouldn’t anyway because any characters I create reach the end of the line when I publish a book. I don’t think I’ll manage a traditional series either for the same reason. A series which focuses on different characters, maybe. Lately, I’ve been struggling to work on novels as they just take so long to write and work is so busy. It was easier when there was the pandemic and I only worked and wrote. Now I need to work, write and do all the social things again and I’m just sinking a little especially because my books are so ridiculously complicated. I’m more interested in writing short stories that are so much more fun for me and so much quicker.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I’ve avoided prequels, Craig, for all the reasons you listed. Some authors are good at them, but as you point out, they have to be well planned. Star Wars was a good example of the challenges since most of us have seen at least some of the films. Happy Writing!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I had that same thought about Obi-Wan. One character change could have made such a difference. It would have eliminated so many plot problems as well as added new tensions. What if the Leah replacement had been Palpatine’s secret child (Rey’s father) and they didn’t know if he was going to follow in his father’s footsteps or not? Or what if the Leah replacement was an Empire target Obi-wan had to protect? He or she could have had parallels drawn with Reva’s character. I had so many thoughts/wishes when I saw that series.

    I love how you pulled this series of posts together. Great series.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Another great post in this series, Craig. It’s fun when a minor character demands more page time with their own story. I love what you did with Serang! I wrote a prequel to Ghostly Interference as a short story, but now with my publishing contract, I can’t do anything with it. 😦 Boo! Anyway, this post gives food for thought. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. When I ended up writing three books in a series, several people advised me to hold off publishing any until all three were written. They warned that things would change, or that I’d wish they could. It was wonderful advice, and you’ve illustrated several reasons why. A series means that some things will be known to the reader just by the fact that’s there’s another book.

    I think of a TV series where you know the main characters will carry on. Like seeing a landing party in Star Trek – pity the poor red shirt! Thanks for giving us things to think about. I hope you have a great week.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. I’ve been reading some excellent Fantasy prequels recently and getting more interested in the series as a result.

    I note many authors give away these stories for joining their mailing lists.

    My Goblin series took a similar tack in having a book of short stories related to details of the world, but I’ve considered doing a prequel for an origin event that is referred to several times in the series.

    As a reader, I enjoy exploring these alternate views into well constructed Fantasy worlds.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Pingback: Expansion Pack: Prequels | Legends of Windemere

  13. I loved these posts, Craig. Most helpful.
    I have embarked on some prequels for my Wolves of Vimar series. I can understand better now how difficult it is, remembering what must change and what stay the same. Many thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. This is such an important point, Craig. Even when writing comedy there has to be some tension and I’ve read a couple of lukewarm (no Star Wars pun intended) prequels that haven’t really gripped me in the same way as the original tale. Even if you try to rack up the tension by having the ‘known’ character emotionally involved with someone who might be bumped-off, it creates one of those ongoing ‘ripples in time’ that impact on the future situation – like Homer and his time travelling in Treehouse of Horror V… 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

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