Monday, March 16, 2015

Writing a Prequel

I’m currently writing a prequel.
But it’s not really a prequel.  Think of it as a long “flashback” instead.
A true prequel, along with taking place before the events of a previously published novel, should also be self-contained, separate, readable on its own.  It can contribute to the first book, helping us to understand the events and characters in it, but it shouldn’t matter if you read the first book or not before reading the prequel.  (I use the phrase “first book” to refer to the first-written and first-published novel).  Indeed, some readers insist on reading the prequel before getting near the first book. 
But I really don’t want people reading the prequel first.  The original novel, The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes, is the true start of the Mykol Ranglen series (of my special adventurer, poet, and loner in space).  The prequel’s events are related to the events of the first book, not in the sense that they provide the foundation for what occurs in the first book, but that those events are more understandable if the first book has already been read.  Though it’s not required for approaching the prequel, the reading might be more significant and rewarding if the book written first is also read first.  
The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes is like the first movement in a musical composition that has four parts:  a relatively fast and direct opening (the first novel), a flashback to crucial events in the character’s past (the prequel, In a Suspect Universe, which I’m working on now), then an “experimental” musical section that will be a published collection of Ranglen’s own poems (called Temporary Planets for Transitory Days), and then an ultimate “sequel” which will comprise the conclusion of the whole Ranglen epic (tentatively entitled Galaxy Time).  
Or, at least, the conclusion for now. 
The first novel even ends with two hints of both the prequel and the sequel, and we’ve already been told in that book—and shown—some of Ranglen’s writings.    
So the preferred order of reading is this:     

1.     The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes -  first written novel in the series
2.     In a Suspect Universe – prequel or flashback
3.     Temporary Planets for Transitory Days – poetry collection, authored by Mykol Ranglen, the protagonist
4.     Galaxy Time – sequel and conclusion to the series (for now)
But even with this careful plan, all the problems of writing a prequel still arise, and need to be kept in mind when structuring and working the manuscript: 

·      make sure the events (and resolutions) of the first novel are not “given away” in the prequel,
·      do not contradict anything that happens in the first novel,
·      be very clear about your timelines when composing the book—make sure that the prequel has enough time and space for the story to unfold before the events of the first book. 

The temptation for any writer is to explore, in the prequel, more aspects of what has been created, the characters and their worlds.  But these cannot contradict what was learned about them in the first book, and we can’t reveal too much more knowledge of both the villains and the main characters because that might modify—subtly and unexpectedly—what occurs in the first book. 
I’m lucky, because the story, the specific events, for In a Suspect Universe do not take place on the same planets as The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes.  This helps to control any latent contradictions between the prequel’s “later” worlds (in terms of composition) and “earlier” worlds (in terms of chronology). 
And I have several narrative rabbits hidden in my author’s hat to counter paradoxes or subtle inconsistencies that still might arise.  Which—sorry!—can’t be discussed here. 
The biggest point to remember is that

·      you often have to hold back your creativity instead of encouraging it. 

The best plot twist might mess up the future and render the events of the first book impossible.  The most interesting detail about your character’s past might change the later personality of that character.  And the really fascinating new information about your world you might need to subdue, because it could transform your later setting into a different place. 
In writing a sequel, you feel like a person from a time-travel story who has gone into the past and must be very careful you don’t do anything to change your own existence in the future.  If, let’s say, your protagonist prevents his parents from getting together, then—good-bye,  protagonist.   So you’re not just governed by realism and believability when you write prequels, but also the need to keep the whole galaxy together, to avoid paradox and contaminated reality.
All in all, when producing a prequel, you still think about character and setting and plot and style, all the normal stuff you consider when writing fiction, but you also have to keep causality straight—you don’t mess with the Schrodinger equation. 

·      You have to be more than a novelist, you have to be a god controlling your universe. 
Oh, the tall orders of authorship.