Prequel Schmequel

Like it or not, we live in a prequel/sequel world. It’s especially true in Hollywood, but is becoming more prevalent in the publishing world. I won’t really discuss sequels. Quite a lot of sequels suck, but I have nothing against them, in principle. Prequels, on the other hand, should die.

To illustrate some of the problems with prequels, let’s use a series of stories that most people know:

Admit it, you’re hearing the theme song in your head right now.

And we’ll begin with a prequel that isn’t terrible:

Or, “Rouge One,” as many internet posts would have you believe.

What saves this prequel from being terrible is that it’s only telling the backstory of one thing: how the plans to the Death Star ended up being acquired. Because of this, it avoids most of the problems that make most prequels awful, but the one issue it does have is big. In fact, it’s the most basic of prequel problems: ultimately, everyone knows what the future holds.

There’s no real tension or surprise. There’s nothing in it that changes how we see the original story. Nothing is really added because, frankly, it’s enough to simply say that the rebels acquired the Death Star plans. We don’t need to know how. Showing us just how it happened might be entertaining, but  it’s not truly important.

So let’s talk about some of the issues with the process of writing prequels. Anyone who’s read or seen the original book or movie already has a number of expectations, not to mention knowledge of what’s to come in the future. This means that the writer must make the story conform to these pre-established facts and, sometimes, that’s a very tall order.

Making your new story “sync” with the original story limits your writing ability. You have a set goal from the very beginning. But, as every writer will tell you, characters take on lives of their own. Taking such “living” characters and forcing them to conform to these pre-set actions can easily result in one of two things: either it makes these characters act in a way that’s counter to how they’ve been established or, possibly worse, they never come “alive” in the first place, but are flat through the whole story. On top of that, forced conforming of other story elements often results in clichéd plots or WTF moments that seem out of place.

Too much to say…

But my biggest issue with prequels is quite basic. If you feel the prequel’s story is one that’s truly important enough to be told, you should have written it first! So why didn’t you?

Posted by vmwales in Beginnings, Details, Plot, Writing Process

Right from the Start

One of the “complaints” I sometimes hear about my work is that it “starts out slow.” This is usually followed with, “but once I got into it, I couldn’t put it down,” or something along those lines. The presumption here is that a slow start is a negative thing. But is it?

I have NO idea why people think this is bad.

The standard “rule” for beginning a story is that you start in medias res. “In the middle of things.” Meaning, you begin your story just before whatever event sets the plot in motion. Sure, sometimes this event is larger-than-life, filled with explosions and car chases, presented in such a way that your reader has absolutely no choice but to be sucked into the action. Is this effective? Of course. Is it a good idea? Well… sometimes yes, sometimes no. Just because you can start a story with high action doesn’t mean you should.

There are different sorts of stories, and they all benefit from different styles of storytelling. For some, you do want to be yanked right in by action. But other stories, you want to be brought in with intrigue, rather than adrenaline. In fact, sometimes a story begins with action because that’s the only way the story can rope in the reader, since there’s not much there, otherwise.

And now for a word from Michael Bay.

So I don’t consider it an insult when someone complains that my books start off slow. Rather, I wonder why the reader doesn’t seem to understand that this is by design, because it’s fitting. A fast-paced opening, while possible to do, would feel artificial and unnecessary. I like to think that readers don’t need such things to be interested in what’s going on.

But maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

Posted by vmwales in Beginnings