Fiction writers often create story bibles to keep track of characters, their back story, and world building history and information. It might include timelines, both for the events of the story and events in characters’ pasts that influence the story. This helps to ensure a consistent story world.
So what’s the problem with prequels? Why do they always disappoint?
A good author starts their story at the most interesting point. Good fiction is rarely a biography of its characters, starting at the beginning and covering the most mundane details of their lives. Stories always start in the middle, and they start in the best middle, just as the most interesting events unfold that lead to change. 1 If the good part of the story occurred sometime and somewhere else, that’s the book that would have been written.
The problem is that story bibles are incredible, rich texts. An author who falls in love with their own story falls in love with the world it occurs in and the people who inhabit it. It can become easy for both writers and fans to forget that the story bible exists in service of another, better story rather than being the story itself.
The audience is left wanting more, the writer has so much more written out already that they are in love with, and the result is the most tedious form of commercial art, the prequel. Mystery and magic are flattened to mundane events, motivations are explained rather than discovered and experienced, and unnoticed plot holes and inconsistencies in the original work are clumsily “corrected”. 2
Prequels are what happen when we forget that writers are at their most powerful when they choose what story to tell.
Ok, not all stories use this traditional structure, but stay with me. Most stories do this, especially the kind of fictional stories with commercial success that demand prequels. ↩︎