WHAT PRICE THE PREQUEL?

The prequel serves an important purpose if a novel, or more often a trilogy, has strongly drawn characters wrestling with a dramatic situation. After the resolution, some readers may wonder how the story really began. What was it in the characters’ pasts or early personalities that might predict this drama could occur?

A prequel can provide the historic context

Alternatively, what was the historic context prior to the main story’s events? This may pique the reader’s interest. Were key events such as a financial crisis, a war, a change of regime or of borders the influence over the story to come? Either way, it’s a search for origins.

Consider TV’s TRAITORS

For those millions who, like me, were thoroughly captivated by Traitors on TV -whether the British, American or Australian episodes, many wanted to know what happened to certain participants after the show ended. Equally, there was an appetite for knowing more about each participant. Their back stories greatly enriched viewers’ involvement in whether they were faithful, traitorous, winners or losers. The traitor who won the lot seemed so straight and trustworthy. How did he develop that ruthless streak? Wouldn’t we like to go back in his life to gain insight into how that happened?

A writer’s prequel to an existing novel

A good example of a compelling literary prequel is Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. A hundred years after Jane Eyre was published, Rhys imagined the reasons for the madness of Bertha, the attic-hidden wife. Keeping to the timeline of Bronte’s novel, Rhys set Bertha in Jamaica, just after Britain abolished slavery in 1834. Writing a story of Bertha’s childhood to her arranged marriage to Rochester, an English gentleman, Mr. Rochester, suggests underlying reasons for her “madness”. By this means, Rhys gives readers a social analysis of this historic period and setting. Rhys therefore enriched Brontë’s original novel both by introducing Bertha’s backstory and by providing an historical and cultural context.

A writer’s prequel to his own trilogy.

Whereas Rhys’ prequel was imagined from another author’s novel, predominantly prequels are written by the same author as for the main plot. La Belle Sauvage – although titled “Book One”, is really a prequel to main story in The Book of Dust. It is the back story of Philip Pullman’s characters in his latest trilogy. It is an in-depth extension backwards of an already developed plot and characters who figure in the world of His Dark Materials.

Similarly C. S. Lewis’s children’s book, The Magician’s Nephew, explained the creation of Narnia, the subject of his seven book series, The Chronicles of Narnia.

When should an author decide to write a prequel?

One pointer is when readers ask questions about the characters. Another is when the story offers many avenues to explore for which there is no room in the main work.

This is the purpose of a prequel, to provide context and psychological understanding of the novel or trilogy’s character(s). When not to write one? When the characters have not become real enough to garner sufficient reader interest, such as when the plot dominates and the characters are less important. Another reason is when the material is already known.

To be successful, a prequel has to offer new information.

“A fascinating peek into the story to come.”

In my own case, readers asked me what happened before the two main characters in A Relative Invasion (a trilogy set in Britain’s WW2 home front) became arch rivals, or rather, what made the boy ‘invader’ set out to acquire everything his cousin owned, an invasion over more than the course of a wartime, one that culminated in a disaster for everyone.

The Prequel has the adults narrate their issues back in 1925 before they married. My intent was to expand upon their personalities and conflicts. The prequel hints at the tensions that affect the way the two boy cousins are brought up. The war itself, the additional post-war hardships, evacuation, loss all inevitably play a large part in the boys’ experiences, but it is the adults’ personalities that are the greater determinant of the dramas and disasters in the final part of the trilogy.

Voice in historical fiction

Historical fiction needs an authentic voice

Studio portrait of a soldier in winter uniform and a man in an overcoat and cap official. Russian Empire. 1910s. Reproduction of antique photo.

For the readers, it’s connecting with a main character that arrests their interest when thrown into an unfamiliar time. For instance, apart from historians, who can imagine life as a soldier in Russia’s wars, the distances and climate and how their families fared without them? A convincing voice makes the difference between a factual account and a rich experience of distant and alien events – although the experience is second hand and in the comfort of an armchair.

Whether in prehistoric Britain, a Roman forum, a Scandinavian forest or an African village, the task of the historical fiction author is to persuade the reader that the story characters are real. For that, the narrative voice must strike as authentic. This validates the plot; what the characters convey are their life experiences.

Try one or two of these historical fiction authors FREE and test for yourself whether the main characters convince you that you are suffering or enjoying the same fate.

Fancy one of these FIRST in SERIES? Click here: https://books.bookfunnel.com/histficseries/fm3twqrsxe

On writing a trilogy.

A Relative Invasion – The Trilogy

Advice for writers typically suggests that a series works best for indies. Does it make sense for the first three in the series to form a trilogy? Not always…

A trilogy suggests an entity like the three-movement sonata in music, or the triptych in art. The form must be complete, whereas in a stand-alone the novelist has more freedom to finish where s/he likes, at any point, at any length.  

A Relative Invasion is probably the only trilogy I’ll write. It was meant as a novel. I began to write the story of a good-hearted boy, Billy, who was going to need all the resilience he could muster to weather the threat of war, as well as that of his manipulative cousin. A trilogy never entered my mind. I wanted to explore how the emotions that led to WWII might play out in micro, at home in a South London family. This is a story about a life-long rivalry that has lasting effects, just as a war anywhere has a long-term fall-out.

INTRUSION Billy was only five years old at the start of the story. His cousin, Kenneth, was six, but smaller and weaker. Just like a country feeling inferior by size and circumstances, Kenneth resented Billy’s health, strength and size, his more comfortable house, his better toys. Billy’s parents were charmed by Kenneth’s sweet (perhaps cloying) manners and his delicate features. The mother, particularly, had not wanted a sturdy, vigorous boy. How nice to meet one who simply wanted to sit and draw!

By around the third chapter I knew what the ending must be, and I wrote a draft of that. I then returned to where I had left the narrative, concentrating on getting the characters from that point to the end, but by the time I had written one hundred thousand words, Billy was still only seven. At that point I stopped, thinking I had better made the story into two books. Backtracking a little, I wrote a suitable ending to Book One, which came at around seventy-five thousand words.    

      

INFILTRATION. When Book Two reached a similar length, World War Two had just ended, but I was a long way from the climax and culmination of the story. VE Day provided a natural conclusion of Book Two. Billy was then twelve, and cousin Kenneth, thirteen. Adolescence and the terrible austerity of London’s 1940s lay ahead, together with the eventual climax and then fall-out from their life-long rivalry. That was more than enough for an 80,000 word novel.

IMPACT. Book Three had to bring the boys to adulthood, and by the time I’d written to that point, I had rewritten the climax and realized the fall-out deserved a full treatment. The “ending” was written just as I’d planned, except that it now came three-quarters way through the novel.

Billy’s story was now told, the arc I’d envisaged had been completed. I had written a trilogy when I’d intended to write a stand-alone novel. What would I advise if I, or any other writer, was intending to write a trilogy?

Early on, write a time-line.

Put in the historic events, check exact dates of these. Ensure you record each character’s date of birth, location, key events. In a trilogy, you may need to come back to them. Old incidents come back to bite the bottoms of the unwary.

Write your real ending before you get too far into the narrative.

You need to retain a clear sense of where your story is going as you write chapter after chapter. 

Mark out how much will happen in each book.

This way you can pace the drama evenly, making sure you don’t stack up the high points too closely together.

The flow of life needs to show:

precursors in Book 1, developments in Book 2, outcomes in Book 3. In music the third part would be recapitulation. Outcomes do have this element: a reworking of earlier events. If there’s a crisis in Book 1 it can resolve, but not really conclude there;  longer-term effects should pop up in Books 2 or 3.

There needs to be some sense of linear movement

even if the books are not arranged in chronological sequence. The reader will want to feel the size of the whole time span by the time s/he reaches the end.

Include several fully-imagined characters.

Three books are too many to focus on just one or two main characters. The work needs other characters with their own concerns for the main ones to knock against and react to. The range of possible interactions gives a more detailed picture of the protagonist(s) and a fuller character development .

Similarly, there needs to be more than one theme.

For instance, the main theme in my trilogy is the far-reaching effects of an ongoing childhood relationship. Connected to this is the theme of coming-of-age, bullying, parenting issues, the subtler effects of war service, and a re-examining where personal responsibility lies.

Although the trilogy will follow one arc, each book also needs its own arc

The three books fell into line with historic events: Book 1 – the tensions leading up to the threat of war until its full onset; Book 2 – the war years; Book 3 – post-war austerity until the war effects in Britain lessened – (“You’ve never had it so good”). Each book contained its own drama; each marked great changes in Billy’s life. 

It’s these changes that make for a satisfying place to end one book and start the next.

I’d also suggest the following about a trilogy:

The story has to be substantial.

It has to touch on something in human nature that will resonate meaningfully over the timescale of your three books so that the three properly comprise an entity, not three stories about the same people.

Finally, you need to be a sticker;

someone with a persistent, resilient personality who does not give up what they have started. I wrote these traits into my main character, Billy, and working out his story helped me to stay the course.

A trilogy in one volume.

A Relative Invasion – a fateful rivalry.

Join my readers list and receive Book One FREE.

Set in 1937-1950, a fateful rivalry between two South London boys mirrors the emotions which led to the second world war: envy, desire for new territory, lust for power.

A Relative Invasion is probably the only trilogy I’ll write. 

Historical fiction – trilogy

Written for adults but suitable for teens. Teachers, parents can use Books 1 and 2 to enrich Year 6 and Year 9+ curriculum work on WWII and evacuation. Teachers might also use them for PSE because of the issues in the narrative: bullying, honesty, resilience and for older teens, Book 3 highlights long-term outcomes

The first draft of this work was runner up in the Yeovil Prize (novels) 2011. It also reached the editor’s desk of Harper Collins’ writers’ site, Authonomy and therefore won a full review. Extract:  “…a powerful and compelling narrative with strong and relatable characters, and offers an evocative portrayal of England’s war-time home front. Billy is immediately sympathetic and Minett perfectly captures a child’s viewpoint, adding a gentle and honest humour to the story. The mounting  tensions between Billy and Kenneth parallel the rising agitation in Europe …”

Book One INTRUSION.  War threatens at the very shores of home . . .  with ruthless Hitler in Europe and devious Cousin Kenneth at the doorstep.   

Intrusion has been awarded a B.R.A.G medallion (Book Readers’ Appreciation Group USA)

 In 1937 five-year-old Billy meets  his cousin, the idolised, frail and manipulative Kenneth. As the adults worry about war emerging in Europe, the slow burn of  a fateful rivalry develops between the boys. With emotionally distant parents, bullying uncle and manipulative cousin, Billy starts to stutter. The one thing that upholds Billy’s spirits is the Cossack sabre, owned by his father’s work colleague. Once seen, never forgotten, the sabre becomes an icon of power – but possibly, destruction.

Historical Novel Society Review. “…the author very skilfully portrays the misery of being bullied…. “thoroughly enjoyed the book. The reserch is meticulously done with convincing historical detail.” 

“Very strong writing this; a book pleading to become a film.” Grady Harp, HALL OF FAME, TOP 100 REVIEWER, VINE VOICE

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Book Two INFILTRATION

Two boys, one family, a world at war – the invasion continues           

Now it’s autumn 1940. Relentless bombing in London means evacuation once again.  Billy is billeted with an elderly couple. Though happy in their care, sinister cousin Kenneth – who is billeted beside Billy’s mother and sister – haunts his life. Billy’s imaginary power from the precious Cossack sabre, now comes only from its photograph.

A catastrophe causes a new invasive threat from Kenneth. This one will affect both their futures permanently and increase the fateful rivalry. What’s more, the precious photograph goes missing. Can Billy become a hero when his parents are not?

Infiltration tells of childhood resilience in the face of war, rivalry and parenting ignorance. It follows a boy’s growth into personal responsibility.

Historical Novel Society review: “A delightful read.”  

 

Book Three, IMPACT   

Post-war, adolescence, austerity – the fall-out

Book Three was awarded a Discovering Diamonds

1945. The VE party is over and so is evacuation. Bill must tear himself away from his firm attachments in the village and face a new life in post-war Wandsworth. Uncle Ted had returned from service, but in what state? And how have Bill’s grandparents fared through the blitz and just recently, the dreaded VIs and VII rockets.

So much is in ruins, not least the life Bill had known as a child. One area remains wonderfully stable: supportive Mr Durban and the exciting icon of his Cossack sabre. Kenneth, however, is even more present. Now adolescent, the cousins are developing their separate skills and identities but the home context is claustrophobic. Their fateful rivalry increases in intensity, culminating in a dramatic crisis. All the family’s lives change forever. It’s a terrible fall-out. Is it Bill who must take responsibility and find a fair way forward?

“Well executed emotional drama.” Historical Novel Society

“utterly compelling … the climax is utterly unpredictable yet shockingly apt.” Amazon reader.

There’s a 1930s prequel, and a kindle trilogy with all three books in one. Receive Book One FREE when you join my Readers List.