A good story takes place during a critical juncture in our character’s lives, a particular crisis, or a change in their personality. Some books span decades, but most are concerned with a single incident, maybe a week, in that character’s life. But a fully realized character has had a life long before the events of your book, and sometimes those stories are interesting to explore.
When should an author explore these pre-stories? Some prequels to series only really make sense in the context of what will come later. When I first tried to get my wife into Babylon 5 I showed her “In The Beginning” a chronological prequel to the events of the main series. But, it became clear that someone watching this for the first time would still not get half of what was going on, or the significance of how certain characters meet.
But then there’s the prequel that actually becomes the beginning of a series.
I seem to devise books backwards, at least in my head. The eventual series I’d like to complete started at what I now consider book three, which technically might become book four. In order to explore the events of book three, I had to go back to what set them up, and what set them up and so on.
A specific example of this is the two stories “Dust” and “Gray”, scenes from a character in my work in progress DM, but taking place long before the events of the actual book. The character introduced in these stories is more mysterious in DM, and we don’t know her full origin story, yet in writing these two short stories I am tempted to spill the beans and write the whole thing.
Can a character still be a mystery in a future book, even if we know how she originated?
I guess the answer is that it depends on the author and their ability, and in the other character’s knowledge. The character might be well known to the reader, but unknown to the other characters.
I guess what this proves if nothing else, is that chronological order is not always the logical order for presenting art. That’s why I’ve always found it funny when people rearrange books in an author’s series and read them in a completely different order than they were written, to get the chronology right, but not the character development.
But then again it might work, and authors, especially indie authors, are probably slaves more to what they want to write than how it should always be released.
All this might be a tangential way of saying that I’m considering a novella soon which may or may not come out before DM. If nothing else the exercise may help my revisions and help me to get a better understanding of the character.
This is probably what comes of writing by the seat of my pants and not outlining.
What about you? Have you ever thought of a prequel after your main story has gotten going?