Isn’t the main work enough without writing a prequel?
For most novels, yes, the story satisfies its purpose so why write a prequel?
Why? Because for other novels, a seemingly minor character or an event is not filled out but there’s an intriguing hint. An event that occurred before the plot begins, or a character’s potential can be explored separately and fully in a prequel. A quite different writer may take up this challenge, such as Jean Rhys did so effectively with Wide Sargasso Sea, imagining the former life and reasons for the “mad wife” in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.
Another reason for the prequel is to avoid disturbing the impetus of a novel by resorting to too much backstory. A prequel can satisfy curiosity about events that occurred before the main timeline. Often they clarify what led to the occurrences. This was dramatically achieved by Irvine Welsh in Skagboys, outlining the youngsters’ unemployment and drug sampling which led to the utter wild hopelessness shown in his key work, Trainspotting.
In a series, there is much more room for readers to wonder not only what will happen next to the characters, but also what happened before the first episode began. This justifies a prequel.
Reader curiosity is often keen when one or more characters display problematic behaviour. He or she acts in some outstandingly weird, or more often, bad way, in contrast to those around him. As a reader, perhaps more than in everyday life, we seek reasons for something aberrant.
In the case of my historical series, A Relative Invasion, the main characters are cousins, one of whom, Kenneth, psychologically bullies and invades the whole life of the hero, Billy. Many readers looked to the father of Kenneth to explain his manipulative behaviour. Some wondered at the difference between the straightforward, honest if unimaginative father of Billy, and his arrogant, bullying brother, father of Kenneth. Had this always been so? Why?
Readers asked me that. So I wrote the Prequel.
Small explanation of the Prequel’s cover above. The illustration signals that the invasion is a domestic one. The door is open and whoever is entering can see right to the heart of the home. And the invader, will be a relative.
The main part of this series is set in the period of World War Two ,and Book Three in austerity Britain, post-war. It ends in the year of Harold Macmillan’s, “You’ve never had it so good.” I chose this ironically because in this book the two boys had never had it so bad.
My many characters in the series had their lives dominated by the threat of war, the experience of wartime and the hardship following the war. What would they have been like in better times? The prequel provided the opportunity to see.
The period between the two wars is not so heavily explored (or exploited) so I was also keen for a glimpse at this time through the eyes of each of the adults. And the personality traits were showing themselves even then, when they were young, no war on their minds, no excuse.
And so to write The Prequel, “a literary or dramatic work whose story precedes that of an earlier-written work.” (Britannica’s prequel definition).